OXFORD, Ga. - Three and a half years ago, the Oxford College of Emory University Organic Farm was just a dream, a house, and 11.5 acres of potential. Today, it is a certified organic farm producing quality vegetables as well as a college farm supporting the education, research and community outreach mission of Oxford College.
“I think the Oxford organic farm is an important resource for Oxford College, the surrounding community, and Emory University,” Ken Anderson, dean for academic affairs and chief academic officer, said. “In just a few short years, under the leadership of Daniel Parson, it has become an amazingly productive farm and a tremendous learning environment.” Parson, who holds the title “farm educator,” has led, managed, and worked on the Farm since January 2014.
The Farm has been a certified organic producer since February 2015 by Quality Certification Services out of Florida. It produces more than 30 different crops and more than 100 different varieties on about three acres.
“We sell our produce in lots of ways,” Parson said. “Part of the purpose of the Farm is to have good fresh organic food in the dining hall. They are our biggest single customer.”
The next biggest is the Farm’s community supported agriculture (CSA) customers. The Farm could serve 60 such customers, but currently has a few more than 40. Parson hopes to get more customers for the summer season which starts July 13. CSA customers get a box of produce each week for a specific number of weeks.
Ruth Geiger, farm apprentice, said last Thursday’s CSA boxes included one pound each of carrots, beets, and squash, two pounds of cucumbers, a bunch of kale, an onion, a head of lettuce, and a kohlrabi. The content of each week’s box varies throughout the growing season as different vegetables become available.
The Farm also sells at three farmers’ markets. During the academic year, it sells at the farmers’ market on Emory University’s Atlanta campus. This time of year, it’s at the Oxford farmer’s market on Thursday afternoons and the Monroe farmer’s market on Saturday mornings.
“Right now we are producing more than we are selling,” Parson said. “That is fine, because we are giving a lot of food away to the food banks, and that is a good thing.”
Last summer, the Farm became part of Oxford College’s academic program with Parson reporting directly to Anderson.
“Part of the reason for that was to increase the tie-in to academic programs,” Parson said.
And according to Anderson, it has worked.
“The organic farm is increasingly becoming recognized by our faculty as a rich learning environment and many classes have used the farm for brief visits or semester-long projects,” he said. “Daniel Parson and Ruth Geiger have welcomed students from courses across the curriculum—biology, chemistry, sociology, economics, and philosophy—and they have helped the faculty in these disciplines find ways to integrate aspects of the farm and food production into their subjects.”
Parson and Geiger well understand how the Farm can best contribute to the College’s liberal arts and sciences mission. “I know where our students are coming from; almost none will go on to be farmers,” Geiger said, who did not have an agricultural background herself and who also is an alumna of Oxford College and Emory University. “I respect and appreciate that and I help educate them about why understanding their food system is still important.”
Parson added, “A lot of agricultural study has been about production and how we produce more, but there is so much more to food production than that. Who gets it and why is a big question. What does it mean and where does it come from. All those things are part of the questions asked in the liberal arts.”
Numerous Oxford College students work part-time on the Farm and learn much doing so. “Students will start working here and some will drop off,” said Parson. “But those who stay love it. They learn a lot. They change, and that’s the important thing. They come in thinking one thing about how food is grown and at the end of the year they leave thinking something else.”
Research and community outreach
The Farm also supports research. According to Parson, there is an Emory University researcher currently using the farm to support microbial research. In a separate project, Sarah Fankhauser, Oxford College biologist, is doing microbial genetic research. The University of Georgia has used the Farm as a location for a study on nitrogen cycling. And finally, Cornell University, Ithaca, New York, used it as a farm trial location for a project funded by the Organic Seed Association.
With regard to community outreach, the Farm provides produce to local food banks and sells at local farmers’ markets. Parson and Geiger hope the Farm’s engagement with local communities grows over time. They will be hosting an open house September 30 and invite everyone to come.
“As the farm continues to establish itself in the community and in the minds of the faculty, it will also become increasingly integral to the identity of Oxford College,” Anderson said.