I get asked what’s happening on the farm several times a day, and I’m never sure if people really want to know that answer or if they are just making conversation. It makes no difference to me because each time I give them the real answer — from how the weather is, to weeds, to pests, to planting, to descriptions of a crop bounty.
In the coming months you can read about all these things here. You will hear about challenges and triumphs at the Oxford College Farm and gain some tips for your own garden at home.
You may be asking a different question, though — who is this person and why is he writing about farming and gardening?
My current position is Farmer/Educator at Oxford College. Basically, I run the Oxford College Farm at 406 Emory Street in Oxford and do education whenever I can. The farm has been in existence for almost three years now. Many in Newton County have likely passed it on Highway 81 and wondered what’s happening at the Elizers’ old place.
The farm is certified organic, growing vegetables on more than two acres of the property, currently. Produce goes to Oxford College and Emory University dining and is sold to the community through our Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) program, Oxford Farmers’ Market and the Emory Farmers’ Market. Our aim is to educate campus and community while helping to feed campus and community. That is what I’m doing now and I’ve been doing this type of farming since 1998 in both Georgia and South Carolina.
I did not grow up on a farm, although my grandparents did. I did not study agriculture in college, although I did go to an agriculture school.
It may tarnish your judgment of me if I told you which university I attended, so I’ll just say that it’s not too far away and we prefer Tigers to Bulldogs.
A degree in biology inspired me to appreciate the natural world and our place in it. That’s what sparked my interest in farming. In college, we would go backpacking and feel very self-sufficient, but I realized that all the food in my pack came from the grocery store. I really had no idea how to provide food for myself from the ground up.
Fresh out of college, I headed to Dawsonville to try my hand at small-scale organic farming.
Wildflower Organics was a wonderful spot in the foothills where I helped grow vegetables, cut flowers, and shiitake mushrooms for four years. That’s where I learned how to put seeds in the ground so they would grow into harvestable crops.
We sold to restaurants and a farmers market in Atlanta and even supplied the Covington-based Georgia Grown Co-op headed by the late Ann Brewer. After four years there, it was clear that I needed more information about managing soils, weeds, and pests, so I went back to school for a Master’s degree in Plant and Environmental Science, again in Tigertown.
Not only did I study the science behind the growing, I was able to manage production at the then-new organic farm on campus. We grew vegetables and cut flowers for a CSA program and on-campus market. Finishing there, with lots of new knowledge under my hat I moved back to Georgia where my wife was working on her doctorate at Emory.
It seemed impossible that I would farm in Atlanta, but that was before I heard about Gaia Gardens and the fact that they were looking for a farmer to manage a couple acres of good land inside the perimeter. There I became a true community farmer; the farm was literally inside the townhouse development. Some developers build swimming pools, but, at East Lake Commons, they have a farm.
This was my first experience running a business from purchasing seeds to paying employees and raising money at markets for myself. I learned so much at Gaia, in the fields and in the community.
When my wife Molly completed her degree and landed a job at Presbyterian College in Clinton, South Carolina, we headed back to South Carolina. I found a couple who owned a B&B and several acres of fenced land that was recently an alpaca farm. I rented their land and started Parson Produce, selling to Greenville-area chefs, a CSA, and the downtown Greenville Farmers’ Market. You can visit the Farmhouse B&B in Clinton and enjoy the fields, which are now farmed by Margie and her family, under the name Crescent Farm.
When I heard about the job at Oxford College, starting and managing an organic farm on campus, I knew it was what I wanted to do.
Throughout the past few years I have enjoyed getting to know the campus, students and surrounding community. I hope you will enjoy hearing about the farm, the seasons, and tips for your home gardens.
Daniel Parson is the farmer/educator at Oxford College of Emory University.