It’s good for you


Ox­ford Col­lege wel­comes its first or­ganic farmer, award-win­ner Daniel Par­son, to trans­form a field on Emory Street.

The seed of an idea for an or­ganic farm at Ox­ford Col­lege is be­gin­ning to take root. This spring, Ox­ford wel­comes its first or­ganic farmer, who will help trans­form a grassy field on Emory Street into a thriv­ing, col­or­ful patch­work of crops and a liv­ing lab­o­ra­tory for stu­dents.

“For sev­eral years we had had a vi­sion of de­vel­op­ing an or­ganic farm, but the en­abling event was the gift of land,” ex­plains Dean Stephen Bowen. The 11-plus acres at 406 Emory Street was do­nated to the col­lege in 2011 by Tru­lock Dick­son ‘72Ox-’74C. It’s the for­mer home of Mar­shall and Fran El­izer, who joined Ox­ford in the 1940s.

The farm will be used “to model the use of sus­tain­able farm­ing tech­niques to sup­port our lo­cal com­mu­nity and to pro­vide ed­u­ca­tion and train­ing op­por­tu­ni­ties for our stu­dents on the is­sues of sus­tain­abil­ity,” Bowen ex­plains.

“The fi­nal piece was to find the right per­son to lead the farm,” says Bowen. “We wanted some­one who was not only an ac­com­plished or­ganic farmer, but also an ex­pe­ri­enced farm ed­u­ca­tor.”

A na­tion­wide search turned up Daniel Par­son, named to Mother Na­ture Net­work’s 40 Farm­ers Un­der 40 list and rec­og­nized with the Ge­or­gia Or­gan­ics Land Stew­ard of the Year Award. Par­son’s 15 years of or­ganic farm­ing ex­pe­ri­ence in­cludes man­ag­ing the Clem­son Univer­sity or­ganic farm, Gaia Gar­dens in De­catur, Ga. and most re­cently his own ven­ture, Par­son Pro­duce, near Clin­ton, S.C.

Since join­ing Ox­ford in early Jan­uary, Par­son has dug in. His ini­tial fo­cus will be to ready the land for farm­ing: plant­ing cover crops to en­rich the soil; im­prov­ing the drainage and in­stalling ir­ri­ga­tion; build­ing a barn to store tools and equip­ment.

The first crops — sweet pota­toes, squash, and pep­pers — will be planted later this spring, to be grown over the sum­mer and har­vested in the fall. The farm will pro­duce a diver­sity of veg­eta­bles, “chore­ographed by a ro­ta­tion plan,” Par­son ex­plains, as well as or­chard fruit, cut flow­ers and shi­take mush­rooms grown on hard­wood logs.

Longer-term plans call for the con­struc­tion of hoop houses, which al­low cold-hardy crops to grow all win­ter, to ex­tend the grow­ing sea­son so it matches the flow of the school year.

“My fo­cus right now is to get the farm up and run­ning, to have some­thing for the stu­dents to work with,” Par­son ex­plains.

And stu­dents will be in­volved with the farm from the very be­gin­ning, he says.

“We want to in­volve stu­dents as much as pos­si­ble so they can learn to grow their own food, con­nect with the source of their food. There’s go­ing to be a lot of hands-on learn­ing.”

Lessons from the farm will be in­cor­po­rated into the class­room cur­ricu­lum. Fac­ulty from across Ox­ford will be in­vited to use the farm as a re­source in their teach­ing, Par­son says.

“Farm­ers to­day have to be grow­ers, me­chan­ics, busi­ness peo­ple, sales­men and mar­keters. So al­most any field of study could re­flect on the farm.” A grand open­ing is slated for fall 2014. “Fall is one of the great sea­sons in the South­east. And ev­ery year is go­ing to be a big fall, be­cause right when the stu­dents ar­rive on cam­pus is a great time to be plant­ing a big fall crop,” he says.

The farm is ex­pected to reap many ben­e­fits for Ox­ford.

It is ex­pected to break even fi­nan­cially in its first few years. Par­son en­vi­sions sell­ing pro­duce through a Com­mu­nity Sup­ported Agri­cul­ture (CSA) pro­gram and at farm­ers mar­kets.

But be­cause “the or­ganic farm move­ment is syn­ony­mous with the lo­cal farm move­ment,” Par­son says, “the first stop will be the Ox­ford com­mu­nity.” Food grown on the farm will be served in the Ox­ford din­ing hall.

In ad­di­tion to “hav­ing that good food on cam­pus,” Par­son adds, farm work “is a great stress re­liever for folks who might be over­whelmed with stud­ies to come out and spend some good pro­duc­tive time, with a tan­gi­ble re­sult, on the farm.”

Later this spring, Par­son and his fam­ily will move into the for­mer El­izer home. Par­son’s wife, Molly McGe­hee,, is cur­rently a pro­fes­sor at Pres­by­te­rian Col­lege in South Carolina. She will join Ox­ford’s Hu­man­i­ties Di­vi­sion in fall 2014.

Par­son looks for­ward to ed­u­cat­ing and en­gag­ing with the com­mu­nity.

“I want stu­dents, fac­ulty and staff to come out to the farm as much as they want.

“But they will learn very quickly that if they are out at the farm, they will be put to work,” he adds with a laugh.

Sub­mit­ted photo /The Cov­ing­ton News

Award-win­ning or­ganic farmer Daniel Par­son has plans for big crop yields and even big­ger learn­ing ex­pe­ri­ences for Ox­ford stu­dents.

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