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While one might not expect to find a liberal-arts degree holder working a plow, many Oberlin graduates have found that growing good food well can be a rewarding and meaningful way of life. "Many of us see farming as a lot more than just farming," says Rachel Dannefer '99, who works with the New York Greenmarket to attract former farmers back into the field. "It's a statement about your lifestyle and values, which are very much in line with Oberlin's values."

Weekly pick-up afternoons offer more than just fresh produce for members of the Intervale Community Farm in Burlington, Vermont. The picturesque setting is also an ideal spot for play and socializing.

Most Obies who work the land are a bit surprised themselves by their vocation. "Farming was never in the plan," says Jones with a bemused smile. "More than not in the plan. It didn't even make the cutting-room floor." Like many students, he was introduced to the politics of food through the Oberlin Student Cooperative Association (OSCA). The farm crisis of the 1980s hit Lorain County hard, and Jones and fellow student Brad Masi '93 (see sidebar below), set out to build relationships between OSCA and local farmers. After graduating, Jones moved to Burlington, unsure of what to do with his geology degree. He rented a garden plot across the fence from the then year-old Intervale Community Farm and says he was drawn there often.
Today, as head farmer, Jones works closely with a board, but he is ultimately responsible for such tasks as budgeting, harvesting, and providing a meaningful learning experience for apprentices. He loves the diversity.

" I get to be a grower. I get to be a mechanic. I get to be a planner. I get to be a community organizer and a teacher," he says. "In melon season, I get to be in the field, busting open the fruit and sticking my nose inside. Few things are that tangible." Long-term accomplishments also stand out. "I love that children are excited to come here, that we exist as a community resource," he adds. "The farm will still be here in 50 years, even though I probably won't be. It's to the point where it's gotten a life of its own."

On this autumn pick-up day, Jones seems to be everywhere at once. He beams at a new baby, heaves another case of spinach up onto a table, offers advice to a neighboring farmer about cover crops, and explains how to cook celery root. A 3-year-old approaches him, asking shyly, "Why do you wear overalls?"

Jones thinks for a moment before explaining. They keep him cleaner and cooler, he says, adding—as he digs out a seemingly endless flow of fascinating gadgets—"they have lots of pockets."

The George Jones Memorial Farm

Brad Masi '93

When Brad Masi '93 relocated Oberlin's community-supported farm to the eastern outskirts of town last year, he wasn't deterred by the land's barren topsoil, poor drainage, or fields of genetically engineered soybeans. "This whole farm is built on the idea of restoration," says Masi. "It's been a challenge, but as more farmlands transition from commodity grain production to diversified, sustainable agriculture, critical questions about ecological restoration are raised."

The 70-acre College-owned farm is named for George Jones, a 38-year Oberlin professor who remained an active campus figure for more than 25 years after his retirement. "He was a beloved botanist," says Danforth Professor of Biology David Benzing. "For years, George would show up behind the Kettering greenhouse every Sunday afternoon and take whomever was there on a field walk. He would do that rain or shine, 52 weeks a year."

Jones surely would have loved to walk through his eponymous farm, now home to orchards, forests, restored wetlands, ecologically designed buildings, and a three-acre organic CSA farm operated by the Oberlin Sustainable Agriculture Project (OSAP). The farm is managed by Masi in his position as executive director of the Eco-Design Innovation Center (EDIC), a non-profit founded three years ago to pursue various community initiatives on land use in northeast Ohio. EDIC's projects range from youth outreach with local schools to the creation of the Northeast Ohio Foodshed Network, which held its first annual congress last July to develop a sustainable, regional food system.

Benzing serves on the boards of OSAP and EDIC, both of which operate independent of the College, yet benefit from the energy, creativity, and expertise of the academic community. In turn, the George Jones Farm offers students many opportunities for applied research and work study. "The goal is to demonstrate by doing," says Benzing.

Brian Schundler '03 definitely learned by doing during his summer internship with OSAP, which is building up to offer CSA shares again next year after this first season in its new location. "I learned that it's a lot of work to farm," he says, "but it requires even more creativity to find markets for your food."


The Intervale Community Farm was named Vermont's Sustainable Farm of the Year in 1999, earning it media coverage in such outlets as The Boston Globe and Organic Gardening. "What's phenomenal about Andy is that he sees the flowers through the weeds," says Enid Wonnacott, executive director of Vermont's Northeast Organic Farm Association, of which Jones is board president. "He's a highly skilled production farmer, but he has a much bigger vision of the role that farming plays in Vermont and around the globe."

It is this ability—to grow good food while working toward broader goals—that distinguishes many Oberlin farmers.
Take Jennifer Greene '87, for example, who owns a grain, bean, and seed CSA farm in Fort Jones, California. Every month, the 100 members of Windborne Farm receive large cloth sacks holding freshly stone-ground whole wheat flour, pancake mix, and a cereal blend. Members also get unusual grains like amaranth and teff, which Greene has carefully tested for their ability to thrive in northern California. In contrast to agribusiness farms—which grow only the few types of corn or potatoes demanded by national food processors—Greene grows corn and beans of every shape and size, from bright fuchsia Indian Red Vine lima beans to tiny white Texas Cream cow peas. Draft horses handle the majority of her cultivation and weeding, and she's determined that the farm not grow beyond what she alone can handle. "Whatever I can do, I do," she says. "I don't want to be managing people. I'm really focused on the farming."

In western Massachusetts, Michael Docter '84 runs a CSA farm on a very different scale. Food Bank Farm has 660 paying shareholders and donates fresh, organic produce—about 150,000 pounds per year—to the Food Bank of Western Massachusetts. Docter started the farm nearly 15 years ago as an employee of the food bank, but he now operates it independently and leases the land. The project has served as a model for similar operations across the country.

"Farming was something I always wanted to do," says Docter, who believes that public service farms are the ideal way for young people to get involved in the profession. "But I never understood how someone who didn't own land and didn't know how to farm could become a farmer." Food Bank Farm depends on five or six apprentices each year. "We strive to teach them the skills and knowledge that they will need to run their own farms one day," he says.

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