The Oberlin Review
<< Front page News October 14, 2005

Student volunteers seek more aid for Jones Farm
Jones farm: Providing unique volunteer oppurtunities for Oberlin.

A little known fact is that a small percentage of the ripe tomatoes and leafy greens Obies chow down at the dining halls or co-ops is grown by the hands of their peers, a mere mile outside of town, at Oberlin-owned George Jones Memorial farm. 

Oberlin students play a large role in cultivating, restoring and farming the George Jones farm, a 70-acre plot of land consisting of wetlands, farmland, and a wooded preserve. Developed four years ago and named in honor of a beloved Oberlin professor and botanist, the farm aims to be a model of sustainable agriculture.

The idea for the farm was born in 1997 when a group of people wanted to see the land preserved from development. In 2001, volunteers started actively working on the site, restoring the soil and wetlands and building the existing buildings and barns.

For the first three years of its existence, the farm was managed by both the Ohio Sustainable Agriculture Project and Ecological Design Innovation Center — two separate nonprofit organizations. 

However, according to EDIC director Brad Masi, OC ’93, “having two separate boards and administrative systems didn’t make sense.”  Since OSAP suffered from debts and joint management that was overly complicated, EDIC took over last year.

The one-acre plot of farmland is divided into two gardens, EDIC’s “market fresh” garden and one entirely managed by Oberlin Students Co-operative Association. 

The OSCA garden was started by Kevin Herschman, OC ’05, who got the idea for the project after attending a sustainable agriculture conference last January.

“I wrote a proposal to OSCA with a group of people to have OSCA pay for seed and equipment costs and a stipend of summer labor with the intention not to make money, but to see if we could make money in the future,” Herschman says. “After it got approved by the OSCA farm, I was hired as food coordinator for the summer.” 

Herschman spent his summer at the farm camped out in the woods, planting and tending to the crops.  This past fall, co-op workers have maintained the garden, which provides five to ten percent of all OSCA’s produce and generates herbs, carrots, tomatoes and greens, among other crops.      

OSCA president Caleb Baker feels the farm project provides an important service to co-opers. 

“One of our bylaws is providing education for our members,” Baker says. “This is another way of educating members — they learn about the farm and agricultural preservation.”

After this harvest is over, OSCA hopes to institute some structure for the garden’s future management.

EDIC’s market fresh garden sells food to 18 Oberlin and Cleveland market venues, including campus dining halls and the City Fresh market, which allows residents of Cleveland inner city neighborhoods to purchase fresh produce with food stamps.   

College seniors Rachel Weinstein and Aaron Englander interned with EDIC over the summer, providing the chief maintenance of the garden.

“Because of [lack of] funds, they didn’t have a professional grower over the summer,” says Englander. 

“We really got thrown out into the fields and had to figure it out for ourselves. There was a lot of trial and error,” Weinstein says. 

Both Englander and Weinstein farm the land during the year as work-study jobs.

Although the George Jones farm aims to be a model for sustainable agriculture, the project is young and isn’t currently viable, largely due to its small size, limited funds and lack of a permanent head grower.      

Oberlin College lets the farm lease the land for free, but provides no other direct financial support.  In order to gain more funding, Masi is in the process of writing grants.

“The grants are really supporting our educational mission — finding a way to maximize the level of food production on minimum amount of land,” he says. “It’s really an urban test.”     David Benzing, Danforth professor of Biology and member of the EDIC board, feels obtaining grant money is essential to the farm’s success.

“That kind of infusion of money is necessary to get the staff up and get the farm to the point where it can sustain itself,” he says. “Right now it doesn’t.”

Although the farm underwent some financial struggles at the beginning of the year, Masi feels confident about its economic recovery. 

“We’re in pretty strong financial condition right now,” he continues. “We’ve gone from debt to surplus this year — one acre of land with two interns and a handful of Oberlin students as volunteers really turned that around.”

Furthermore, the farm has many plans to expand their operation for the next growing season.  Masi intends to expand the garden from one to two acres and an increase free-range livestock and composting, and is considering value added processing (turning tomatoes into sauce). He also hopes to increase the amount of farm produce in campus dining halls.

Volunteers at the farm feel additional student involvement is essential to the farm’s success.

“I think that it’s going to pick up a lot more, especially if more people from the College got involved and take control,” says Weinstein.

Englander seconds the need for more permanent volunteers, and also suggests the necessity of a professional farmer. 

“There needs to be more consistency with people working there year to year, and a grower who will stay there three, four, five years and really get things going,” he says.

Although the farm isn’t yet fully sustainable, it is already an important educational resource. 

“For me it was really interesting to have the experience of growing vegetables from start to finish and having it be part of my everyday life, and living alongside the plants,” says Herschman. “It takes the cliché ‘being committed to the earth.’”

Englander encourages students to utilize the opportunities for new projects that the land provides. 

“The potential for that plot is limitless,” he says. 

For example, environmental studies students currently perform research and restoration at the site’s wetlands and forest.  

Anyone interested in volunteering at George Jones farm can send an email to


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