Daniel Parson had a chance to scope out the site of Oxford College’s future organic farm on Tuesday shortly before snowfall began accumulating on the ground. (Staff photo: Ryan McKenzie)
OXFORD – In 2011, Oxford College of Emory University received a donation of 11 acres of land that the school will use as an organic farm, with the first crops scheduled to be planted this spring.
The acreage on Emory Street was donated by Trulock Dickson, who graduated from the school in 1974. The property is the former home of the late Marshall and Fran Elizer, who spent decades devoted to the school. Marshall was a student affairs director and math professor while Fran worked as a library assistant. Both had scholarships founded in their names.
The farm is expected to serve as both an educational tool and a source of food for the Oxford campus. Dean Stephen Bowen said that the farm will be used to model sustainable farming techniques to support the local community and provide educational opportunities for students on the issue of sustainable farming.
With a piece of land set aside and a vision for organic crops, all the farm was missing was a lead farmer to help make the agricultural aspiration become an reality. After searching throughout country for a suitable farmer in charge, Oxford came across Daniel Parson, who has been named as one of Mother Nature Network’s 40 Farmers Under 40. Parson has also worked at Gaia Gardens in Decatur and has managed the organic farm at Clemson University. Additionally, Parson used to operate his own produce business, Parson Produce, prior to coming to Oxford.
Although the land is designated and a plan for crops has been laid out, the farm is still lacking an irrigation system and a barn. Parson stated that he is working on that right now, and these two tasks should be accomplished within the next few months.
Parson’s first focus for the farm is planting cover crops, which are grown to support the main crops by advancing soil fertility, preventing erosion, improving organic matter and attracting beneficial insects. These cover crops include a significant amount of legumes such as beans.
Farming can lend itself to many fields of study, so Parson expects the farm to be used by numerous classes.
“We’re hoping to bring any class out to use it as an educational resource — geology, ecosystems, ecology, business, accounting — just about any class,” said Parson.
In additon to students, Parson added that volunteers from the local community will be invited to help on the farm.
Squash, sweet potatoes and peppers will be the farm’s first batch of crops, due to be harvested later this year.
“We’re expecting our first harvest in the fall,” said Oxford Director of Communications Cathy Wooten.
Along with being served in the Oxford dining hall, food grown on the farm is planned to be sold through a Community Supported Agriculture program and at local farmers’ markets.