When students at Oxford College bite into a fresh carrot or radish, there’s a good chance it was grown in their own backyard in Oxford, GA.
Oxford is a satellite campus of Emory University, about 40 miles southeast of the main campus in Atlanta, where freshmen and sophomores can have a small-school experience before finishing out their four years at the much-larger university. In 2011, the school received a donation of about 11 acres of land, which made its debut as the new campus farm in autumn 2014.
I visited Oxford Farm near its second birthday in September 2016. It’s currently overseen by Daniel Parson, a longtime organic farmer and recipient of the Georgia Organics Land Steward of the Year Award, and farm apprentice Ruth Geiger. The farm is tended with the help of students, many of whom volunteer on the farm as part of their curriculum.
Daniel told me how he maintains the farm’s soil health organically by rotating crops from season to season. Each crop has a different impact on the soil, and growing the same thing every year — commonly known as “monocropping,” it’s the standard practice in industrial agriculture — can lead to soil erosion and decreased fertility. In between growing row crops like root vegetables or peppers, Daniel plants crops like buckwheat to attract pollinators or legumes to restore the soil’s nitrogen.
Oxford Farm’s vegetables have proven popular at Emory’s weekly farmers’ market, but that’s not all that grows there. In a rare patch of shade, mushrooms were sprouting from a pile of logs that Daniel inoculated with shiitake mycelium. Nearby, beehives were humming with activity — the farm’s CSA subscribers are occasionally treated to a jar of honey.
Not only has Oxford Farm benefitted students, it’s also valuable to the surrounding community. Many Newton County residents have no stores with fresh fruits and vegetables for miles around. Over half of the restaurants in the area sell fast food, and healthy options can be hard to come by. One of Oxford Farm’s goals is to become a resource to the surrounding community, making organic produce more widely available and educating future farmers.