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Friday, July 8, 2016

A center for sustainability

The Farm at SOU

A center for sustainability

Story by Pamela Gibson

Photography by Brian Mikota of Mikota Photography

 

A few years ago, Southern Oregon University purchased a neglected parcel of property in Ashland. The land was covered by a massive overgrowth of invasive blackberry bushes and tons of dumped cement debris. Lying deep beneath the rampant weeds and tons of mortar was a vision that only those with a true passion and focus could see.  

It all began in 2012, when a group of innovative and forward thinking students broached the SOU Administration with an idea. The plan was to create a local hub for sustainability practices, research, and education. Driven by the concept to create a center for sustainability, Vincent Smith, PhD and Assistant Professor of Environmental Science and Policy at SOU, helped to assist the students through the process.

Smith helped provide guidance and direction to the students in the planning and development of the project and currently acts on the Advisory Team. He asserts that it has been “the remarkable students I have worked with during this process who deserve all the credit for the development of the farm. While we have much more work to do to see this location develop as initially visioned, I am thrilled to see how far it has come.”

Transformation of the property began shortly after the purchase of the five-acre lot, which also included an old farmhouse and barn. The house was built in 1930, and it’s believed that the land had been used for farming since the early 1900’s. Unfortunately, the land and the structures had been neglected during recent decades. Although bedraggled, the historic, old home exudes a unique charm with its chipping paint and craggy floorboards, standing as an impervious reminder of a simpler time in history.

The secondary facelift of the property involved the partial rebuilding of the old barn as well as the construction of a hoop house. Irrigation and electricity were also installed and the soil was prepared for future plantings. Eventually, a group of students were hired to manage the operations of the undertaking. They were charged with all of the details related to running the farm, including the ministry of a barn, greenhouse, apiary, orchard, and vineyard. Today, The Farm employs five part-time student employees and one part-time non-student employee.

The Farm is considered an outdoor classroom, living laboratory, and natural playground, allowing students to learn while complimenting the traditional university classroom experience. Students can acquire real-life experiences from the farm aside from the cultivation of plants, including marketing, management, and other valuable skills through experiences with the farm stand and produce subscriptions.

According to SOU student and Director of Farming Operations Aaron Gibson, “The Farm at SOU is a blossoming hub for sustainable living skills and environmental awareness for the Southern Oregon University community. It is unique in its approach to thrust students into positions of authentic responsibility, while challenging their skills of leadership and decision-making. I know I have been pushed by my position as the student Farm Director to go beyond my comfort zone, reevaluate my opinion, and cultivate my communication and confidence. While a day’s work on The Farm can be challenging and frustrating at times, as we are learning as we grow, the rewards are tangible and meaningful.”

In addition to the many programs the Farm offers, it also operates as a community supported agriculture subscription specifically for the SOU family. When the program started three years ago, it offered ten Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) subscriptions. The subscription membership tripled by the second year, and this year The Farm will produce enough vegetation for sixty-five subscriptions.

“Interactions with The Farm inspire a vision of living and working sustainably in community and on land,” says Executive Director Nancy Shea, PhD.  

The center anticipates to eventually be self-sufficient, however, they are currently supported financially through grants and donations. Augmented funding is achieved through growing programs, such as the farm stand and CSA program. As one of five Rogue Valley educational farm sites, the Farm at SOU offers local school districts hands-on farming through education and experience.

 

RESOURCES

 

Coordination and Design

Sweetbriar Events

Pamela Gibson is the owner of Sweetbriar Events located in Southern Oregon. She is an event planner and designer offering creative concepts for exceptional events from weddings to haunted Halloween parties and everything in-between.

541-482-3505

www.sweetbriarevents.com

 

Photography

Bryan Mikota with Mikota Photography

541-778-1940

www.mikotaphotography.nextproof.com

 

Furnishings/Décor

Brian and Galina LeBlanc with Motif Events Rentals

541-531-3578

www.motifeventrentals.com

Produce

Shop ‘n Kart

541-488-1579

www.ashlandshopnkart.com

 

Florals

Joan Ewer Thorndike with Le Mera Gardens

541-857-8223

www.lemeragardens.com

 

Shot on location at

The Farm at Southern Oregon University

A Center for Sustainability

155 Walker St., Ashland

www.sou.edu/sustainable

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