The George Jones Memorial Farm and Nature Preserve has a rich history of community-driven conservation efforts aligned with Oberlin’s long tradition of justice work. In 1997, community leaders and Oberlin College students united to protect the 70-acre property, its legacy agricultural soils and ecologically sensitive wetlands from disappearing under a housing subdivision. For a quarter century, the farm has hosted innovative work in soil restoration, sustainable building, and food production, but it has struggled to maintain consistent operations due to limited staff and budget resources. Despite these challenges, Jones Farm remains a symbol of community resilience and the critical importance of preserving local agricultural heritage.
In 2023, Oberlin College and Lorain County Community College received a three year, $1M Mellon Grant to develop an alliance for food and racial justice that centers the humanities and engages students in ethical, respectful, and reciprocal community collaboration. The ecological wealth of the George Jones Farm and the logistics and distribution expertise of longtime leaseholder City Fresh, a regional community-supported agriculture program, provide a powerful opportunity to support new farmers and food-justice initiatives with a commitment to the local community.
Following the methods and orientation of environmental justice, our project hears and values the knowledge of Indigenous, diasporic, historically exploited/enslaved, Black, urban, and immigrant communities, including the expertise held by marginalized farmers, farmworkers, cooks, and food justice activists and advocates. We recognize the history of discrimination and exclusion from life with the soil:
- from Indigenous genocide and displacement from deep relationship with ancestral ecological wealth to unfamiliar, contested and often marginal places;
- from centuries of stolen labor, the broken promises of Reconstruction and the uncountable losses of the Great Migration through the systemic discrimination documented in the Pigford settlement and thorny legal issues, born of exclusion, that compromise Black farmers’ ability to hold and invest in family land, along with the ongoing challenges of securing access to enough fertile, productive acreage to succeed as a new arrival in close-knit, often homogeneous farming communities;
- to the exploited labor and knowledge of documented and undocumented farmworkers who continue to nurture the land and feed the nation without earning a claim.
Through our collaboration, we seek to prepare the next generation of community and academic leaders to embody an approach to food justice and to build a community-academic network that will have lasting impact beyond the funding period for the local community of Lorain County, Ohio, as well as regionally and nationally.
The New Farmer Incubator Program explicitly seeks to bridge the gaps created by historical barriers to land access by offering aspiring farmers the resources, mentorship, and support they need to succeed.
The program partners will consciously address challenges of isolation, the need to build hyperlocal ecological knowledge, and systemic obstacles to launching sustainable farming businesses in an environment that has deeply challenged even the most experienced small farmers.
City Fresh, housed at Jones Farm since 2005 and designed from the ground up to serve the needs of low-income, low-access communities, is partnering with academic and community leaders to ensure farmer success by sharing agricultural land and resources, an established distribution network, and above-market purchasing for farm produce.
Our inaugural cohort will provide land for up to three New Farmers who will receive a seasonal stipend of $1500 to support their participation. Applicants must have some experience in sustainable agriculture or have completed portions of the Sustainable Agriculture program at Lorain County Community College (or equivalent), including crop planning coursework. Applicants who wish to discuss their experience and plans prior to applying are encouraged to email the project team at firstname.lastname@example.org
Aspiring New Farmers may apply to the program for 1-2 year increments. Successful projects may pursue renewal for a total of 6 years. This extended commitment allows for comprehensive skill development and a deeper understanding of sustainable farming practices, which can include (but is not limited to)
- Regenerative farming (no-till/ low till, no or limited use of pesticides and synthetic fertilizers, cover-crop planting)
- Climate-protective agricultural practices
- Organic Pest Management
- Inter-cropping, companion planting and crop rotation
- Composting & Biochar production
- Fruit cultivation
- Culturally significant growing techniques (ex, Three Sisters)
- Culturally significant foods prized by immigrant and diasporic communities
- Native and heirloom plant selection and cultivation
- Herbs and medicinal plant selection and cultivation
- Natural fiber and dye plant selection and cultivation
- Pollinator plant integration
- Forest gardening and developing foraged food resources
- Soil rematriation
- Seed saving and rematriation + restoring ancestral seeds
- Spiritual/ embodied aspect of land and growing
Additional concepts New Farmers may choose to explore and express:
- Storytelling and oral history around agriculture and foodways
- Traditional plant-based medicinal practices
- Farm Accessibility (accommodating mobility, vision and hearing issues, sensory-friendly)
- Environmental art
- Mental health and mindfulness practices
- Circular and cooperative food economies
- Community dinners/ potlucks on the farm
Applications are due February 15, 2024.
The George Jones Memorial Farm Farmer Incubator Program builds upon Oberlin’s rich history of community preservation efforts and City Fresh’s commitment to fostering a just and sustainable local foods system. By offering aspiring farmers the resources and mentorship they need, this program aims to foster a new generation of sustainable, community-focused food and culture producers. We look forward to partnering with like-minded individuals and organizations to bring this vision to life and continue the legacy of George Jones Farm for generations to come.
Lend a Hand!
We love volunteers and could always use assistance keeping programs like these running. We invite individuals, teams, or groups (community or student) to come out to the George Jones Farm to help us with a variety of tasks, year-round. Tasks may include weeding, watering, harvesting crops, preparing City Fresh shares, natural building, sustainable energy projects, trail building and maintenance, and equipment and facility upkeep. Sports teams, church groups, corporations, and student clubs are all welcome to schedule service days with us.
LCCC George Jones Farm Food Justice Internship
Overview: We are seeking a motivated and enthusiastic individual to join our New Farmer Incubator program. This internship offers a unique opportunity for individuals interested in gaining hands-on experience in sustainable farming practices, contributing to the success of the incubator program, and supporting food justice on the farm.