COLUMBIA - The parking lot at Jefferson Farm & Gardens was nearly full Saturday morning as more than 800 visitors trickled in for the final open house. The event gave the public a chance to witness the progress of the educational farm since development began in 2006.
Funded by the Thomas Jefferson Agricultural Institute with additional support from private companies, MU, the federal government, donations and membership fees, the farm will serve as a year-round facility to promote contemporary farming, gardening and conservation. The farm will open in spring 2009 and be a premier destination for educational groups, Jennifer Smith, Jefferson Farm & Gardens communications and public relations specialist, said. In addition to field trips and youth education, the farm will also offer adult education courses like workshops about apple trees, wildflower gardens and alternative crops.
As visitors lined up for a wagon tour of the 67-acre farm, executive director Rob Myers discussed the importance of crop diversification to the future of agriculture. He motioned toward a field of the more common corn and soybean crops and pointed out the neighboring fields of more unique or alternative crops like amaranth and buckwheat.
"We are able to demonstrate to the public the importance of crop diversification while at the same time continuing our own research," Myers said.
Educational opportunities were abundant Saturday. Jim Whitley, a noted expert on Missouri aquatic plants, was on hand to talk about the seven-acre lake located on the west corner of the farm. It is stocked with seven species of fish and contains a plethora of native aquatic plants. Whitley points out an arrowroot plant to visitors standing on the Zig Zag Boardwalk.
"You can eat the root of the plant," Whitley said. "Lewis and Clark ate it while on their expedition. But it doesn't taste very good."
The farm will also boast a replica of Thomas Jefferson's iconic garden pavilion at Monticello. Well on their way to completion of the Jefferson Pavilion, the garden already has more than 115 species of daffodils and more than 120 species of daylilies and will be about 700 feet in length, staff said.
Educational programming aside, the unique pastoral beauty of the gardens has inspired staff to investigate another possible revenue source: weddings. Of course, the staff hopes that wedding parties would also use such an opportunity to learn from the farm.
"Any way we can get people out here to learn is beneficial," Smith said.
Back in the MFA Children's Barn, it was full-circle education as visitors watched Taylor deftly spin wool into yarn. Taylor, who raises her own sheep for wool, pointed out a nearby barn stall that contained two large sheep she sold to the farm.
Future classes and events at Jefferson Farm & Gardens will stress the relevance of agriculture on a community and national level. It will help people to better understand where food comes from and the importance that agriculture has on other industries such as clothing and medicine, Smith said.
"Now is a great time for this project," Smith said. "It's education through demonstration."
The community will have another chance to visit the farm during the South Farm Showcase on Sept. 27. For more information or to learn about charter membership, visit www.jeffersonfarm.org.