COLUMBIA —Just down New Haven Avenue, east of U.S. 63, lie green pastures guarded by a gate. Beyond that gate are open fields, colorful gardens and orchards. Horses snort from their stall doors and chickens rustle in their pen. Although it often stays closed, the gate swung open for visitors Saturday.
Jefferson Farm and Gardens held one of its occasional open houses in celebration of summer. Funded by Thomas Jefferson Agricultural Institute, the 67-acre farm features all manner of wildlife, including a lake teeming with fish, a wildflower meadow and a vineyard.
Made possible through the Beginning Farmer Program, this workshop is being offered to those wanting to grow and market berries. Farm tours in Columbia will be part of the agenda, including a stop at Jefferson Farm & Gardens. For more information and to register call Lorin Chann at 449-3518.
June 22, from 1 - 5 p.m.
June 23, from 8 a.m. - noon
Development on the facility began in 2006 with the intent of creating a place that would provide public education programs to people throughout the community. Educational programs opened in the summer of 2008.
“A lot of school groups come out in the spring and fall,” said Rob Myers, director of programs. “We have also done some adult education programs for farmers and for people who have property and are interested in gardening and in our conservation program.”
The interns on the farm are active in giving school tours and educating the public about conservation, fruits, vegetables and field crops. Kelly Mottaz is currently a student at MU, getting a degree in fisheries and wildlife. Mottaz works a 40-hour week at the farm and, in addition to giving tours, does a lot of the planting and weeding on the property.
“It’s really kind of neat to have kids out here who have never seen stuff like this before and to get them to realize that there’s so many things to think about when you buy food,” Mottaz said. “Food doesn’t just come from the grocery store, it takes a lot more than that to get it.”
Educating students isn’t the only thing that Mottaz finds rewarding about her job. The produce that flourishes from her and other interns’ care is donated to the Central Missouri Food Bank. Last summer, the farm donated more than a thousand pounds of produce.
During the summer celebration, visitors were offered cold drinks and encouraged to wander around the property at their leisure. Families ate fresh blueberries from the vine, petted the farm animals and fished for bluegill, catfish and bass.
Jeff Wiese came to enjoy the farm with his wife and two daughters.
“We drove by and saw the sign for the open house,” Wiese said. “I think it’s beautiful. The girls loved going up and seeing the goats and the animals. It’s good letting them see stuff that they don’t see much every day around town in Columbia.”
In the stable, Kathleen Brown, a former preschool teacher at West Boulevard Elementary, greeted Wiese and his family and introduced them to the sheep, chickens and horses. Brown volunteers her time at the farm giving school tours.
“I’m a huge Thomas Jefferson fan, big time,” Brown said. “Having the animals here and having the kids understand the history of the animals is rewarding. Our third president probably had some of these animals on his farm, and you can walk outside and see everything else that he would have had.”
Brown has a collection of toy animals and a marionette that she uses when she gives school tours.
“When the younger kids come, instead of singing ‘Old McDonald Had a Farm,’ we sing ‘Thomas Jefferson Had a Farm’ and they get to come up and pick an animal as we sing about that animal,” Brown said.
The Thomas Jefferson Agricultural Institute is a nonprofit organization that has been in existence since 1997. MU owns the farmland and leases it to the institute. Like any other nonprofit organization, the farm is able to stay open through fundraising, grant writing and the help of government, businesses and individuals.
“It’s an ongoing process,” Myers said. “We are always trying to raise funds to add to what we are doing.”
Jefferson Farm plans to continue expanding its facility and the services that it offers in the coming years. Future goals for the farm include installing a wetland and additional interpretive signs throughout the property. The wetland will be a shallow water area that will accommodate native plants and will help to filter any runoff from the farm. The wetland will also provide a habitat for a variety of birds and amphibians.
Development progress on the farm has slowed during the recession; fewer donations have made it difficult to expand.
“The principal thing that we would like to add would be a visitors center,” Myers said. “We also would like to add a children’s garden, different types of conservation plants and more landscape plantings, but these additions will depend on what funding is available.”
For now, the farm is able to educate the public through outdoor demonstrations and occasional workshops. Workshops are offered to people who might be new to farming and want to learn what options they have to produce food in Missouri.
“We have a farm tractor 101 course for people that have never operated a tractor but are interested in buying one to use on their property,” Myers said. “They will be able to learn the basics on how to buy a tractor and how to use it.”
Because of limited funding, there isn't enough staff available to keep the farm open to the general public. The goal is to have the gates open to anyone who wishes to stop by and walk the fields. For now, groups can make reservations to come and tour the farm throughout the summer months.
Brown encourages others to take advantage of what the farm provides. "This is such a beautiful facility," she said. "I mean, I just drive up that lane and think 'wow!'”