The distinctive red barn sitting just off of New Haven Road in southeast Columbia is more than just an iconic symbol of farm life. It is a working facility at Jefferson Farm and Garden, a place designed to help community members learn about food production and other agricultural issues such as conservation.
The 67-acre educational farm, which sits on the MU South Farm property, is an experience no family, child or adult, will likely forget.
Amy Dooley, program director for Jefferson Farm and Garden, helped organize the farm’s grand opening, which was this past October. Activities at the event included tractor tires full of grain for children to play in and catch-and-release fishing in their seven-acre pond.
“Everyone was busy all the time, so we knew people were really having fun and enjoying themselves,” Dooley said.
Dooley hopes that all future community events are enjoyed equally as well. The grand opening was just an introduction to the possibilities that exist for Jefferson Farm and Garden. The interest in it proved the potential the educational facility has. In addition to upcoming community events, she wants people to be able to come out to the farm on a regular basis and enjoy themselves. She also wants them to learn about agriculture and where food comes from.
A wide variety of vegetables are planted on the farm. Twelve different plots fill up an area on the farm dedicated to growing both unusual and traditional vegetables. They plan to sell the vegetables produced at markets in the Columbia area.
Colleen Armstrong, a farm worker at Jefferson Farm and Garden, was a part of Tigers for Community Agriculture, an on-campus organization, before she graduated from the University of Missouri. TCA is for students who want to learn more about agriculture and be involved in hands-on food production.
“TCA has a big impact on Jefferson Farm and Garden and they work with them a lot,” Armstrong said.
The students in TCA plant, harvest, weed, and help with landscaping. Recently TCA students installed a “sensory garden” at the farm. It consists of four boxes of different plants, each box with a different purpose, according to Armstrong. Visitors can use their senses of touch, feel, taste and smell to interact with the farm.
The butterfly house is one of the newest structures at the farm, and during the summer of 2017, the farm will host a butterfly festival. Several different species of native butterflies will be in the house. Behind the butterfly house is a two-acre wildflower meadow where people can watch pollinators in action. Because pollinators are such an important focus of the farm, they will also host beginning beekeeping classes.
“Everything here is planted with a purpose,” Dooley said. She also explained that, “even the trees lining the driveway will soon be sugar maples.”
Dooley said when the trees are mature, they will be holding a maple sugar festival and even tapping their own trees. Sugar maple trees are tapped in the winter, so this allows Jefferson Farm and Garden to have activities in all seasons, showing that farmers work year-round.
Jefferson Farm and Garden provides an opportunity for people to come and get a taste of rural living. The farm is an educational platform that introduces agriculture to those who might otherwise never have the opportunity to get that close to production agriculture.