This story also appears in our University of Missouri College of Agriculture, Food and Natural Resources’ Agricultural Research Center Magazine. Stop by your local Research Center to pick up a copy!
As an outdoor classroom, the University of Missouri College of Agriculture, Food and Natural Resources’ Jefferson Farm and Garden has a unique opportunity to be an educational outlet for the Columbia community, specializing in agricultural education.
Through numerous educational programs, community events and demonstrations, Jefferson strives to cultivate an interest in food, agriculture and the environment.
“Our focus is to try to create positive experiences for the public,” said Director Amy Dooley. “We want to connect the community to food and agriculture. The best way to do that is through our community events and our other offerings.”
Jefferson Farm and Garden is a 67-acre working, educational farm designed to engage the community in authentic farm experiences. Jefferson originally opened in 2006. Dooley became the director in 2015.
“We are in a unique situation at Jefferson,” Dooley said. “Our property has a great combination of agriculture and natural resources. We really bridge the gap between the two.”
While a strong majority of the programs and events are aimed at elementary, middle and high school students, Jefferson works with learners of all ages. Jefferson offers classes focused on several topics, including gardening.
Jefferson partners with numerous organizations and MU faculty members to complete this mission. The Heart of Missouri Master Gardeners is one of those groups who has provided important help and knowledge to Jefferson.
“They’ve been so key to what our mission is,” Dooley said. “Not only have they helped with some of our programs, they have helped with the maintenance of Jefferson. They have played a big role in several aspects at Jefferson.”
There are numerous stops throughout Jefferson in which individuals can gain a deeper understanding of the importance of agriculture in their everyday lives.
One of the main attractions of Jefferson is its seven-acre pond. Always a popular place to stop in and fish, Jefferson has already held several successful fishing nights where the community can come in and see how big of a fish they can catch.
“There’s not only the fishing aspect associated with our pond,” Dooley said. “It’s a huge educational tool when it comes to aquaculture, native plants and water quality initiatives.”
Jefferson also has a native tree grove and interpretive trail which showcases the variety of trees included in Missouri. Funding for the trail was provided through a Tree Resource Improvement and Maintenance (TRIM) grant, administrated through the Missouri Department of Conservation and Missouri Community Forestry Council.
“The native tree grove and interpretive trail gives us the opportunity to talk about tree benefits, as well as the food, fiber and many other products that come from trees,” Dooley said. “It also allows individuals to walk through and see the different types of trees – and even find a tree that they could plant in their yard.”
There is also a strong crop and vegetable presence at Jefferson Farm and Garden. A variety of common Missouri commodities have been planted to inform the community what each of those crops goes toward. Jefferson also grows a variety of vegetables in its greenhouse. The greenhouse not only extends the growing season, it allows visitors an opportunity to see what does well in a greenhouse setting.
“We have planted field corn, sweet corn, popcorn, Indian corn, wheat, rice, cotton and soybeans,” Dooley said. “Missouri isn’t always the first state people think of when it comes to some of these crops. Seeing cotton or rice will be real eye-opening for people.
“We are currently expanding our educational and marketing opportunities in regards to our vegetable production. We’re working on developing a CSA – community supported agriculture. In that system, people can buy shares of our produce, which is grown organically. A CSA is nice because individuals know where their food is coming from and know how it’s grown.”
Interactions with livestock are also a possibility. Jefferson has a variety of animals in and out of its barn.
“Everyone loves to interact with our livestock,” Dooley said. “They want to know names, ages and their personalities. It’s such a great transition, too, because we then get to explain the importance of each animal.”
One final highlight is the butterfly house. A home for several types of butterflies, the house is part of a bigger part of Jefferson’s pollinator efforts.
“We already have a two-acre wildflower meadow and four productive beehives,” Dooley said. “It’s a great way to showcase that interaction with nature.”
Jefferson continues to work with the community through a variety of events. Fishing nights, festivals and classes all bring individuals closer to agriculture.
“We’re rolling everything out in stages,” Dooley said. “We want each person who visits Jefferson Farm and Garden to feel a deep connection to agriculture. We always have the visitor experience in mind.”