Winter may be a relatively quiet season for many farmers in the Georgia Piedmont, but not for Carl Jordan. Jordan, the founder of Spring Valley EcoFarms, is busy preparing for his summer-long course on organic agriculture at the University of Georgia.
Located in Athens, Ga., Spring Valley EcoFarms is a 100-acre farm that includes experimental plots, an old-growth hickory stand, organic farms, pastures, ponds, newly planted fruit groves, greenhouses and animals.
Course covers wide array of organic ag topics
In addition to farming, Jordan is a senior research scientist emeritus at the UGA Odum School of Ecology. Open to all UGA students, the course combines May session and through session classes to create an intense, hands-on learning experience. Students learn about ecological agriculture, the ethics of sustainability, ecology and organic agriculture principles, the seven-credit course can be used as an internship for the UGA Organic Agriculture Certificate Program. The certificate program is coordinated through the UGA College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences.
Jordan, who retired in 2009, said the idea for the class came from his own undergraduate days, when he attended a summer forestry camp.
On-farm experience, too
“It was a great experience, and I wanted to recreate something similar here,” he said. “The students are at the farm three days a week from 8 a.m. to noon for 11 weeks. It’s not quite the same as living in cabins in the woods for the entire summer, but it’s something they couldn’t get in a regular semester.”
The summer-long course allows students to experience an entire growing season: planting seeds, tending crops and harvesting the produce at the end of the course.
“Eleven weeks is enough time to grow crops like squash, corn, peppers, cucumbers and tomatoes,” Jordan said. “At the end of the session, the peppers and tomatoes have only started to ripen. Last summer, a lot of the students kept coming out to the farm even after the course was officially over. Ideally, we would start in March and go through November, but that doesn’t quite fit with UGA’s academic calendar.”
Along with gaining hands-on experience, students in the course learn about the theory and practice of organic agriculture in the Southeast, ranging from history, economics and ethics to soil ecology and nutrient cycling.
A complete system
For Jordan, ensuring that students gain an understanding of the organic farm as a complete system is paramount.
“Spring Valley is unique,” he said. “We’re promoting the concept of integrated agriculture—animals, vegetables, fruits, forestry—it’s a whole system. As Eugene Odum used to say, ‘the ecosystem is greater than the sum of its parts.’ We always try to keep the big picture in mind.”
Jordan encourages students from any discipline to enroll in his course. “Some students want to go into organic farming, some want to have a garden and some just want to be aware of the issues,” he said. “Those are all good reasons to take the class.”
More details about the course can be found on the Spring Valley EcoFarms website at www.springvalleyecofarms.org.