College-George Jones Memorial Farm Lease Ending

The lease between the College -owned property of George Jones Memorial Farm and a nonprofit called City Fresh will end July 1, 2023. This termination comes after five years of tenantship. 

“As a lease naturally expires, the College is reviewing the most effective uses of the properties to support the College’s mission,” Chief Facilities Officer Kevin Brown wrote in an email to the Review.

Part of the George Jones property could be sold to Republic Services, which owns Lorain County Landfill on Oberlin Elyria Road, in order to build a methane-producing natural gas pipeline. 

According to Thom Dawkins, interim director of the Bonner Center, the Bonner Center partners with City Fresh through its community-based work-study program. According to the City Fresh agency page on the Bonner Center website, students involved with the organization through the Bonner Center can expect to carry out a variety of tasks. 

“The types of work can vary greatly, from harvesting crops, to natural building, to sustainable energy, to trail building and maintenance,” the page reads. 

Named in memory of former professor of Botany George Jones, the farm focuses on restoration agriculture and is home to wetlands, prairie, forest, and vernal pools. Located a mile east of Oberlin, George Jones Farm occupies 70 acres, straddling the City of Oberlin and New Russia Township. As of 2022, it is owned by the College and leased to City Fresh, formerly known as the New Agrarian Center.  

On the farm, City Fresh grows annual row crops, perennial systems, and rotational systems.  The organization operates as a central packaging hub for produce, and fruits and vegetables produced at the farm are sold affordably throughout Northeast Ohio from June to October. 

Per the City Fresh page on the Bonner Center’s website, City Fresh’s mission is to “repair a broken local food system by paying farmers a living wage, offering nutritious, organic, local produce to people who need it most, and training the next generation in sustainable living practices.”

As a community-supported agriculture project, City Fresh teaches community members how to cultivate produce and also welcomes Oberlin students taking Practicum in Agroecology, a course taught by Visiting Lecturer in Environmental Studies Brad Melzer.

“The farm isn’t just a farm,” Melzer said in a 2019 interview with Oberlin’s Office of Communications. “It’s also a food hub, and it works with many farmers in the area.” 

Produce from other local farms is accumulated at George Jones Farm. City Fresh sets up produce stands in Lorain, Cleveland Heights, Berea, Elyria, and Westlake. 

Before the pandemic, Melzer commented that the “farm is experiencing a renaissance.” However, due to COVID-19 restrictions, many students were unable to get involved in person, and during the height of the pandemic, the farm was staffed by a single employee. Oberlin students like College fourth-year Antonina DiValentin have worked to revive the farm since the pandemic and have developed a connection to the land. DiValentin worked for City Fresh starting this past summer through early November as a farmhand and produce transporter. 

“I think it’s very hypocritical for the College to ask a lot from a community-supported agriculture project,” DiValentin said. “It was hard to bring the farm back from COVID. It was almost all overgrown, and we really cleaned the place up. We are maintaining the farm for the College in the future — the College shouldn’t turn any part of George Jones into a pipeline.” 

DiValentin recognizes that there are difficulties for students in finding transportation to and from the farm, reinforcing the separation between George Jones Farm and Oberlin College. However, she believes this distance is not insurmountable. 

“There should be shuttles for classes and easier ways to have the farm more included in Oberlin College,” DiValentin said.