There’s more green around Oakwood University campus these days. No, I don’t mean money; at least not yet, but collard greens, kale, cabbage, and beans. Oakwood Farms is back as part of the industry recovery plan envisioned by President Dr. Lesile N. Pollard. Making higher education affordable for any student who desires to attend Oakwood has become an obsession by Dr. Pollard and Oakwood Farms is the latest project.
Every farm needs a farmer and Oakwood Farms is no different. Meet Artis Sydney, a local agricultural entrepreneur and the previous owner of Garden Cove Natural Food Store in Huntsville, Alabama. With over 40 years of gardening, farming and playing in the dirt, he is truly a man with two “green thumbs.”
“All of the food produced here at Oakwood Farms will benefit students,” says Sydney as he assists a customer purchasing freshly pulled collard greens. “We currently have a little over five acres cultivated now with over 40-acres for the future plants.” As demand for healthy organic food increases, Oakwood Farms will expand to local businesses and build relationships throughout North Alabama. Poised to be the largest Urban farm in North Alabama, Oakwood Farms wants to also offer an experience for everyone who visits. Oakwood Farms will provide indoor/outdoor seating with Wi-Fi connections, various festivals for the local community, gardening classes, cooking demonstrations, locally grown quality produce in packaging that displays the Oakwood name, and so much more.
You will experience all these blessings if you obey the Lord your God:
Your towns and your fields
will be blessed.
Your children and your crops
will be blessed.
Since Oakwood Farms is on the campus of Oakwood University, it is only natural that learning would take place. This summer, the first gardening classes were offered in testing soil, weed management, and green housing, cover crops, tasting of various produce, and more. Students who attended all classes received a certificate of completion in Garden Education. Plans are in the works to introduce a university-level curriculum for students who are interested in Horticulture Studies.
Oakwood University started as a place to educate blacks in the south in practical, academic and spiritual disciplines, and the mission has not changed. Ellen G. White, in a letter penned about “Oakwood Manual Training School” as it was called then, encouraged the work of training students in cultivating the soil and spiritual erudition in God’s plan for their lives:
“At the Huntsville school a thorough work is to be done in training men to cultivate the soil and to grow fruits and vegetables. Let no one despise this work. Agriculture is the A. B. C. of industrial education. Let the erection of the buildings for the school and the sanitarium be an education to the students. Help the teachers to understand that their perceptions must be clear, their actions in harmony with the truth; for it is only when they stand in right relation to God that they will be able to work out His plan for themselves, and for the souls with whom, as instructors, they are brought in contact.” White, E.G. (n.d.). Southern Field Echo, 11.
Health and wellbeing is dominating the headlines and people are concerned about affordability of health care and access to services. God has a healthcare plan that will last for eternity. When food is used to build better health, the results are incredible. People live long and healthy lives not because they are special, but because they follow the plans God outlined in His word. 2 John 3:4 says, “I wish above all things that you prosper and in health, even as your soul prospers.” This is the desire of our Maker because He knows what is best for our bodies to work at their optimum performance.
Not only is it nourishment to grow on physically and spiritually, but also mentally. The wisdom shared by Solomon is “in all of [our] getting, get understanding” Proverbs 4:7. Housed on the campus of Oakwood University, Oakwood Farms plays an important role in providing food for the mind. Fresh organic meals, with food provided from the farm, is just what is needed for growing students. Since 1896, Oakwood University continues to challenge students, encourage innovation, demand excellence, foster collaboration, have compassion for others, respect the sacred, serve the needy, and demonstrate integrity. We are going back to our roots so that we can share the future.
Oakwood Farms began preparing the soil for planting in early 2017. The farms will be growing an extensive variety of produce that will benefit Huntsville and the surrounding communities. The plan is to have the seasonal fruits and vegetables available to the public to “self-pick,” weigh, and pay. Some of the produce will be picked by employees and packaged, then sold to those who don’t want or have the time to pick it themselves. Employees of this program are educated and experienced in the agricultural field. The farms are expertly irrigated, tended to, and maintained by these employees.
Plants being grown on Oakwood Farms include many varieties of blueberries, raspberries, radishes, greens, grapes, pecans, walnuts, spinach, and olives, just to name a few. Plants like these take an experienced team to maintain. For instance, blueberry plants must become sturdy before they can sustain the fruit they bear. New blueberry plants on Oakwood Farms are often too young and thus not strong enough to hold the fruit when it becomes ripe, so the employees deftly remove the unripe fruit from these weaker plants so that they can grow strong and be able to support fruit the next year. Another duty of the Oakwood Farm employee is to make sure the plants are properly watered. Plants of a different species positioned at the beginning of each line informs the workers if the produce needs water. Additionally, with the help of an extensive irrigation system spanning the entire farm and strategically placed so that each plant is properly watered, workers are able to ensure the prosperity and health of Oakwood Farms.
By Kenn Dixon and Jonathan Pride