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Tour shows connection between farmers and UGA

POSTED: August 12, 2014 12:28 a.m.
Scott Rogers/The Times

Commissioner Gary Black of the Georgia Department of Agriculture speaks at Jaemor Farms to new University of Georgia faculty members.

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New faculty with the University of Georgia stopped at Jaemor Farms on Monday as part of a statewide tour designed to illustrate the connections between university research and economic development in the state.

In Hall County, where the agriculture industry works closely with the university’s local extension office, that connection is especially important to farmers like Jaemor Farms manager Drew Echols.

“We’ve had a really good relationship with them all through the years,” Echols said. “When something new comes up (in agricultural technology), they’re always up here to share it. We don’t have to just wander aimlessly.”

Jennifer Frum, vice president for public service and outreach at the university, said faculty visited Jaemor Farms to learn about both local agricultural practices and agricultural tourism.

“This kind of agritourism is a growing part of the state’s economic development and it’s an interesting, innovative concept that we’d like them to understand,” Frum said.

Jaemor Farms has been operated by the Echols family for 102 years. In that time, Echols said, agricultural tourism has become an increasingly important part of the business.

That business includes a roadside market where customers can purchase fresh produce grown on the farm as well as bakery products, gift baskets and other food. Along with the market, Jaemor’s agricultural tourism business includes a corn maze, tours of the farm, field trips, barn rentals and pick-your-own-produce events.

Echols said Jaemor has worked extensively with UGA both in developing its agricultural tourism business and on farming issues. Its agricultural tourism coordinator, Caroline Black, is a UGA graduate whom Echols credits with bringing the new faculty tour to the farm. 

Echols said university employees, either working from Athens or from the university’s extension office in Gainesville, were instrumental in the development of the roadside market.

During a 1997 expansion of the market, Echols said, “UGA agricultural engineers actually drew the plans for building.”

Since then, university employees have assisted with other agricultural tourism issues like traffic flow.

“They’re knowledgeable on a broad, broad range of topics,” Echols said. “They’re experts on a lot of different levels and a lot of different sectors of agriculture.”

Through the extension office, the university has assisted with farming issues at Jaemor for decades.

“Early on, my grandfather relied heavily on the university,” Echols said. “We still work with them now, but it was even more crucial with a new fledgling business.”

It is  through the extension office, Echols said, that the business stays abreast of new farming practices and technology, and it’s whom the Echols call when they have a problem with their crops.

“This summer there were some issues I had with tomatoes, and those guys were up here in a hurry,” Echols said. “They take their cuttings and send them to their lab, and they usually have an answer for you within a day.”

Echols said one of the things that makes the extension offices so valuable is the university’s access to an extended base of knowledge and research.

“It’s not just University of Georgia. They collaborate with Auburn, with Florida, with South Carolina,” he said. “If you make a phone call to Athens and somebody there doesn’t know the answer, their network of information is extensive.”

Frum said UGA provides these services because it is its responsibility as a land grant university.

“There’s sort of a covenant between the people and the institution,” she said. “It’s not just research for the sake of research; it’s research to solve real-world problems.”

Suzanne O’Connell, a new assistant professor of horticulture, said she hopes what she learns on the tour will help her determine the best direction for her research in organic vegetable production and sustainable horticultural practices.

“I’m really excited to learn what (local farmers) are doing and to think about how I can incorporate their challenges and their goals into our research program,” she said.

“We want there to be a spark for faculty members between what their areas of expertise are and what Georgia’s challenges and opportunities are,” Frum said. “That’s a really important connection for the University of Georgia to have. It’s sort of the land grant mission in action.”


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