University of Virginia Vice President for Research
Sustainability Research Initiatives

New Farm Economics

Photo by Gerry Bishop

Morven Farm's agricultural operations have ranged in scale and focus over two centuries of Euro-American ownership. Of the 2,913 acres managed by the University of Virginia Foundation, approximately 350 acres are currently rented and remain in commercial production of corn and soybeans by the leasing farmer, with an additional 125 acres leased for hay production by a neighbor.

Michelle Rehme, a fourth-year UVA student in the Environmental Thought and Practice program, is initiating a different kind of agricultural research project at Morven as her thesis in the 2010/2011 academic year: New Farm Economics. Drawing on her experience with environmental sustainability while living and working at an eco-village in Iceland, as well as her participation in a national non-profit organization that promotes, recruits, and supports young farmers across the United States, her study seeks to restore agriculture as an honorable and viable profession while reviving a Jeffersonian spirit of agricultural experimentation and education at Morven Farm.

Recruiting a committed interdisciplinary team of 9 UVA students to participate in specific tasks and collaborative planning and problem-solving, Michelle will blend her research goals with her real-world experience as one of the founding members of UVA's Community Garden and her leadership as one of its student garden managers, as her team reclaims a former one acre organic kitchen garden at Morven. With support from the UVA Foundation and the Office of the Vice President for Research, recommendations from a professional organic farmer, and assistance from the Morven Farm staff, Michelle's team will provide hands-on opportunities for faculty and students studying food production cycles, and connecting to the values of citizenship that Jefferson and his contemporaries assigned to agrarian economies. The garden's produce is expected to contribute to programs planned at Morven in Summer 2011.

With faculty advisor Benjamin Cohen (Science, Technology, and Society), Michelle's project also addresses issues of foodshed environments, food security and the sustainability of small-scale agriculture - as an economically viable livelihood for new farms in rural economic development - as well as the traditional pattern of land use and community identity in this part of Albemarle County, Virginia.