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USC alum puts Columbia farm on Slow Food path

There’s the fast lane of American cuisine where, day or night, you can gorge on chicken fingers, burgers, tacos, and every imaginable combination of sugar and fat that can be served at a drive-through window.

Then there’s the slow lane where you’ll find Joe and Amanda Jones.

“We really like good food; it’s as simple as that,” said Joe Jones, whose antebellum farmhouse in northern Richland County features a big, sunny kitchen where sumptuous meals simmer and stew. “And we think home grown is the best way to get it.”

When Joe, ’95 and ’97 master’s, says ‘home grown,’ he isn’t talking about growing a few tomatoes or a couple of squash or cucumbers. Home grown at the Joneses means tending flocks of heritage turkeys and chickens, keeping a bee hive for honey, and planting extensive vegetable gardens.

He and Amanda sell some of their excess produce, eggs, and most of their poultry to other enthusiasts who embrace the so-called Slow Food movement that took root 25 years ago in Italy and has since spread around the world.

“There’s a deeper meaning to food when you raise it yourself or buy it from a farm where you can see for yourself how things are raised,” Amanda said. “People like to come to our little farm just to see how we raise the livestock and to experience a connection with what they’re eating. You can’t do that in a grocery store or a restaurant.”

If you have the impression that the Joneses are back-to-nature Luddites who yearn for 18th-century simplicity, think again. Joe is director of USC’s EnGenCore Laboratory, located in the University’s Innovista district, which conducts highly complex DNA sequencing for clients across the country. Amanda is a former field biologist who met Joe while both were in graduate school at the University of California-Santa Cruz.

It’s the juxtaposition of their Slow Food passion and their high-tech professional backgrounds that make the Joneses such an interesting couple. But one visit to their homestead, tucked away in the leafy Cedar Creek community north of Columbia, will make you forget all of those labels anyway.

Their farm—part of a larger tract that’s been in his family for generations—is heavily wooded with three acres cleared for poultry, gardens, and a 19th-century farmhouse built by Joe’s great-great-grandfather. They’re restoring the house and have dubbed the place Doko Farm, using an American Indian word that means ‘gathering place.’

It is truly an idyllic setting for country living and self-sufficient gardening and farming. Merely strolling across the yard and taking in the view of the rustic barns, strutting turkeys, and shady hardwood trees will lower your blood pressure. Sit for a spell in the Joneses’ kitchen with its antique sink and heart-pine floors, and you’ll find yourself wondering what’s for supper. But even paradise involves some sweat, and hard work is the order of the day at Doko Farm.

“Raising turkeys and chickens in moveable outdoor pens is not the easy way to do things—in fact, it takes a lot of effort—but it’s so much better than confining them in tight, indoor quarters like commercial farms. And it’s better for the environment, too, because manure doesn’t build up, and the birds have a more natural diet,” Amanda said. “Heritage turkeys can forage for insects in a setting like this.”

“People say to us all the time, ‘You’ve got it made,’ and we know what they mean,” Joe said. “But we also see all the stuff that needs to be done around here. When we’re not trying to renovate the farmhouse or milking goats or rounding up stray turkeys, we’re poking around in these old outbuildings that have stuff in them from a hundred years ago.”

For Joe, the practice of sustainable farming with heritage poultry dovetails nicely with his career at the EnGenCore Laboratory.

“I have a lot of interest in genetic diversity, and in a small way what we’re doing on our farm helps to promote that by perpetuating livestock breeds that have been around for generations but are largely neglected now. And we might be biased, but these heritage breeds have so much more flavor than commercially grown poultry.”

Flavor isn’t the only selling point. For a growing number of consumers who care about such things, having confidence that what they put in their stomachs is safe and humanely raised is worth the premium they pay for such food.

“In the past 50 years, many of the family farms that had small herds and small-scale operations have largely gone away,” said Kevin Elliott, an associate professor of philosophy at USC who teaches a popular course on the ethics of food. “Now we hear about these concentrated animal feeding operations in which poultry and other livestock are warehoused in large numbers, stoking concerns about nasty strains of e-coli and enormous amounts of animal waste.”

Kristen Dubard, chapter leader of Slow Food Columbia, said those concerns and others are attracting more adherents to Slow Food values.

“People want to know the face and the story behind where their eggs or milk or produce are coming from. They want to see that chemicals aren’t being used or that migrant farmworkers aren’t being abused,” she said. “So people come to it from different angles, from the social justice view, from the quality food aspect.”

For Joe and Amanda, it all comes back to having a connection with what you eat—and what it tastes like.

When you buy a turkey or chicken from a farm like ours, you’re buying more than a breast or a leg—you’re buying the way it was raised,” Joe said. “And you’re also buying an unbelievable flavor.”

 

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Posted: 07/20/11 @ 12:00 PM | Updated: 07/20/11 @ 11:14 AM | Permalink

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