USC's 'no impact man'

OK, not just anyone can tend to hogs, chickens and goats in the morning and incorporate that experience into a classroom lecture later the same day.

Joe Jones does it all the time. As new principal of the university’s Green (West) Quad, he’s the point man for sustainability for the residence hall’s 500 students. It’s a role that comes to him naturally. Jones’ 43-acre farm north of Columbia, which has been in his family since 1839, is a living, breathing model of sustainability. 

“When I applied for this position, I thought of it as a way to combine my personal interests and the university’s goals of teaching sustainability,” says Jones, a faculty member in the Arnold School of Public Health and director of genomic services at Selah Genomics. “I told them when I was interviewing for the position that I eat, sleep and breathe sustainability.

“I’d like to increase students’ exposure to faculty and what happens at the university in terms of sustainability. A lot of faculty and staff here have an inclination toward sustainability, and it’s important for students to see that.”

Jones and his wife, Amanda, moved to Columbia in 2007 after he had completed a doctoral and she a bachelor’s degree in biology at the University of California at Santa Cruz. He was recruited as director of the genomics laboratory, and it was a homecoming of sorts; he had completed bachelor’s and master’s degree in marine science in 1995 and 1997, respectively, and they were intrigued with the idea of restoring the 19th-century farmhouse and property of his great-great-grandfather.

In re-establishing Doko Farm (Doko is an American Indian word that means "gathering place"), the Joneses put the “recycle, reuse, reduce” mantra to work as they refurbished the house and built pens for livestock that include heritage breeds of hogs, chickens, turkeys, sheep and goats. A produce garden and beehive round out the farm’s offerings.

Rooted in the Midlands’ growing organic food movement, Doko Farm’s sustainable approach to agriculture dovetails nicely with sustainability discussions at Green Quad, Jones says.

“In 2010, USC’s First-Year Reading Experience focused on "No Impact Man," and I’m still using that book in the classroom to get students to think about their own choices in impacting the environment,” he says. “We all need to think about how much electricity and fossil fuels we’re using.”

Jones’ interactions with undergraduates were limited to a few teaching experiences at UC Santa Cruz until he taught a marine science course for nonmajors at USC. Student evaluations were extraordinarily good at the end of that “trial by fire experience,” he says, and more teaching opportunities became available through the Arnold School of Public Health.

“No one cared who I was when I was a student, so as an instructor I try to learn my students’ names and their hometowns or something about their interests,” he said. “Having that individual connection with each student shows I’m invested in them. It’s not lecturing at that point. They’re engaged and talking and able to integrate what we’re learning into their daily living.”

Looking ahead, Jones wants to do something special for the Green Quad’s 10th anniversary this fall. He already has something planned for the end of this semester, his first as Green Quad principal.

“I’m thinking about bringing in a few pygmy goats, baby chickens and ducklings during final exams to give students a little stress-relief — and an opportunity to experience a little bit of Doko Farm.”

Learn more

Joe and Amanda Jones' Doko Farm is part of the Midlands area's growing sustainable farming movement. You can learn more about the university's commitment to sustainability at the Sustainable Carolina website or take a virtual tour of our Green Quad residence hall.

Share this Story! Let friends in your social network know what you are reading about