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December 12, 2022

Philly's FarmerJawn to lease 123 acres on West Chester school grounds for organic farm, educational programs

Christa Barfield, FarmerJawn's owner and operator, has partnered with Westtown School to begin working on the land in January

Lifestyle Agriculture
FarmerJawn Christa Barfield West Chester farm Mike Prince/PETER BRESLOW CONSULTING & PUBLIC RELATIONS

Philadelphia's FarmerJawn Agriculture, owned and operated by Christa Barfield, pictured above, has been selected to lease 123 acres on the campus of Westtown School in West Chester beginning in January.

A Philadelphia farmer has partnered with a school in West Chester to use some of its farmland for organic farming and agricultural education.

Christa Barfield, the owner and operator of FarmerJawn Agriculture, will lease 123 acres of Westtown School's land beginning in January. The acres will be used for organic farming, educational programs and to stock a farm market.

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"Nobody knows where their food comes from, and that's a tragedy in itself," Barfield told PhillyVoice. "And so for FarmerJawn to be able to be a beacon of understanding of where food comes from, and the importance of knowing who your farmer is ... it's everyone's right to know who's growing their food."

Westtown School, located 20 miles west of Philadelphia in West Chester, is a Quaker coeducational day and boarding school for students in pre-kindergarten through 12th grade. A portion of the campus' 600 acres has been leased for farming use since 1996, although the land around Westtown has been cultivated for hundreds of years, starting with the Lenni-Lenape people. 

Upon the announcement of the former farmer’s retirement, Westtown began a Farmland Task Force and commenced a months-long search for a community-minded partner with a commitment to a regenerative relationship with the land. 

“The task force was impressed by Barfield’s experience, approach and strong alignment with the school’s mission and Strategic Vision and is pleased to invite her to campus as our new partner,” Westtown's Head of School Chris Benbow said in a release.

Barfield will farm half the land and use it to stock a 3,000-square-foot farm market already located on the school premises, which will operate under the FarmerJawn name beginning in April. Using crops grown onsite, she hopes to create sunflower seeds, potato chips and a hot sauce line to be sold at the market. The farm will also supply local food businesses, food artisans and chefs.

FarmerJawn Christa Barfield greenhouse west cheterMike Prince/PETER BRESLOW CONSULTING & PUBLIC RELATIONS

The remaining acreage will become a “farming incubator,” made up of five- to 10-acre cooperative farms operated by a cohort of Black farmers. FarmerJawn launched a farmer incubator for Black and brown adults this year, offering agricultural entrepreneurship opportunities as well as education on farming and impacting urban networks and food systems. So far, 10 people were chosen out of 50 applications, and seven have already graduated.

"Essentially, people who have interest in farming and need a place to start, this gives them the land and gives them access to equipment and resources to be able to feel successful in this venture as they get off the ground," Barfield said. "And that's what we want to provide, but with a specific focus on Black and brown individuals, who, in many ways, have been robbed of the opportunity for advancement in every aspect, whether looking at trying to start a business or just housing or food access and insecurity."

All of the farming on the land will be done organically, since part of the FarmerJawn mission is to advocate for healthy, organic food through regenerative farming practices.

"It allows us to heal the land for the people that are growing on it, and that are living near it," Barfield said. "Because a lot of those chemicals, yes, they're airborne. And you know, the people that are farming the land are directly impacted by whatever chemicals are being sprayed. And the people that live in that community, and the children that go to school and the faculty that work there are heavily impacted by breathing in the air...Outside of just feeding people, there's a physical impact, environmental impact, as well as a social impact."

Jubilee Justice, an organization that supports Black farming communities, helped make the connection between Barfield and Westtown School, as they hoped to have a Black farmer in the role. Several experienced farmers went through the proposal process to lease the Westtown farmland, but Barfield notes that in choosing her, the school revealed its desire for change.

"I decided to become a farmer five years ago and have been farming for the last two and a half years," Barfield said. "That means looking at the differences, you know, change is what I see. And so this partnership with the school is very telling to me ... they have a want to be anti-racist, and to be in alignment with this vision for Black and brown infusion in agriculture. And also they recognize their need for regenerative and organic reformation of lands, because their land has been farmed very conventionally, it's been sprayed with Roundup for decades."

Barfield formerly worked in health care before becoming a Philadelphia-based urban farmer in 2018, when she created FarmerJawn Agriculture. Some of FarmerJawn's top priorities are nutritional security for local citizens and restoring access to farmland and farming for Black farmers. Barfield's organization includes a retail and garden learning center in Germantown, a community-supported agriculture (CSA) business and five acres of land in Elkins Park.

"We actually really connected the food system between the urban locations that we have, the suburban locations that we have and now this rural location," Barfield said. "And we create one succinct true system, a complete new system for the Philadelphia region, which I'm really, really excited about."

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