COLUMBIA - The gates are still locked Wednesday at the Jefferson Farms and Gardens, but the board members are nearing a decision. The farm is currently non-operational because it is nearly $1 million in debt. The farm used to give tours to teach the public about farming and conducted research for the Department of Agriculture.
Now, the board members at Jefferson Farms and Gardens are waiting for the University of Missouri to approve the proposed plans for the use of the land. The 67 acres are being leased to the Thomas Jefferson Agricultural Institute by the University of Missouri.
Thomas Jefferson Agricultural Institute President and CEO Jerry Nelson said the board has been developing plans since January and hopes to have a finalized decision on or before July 1. Nelson said the goal is to have the farm re-opened later this year.
The board has been meeting with four different groups to take over operating the farm. No decision has been made, but Nelson said the decision has been narrowed down.
The farm originally opened in 2006. Nelson said part of the reason the farm is not succeeding is because it entered at a time when the economy was slipping.
Until last summer, the property was home to an assortment of farm animals and experimental crops as part of the organization's mission to teach the general public about farming while also conducting research.
Funding for the farm came from state, regional and federal grants, as well as corporations.
Monsanto, MFA and the W.K. Kellogg Foundation were some of the important sources of support. That funding included a $900,000, four-year, grant from the Kellogg Foundation. The foundation decided to pull it two years early, which forced Jefferson Farm to take out a loan for $400,000.
"We had a grant with Kellogg," Nelson said. "When they pulled the funding that caused a big difference in what we could really fund."
The first thing the farm did to help with funds was cut the staff. Nelson said after they cut staff members, they had to start cutting programs and that is when the debt spiraled downhill because the programs were what drove the funding.
Christain Basi, the associate director at the Mizzou News Bureau issued this statement, "We are aware of the situation with Jefferson Farm and Gardens. While the university does own the land, it's too early to speculate on what will happen. We are still assessing the situation."
Nelson said the Thomas Jefferson Agricultural Institute has the land leased for another 45 years. If the University of Missouri doesn't approve the plans,the institute can either change the plans to meet the requirements, or the University could take away the lease.
Nelson said the farm wants to expand educational practices and begin to focus on how the crops can be processed.
The farm has already began looking at energy issues. Nelson said if the farm re-opens they want to look at crops that could be used as energy sources. In the future, the farm might get into wind and solar energy projects.