This is a guest post written by the following authors: Lyndsey Farrar, Sophia Feller, Olivia Herron, and Peter Wilkinson. We at Enjoy Oxford thank the Ground Up Team for all their hard work!
One of the most magical things about Oxford, Ohio, is that you can continually find new adventures. Sprinkled across the surrounding area is a rich and vivid history of the agricultural, cultural and ecological practices that have shaped Oxford into what it is today. The newly launched Educating from the Ground Up website shines a light on these unique aspects and offers visitors a unique driving tour agenda. The website was produced by the Miami University Institute for Food and funded by a grant from Ohio Humanities, the state partner of the National Endowment for the Arts.
Miami Professor Peggy Shaffer, who directs the Institute for Food, is pleased about this initiative because the website has the power, she says, to “reveal the value of an overlooked and forgotten place in rural Butler County.”
The interactive website provides different lenses, such as “Earth, United States, and Ohio River Valley,” to click on and read more information about this land. This tool helps viewers place themselves in history and see how the land ties us together, despite the generations that separate us. The website also has a downloadable map that can guide you through a driving tour of some of the most significant agricultural landmarks around Oxford. In an effort to catch people's attention in our digital world, this website perfectly combines technology, nature, and history.
Follow along to see what the driving tour was like for us – students at Miami University -- and our friends!
Our first stop was to Miami University’s Institute for Food Farm, and the October morning was shrouded in fog. The institute was founded to engage the community and university in issues of food, health, and sustainable agriculture.
Its research, classes and farm are intended to promote healthy food and communities, a healthy planet, and to demonstrate how manageable growing your own food can be. When we arrived, we saw student volunteers and staff members harvesting produce for the farm’s CSA (community sponsored agriculture) boxes.
More than 100 Oxford residents and students are CSA members this fall. We learned from farm Director Charles Griffin about the agricultural significance of this 8-acre plot, of which the farm has 3 acres under crop.
Today, the farm serves as an experiential learning center, a field laboratory, and an intensive vegetable production farm. We were only at the first location and it already felt like we were simultaneously immersed in historical and contemporary knowledge.
Interestingly, The Institute for Food Farm is located on property shared with the Austin-Magie Farm, which is a National Historic Property. In 1841, Aaron Austin built this Federal-style brick farmhouse, still standing on the property today. The farm was owned by a series of prominent farmers, including David M. Magie, who is known for doing important breeding work for popular livestock hogs. His work linked Oxford to Cincinnati and has had a lasting impact on livestock production.
Another impactful historical figure lived across town in Langstroth Cottage. It’s currently in the center of Miami University campus hustle, but once provided reprise and solace for Lorenzo Lorraine Langstroth to reconnect with where he felt most comfortable, in the solitude of nature. Langstroth was intensely interested in bees and how to best cultivate a new hive; in 1852 he received a U.S. patent for movable hive frames, currently known as a Langstroth Hive. He moved to and lived in this cottage from 1858 to 1887 to further his practice. The house is a National Historic Landmark and commemorates Langstroth as the father of American beekeeping. As several of us in the group are passionate about bees and conserving native pollinators, we were excited to be standing on ground where Langstroth did such important work years prior.
When you walk into MOON Co-op, beautiful and bright produce is the first thing you see. The cooler shelves are lines with local produce and others are full of sustainable products. We chatted with friendly staff who are happy to help you explore new products and connect you to new flavors. MOON shows community members how easy it is to engage with and live a sustainable life. They are knowledgeable about how supporting local and regional producers support the local economy and reduce transportation costs. We left thinking about how connected a community is and the power of our dollar.
We thought this site was one of the most well-hidden secrets in town. The DeWitt Homestead can be reached down a nice trail, which was inundated with signs of the changing seasons, enveloping us in the comforting smell of fall.
We were surprised to find out that the homestead was built in 1805 by Zachariah Price DeWitt and is the oldest structure in Oxford Township. The Dewitt log house is the last of the pioneer homesteads that were established along Four Mile Creek, stretching us to think of life in Oxford in a completely different setting. The DeWitt family ushered in the pioneering lifestyle, laying the groundwork for many of the agricultural farmers we were learning about on the tour.
Downing Fruit Farm is a bit farther away from Oxford but worth the drive for the fresh treats and small farm charm. This family-run farm is famous for its apples, cider, and carries a wide variety of other local produce. The Downings often sell their products at the Oxford Farmers Market on Saturday mornings.
When we walked into their farm retail store, we were overwhelmed with delicious smells and friendly faces, making us want to stay all day! The Downing Fruit Farm is a prime example of a farm helping its community connect around local foods.
This location was a quick stop because it is currently a private residence. But back in 1859, David Magie bought this house and moved his family from the Austin-Magie farm to the then-village of Oxford. This is where David Magie did much of his thinking and famous work of breeding the “Magie Breed,” which is the predecessor to the Poland China hog, a species still popular today. It was interesting thinking of the juxtaposition of this significant part of history tucked right into the life and bustle of Uptown Oxford, where many Miami University students live and spend their free time.
The Doty Homestead is located just outside of Hueston Woods State Park and is open for tours on weekends throughout the summer. This homestead was prominent throughout the 19th and early 20th centuries, and it felt like being transported in time when you crossed the building threshold. The house was built in 1832 by Joseph Morris and is now operated by the nonprofit Oxford Museum Association. This site functions as a hub for preservation and education of historical, agricultural lifestyles.
We were all really excited to go to the Black Covered Bridge. Several of us commented how we had been there on our own, running or biking, but none of us understood how integral it was to previous Oxford communities.
In the late 1800s, this bridge was an innovative, structural success and provided access to the saw and grist mill on Four Mile Creek. We were able to escape from the structured days filled with classes and work and be silly for a little while, skipping through the bridge and playing in the creek.
As we were realizing that we had to get back to our responsibilities, we reflected on how much life can change over the years and marveled at the historical gems tucked all around Oxford.