History of the Farm

Before the Civil War, what is now Spring Valley Ecofarms was part of a 3000 acre cotton plantation worked by slaves.  In 1864, a Confederate soldier named John Anderson, returned on leave to Athens and bought 100 acres of the plantation. After the war, he kept many of the original slaves as share croppers and housed them in cabins.  In contrast to many landowners who built Greek Revival mansions in Athens before the war, Anderson and his family, in 1878, built a modest farmhouse, the central part of which still stands today.  They called the farm "Rugged Oaks" in honor of a stand of magnificent white oaks near the farmhouse.   

Pictured below: The farmhouse in winter, 2009. The original structure from 1878 is in the center. The front and back wings were added later. To one side is a pig smoke house, built in 1917 from bricks made from the Piedmontís red clay soils.

Throughout the years, farm infrastructure was expanded.  East Branch of Trial Creek, which originates on the property, was dammed to make a pond for watering cattle, and elaborate diversion bunds were built to divert the stream during flood times.  Because the farm sat on rolling hills, terraces were built to level the fields.  A sawmill and barn were built, but neither exists today.  Generations of the Anderson family were born and raised on the farm and they continued growing cotton until the early 20th century.  Like other cotton farms of the region, the fields lay barren during the winter, exposed to rains that washed away the good topsoil and left only red clay.  The weakened cotton plants fell victim to the boll weevil, and by the 1930,s  most cotton farms in the Piedmont were abandoned.   Parts of the farm were sold off, but the Anderson farm survived on 100 acres with cattle and other grain crops until 1970, when the last of the family interested in farming passed away.  The children moved out, put the farm up for sale, and meanwhile leased the farm to a local farmer who cultivated wheat and sorghum by intensively plowing and fertilizing the red clay. 

In 1974, Dr. Jordan joined the University of Georgia in what is now the Odum School of Ecology. By 1993, he had completed almost 20 years of agro-ecological research in Venezuela and Brazil, and was looking for research opportunities closer to home in Athens.  He sought a site to pursue an approach to agriculture that at the time was considered unconventional in Georgia.  When he learned of the Anderson farm, he purchased it and began research and teaching projects focused on farming methods that would tighten the agricultural nutrient cycle and restore soil organic matter to reverse the damage done by over a hundred years of cotton. Sale of fresh vegetables to Athensí restaurants and meat to a CSA (Community Supported Agriculture ) began and continued through his retirement in 2010, and were revived in 2014 when a young farmer came aboard  who had the energy to both grow and sell the produce.

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