Cultivating a Career — In a Nontraditional Way

             By the time she realized she had a passion for sustainable agriculture, Jayne Shord already was busy nurturing her life and career. She had experiences that most college students don’t have yet. She also enjoyed a passion for education that led her to who she is now – the owner of Beech Springs Farm.

When Shord decided to attend Allegheny College, she was 46 years old and had raised a family. For years, she had been a stay-at-home mom with four children, returning to full-time employment in 1979. She worked as an administrative assistant at several businesses in Pittsburgh before relocating to Chambersburg, Pa., in 1990, where she worked for the president of Wilson College for several years.

A month-long program in Argentina through Rotary International’s Group Study Exchange, though, fueled her fire for further education. (She had taken some introductory level courses at local colleges when her children were young and had accumulated about a year’s worth of credits.)

“Because of the experiences I had in Argentina, I gained an awareness of how other people lived and how different the world is from the United States. It made me want to learn and do more.” The birth of her grandchildren also inspired her to go back to school: “I could see that the world was changing. I thought that, maybe, there was something I could do to make a difference.” Encouragement from her future husband, Bill, sealed the deal.

She started by seeking out undergraduate programs in environmental studies in 1995. “Agriculture had always been a love of mine,” she says. Growing up on a farm, she fondly remembers experimenting with cultivating trees and bushes and persuading her father to dig vegetable gardens for her. “An environmental program seemed like a perfect fit.”

Allegheny was on her list of prospective schools that she visited. A serendipitous encounter with a student on campus connected Shord with then-Environmental Science/Studies Professor Michael Maniates. Professor Maniates’ encouragement helped her make her decision easier. “He kept trying to cultivate me as a student and took me under his wing. It helped to know there was someone on campus that I had developed a relationship with, someone there to root me on, even before I became a student.”

Many things on campus impressed her, including the longevity and reputation of its environmental science program, the professors and the campus. She started in January 1996. “When I first went to Allegheny, I had no idea what I wanted to do or how I would use my education. I just knew that I wanted to finish what I had started many years before and to see where I might make a difference in the world.”

She laughs at the fact that, following her first semester, she got married in August, returned to school two weeks after her wedding and then spent the spring semester in Costa Rica, where she celebrated her 50th birthday. She wanted to do “the whole college experience.” Non-traditional, maybe, but it worked.

During the summer of 1997, Shord interned on the Wilson College farm and became involved in its Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) program. She returned to Wilson during the spring semester of her senior year to work on her senior project, The Food Project at Wilson College: A Study to Support Sustainable Food Systems by Redesigning Institutional Buying, and to intern under the director of the college’s Fulton Center for Sustainable Living. Shord graduated from Allegheny in 1999 as an Alden Scholar. She would go on to become the Fulton Center’s interim director immediately following graduation, a position that would bring her steps closer to what she would ultimately become – a farm owner.

She talks fondly about the years following, years that were filled with environmental activist work in the Chambersburg area, organizing the South Central Farmers Market Association, and the South Gate and the Branch Creek Farmer’s Markets.  “Starting farmers markets was a natural offshoot of my comp.” As its name suggests, Shord’s mission was to locate farmers that could potentially supply food to Wilson College’s dining hall. “Working with farmers was my favorite part of the process. As time went on and my education progressed, I started to see that I wanted to be the farmer.”

Thus, Beech Springs Farm – or at least its conception – was born. About a week after Sept. 11, 2011, through a happenstance meeting at a local nursery, Shord met someone who told her about a property for sale near Gettysburg.  “The property was already sold and the closing was scheduled in six weeks; however, we put in a backup offer and we amazingly we got it. We purchased the farm and relocated to Adams County.”

“From the beginning, I thought the property was so pretty and wondered how I might share it with others!  In the beginning, I didn’t have a plan. Most of what we do has just evolved. I began my farming venture by growing salad greens in a hoop house and marketing them to local food stores.  I progressed to selling heirloom vegetables, herbs and flowers at the farmer’s market on the square in Gettysburg for six years.”

In 2010, Shord initiated a CSA program on the farm, which is now in its fifth year. As part of their CSA share, members have access to the farm’s herb and flower gardens, and products from other Adams County farms. In addition to the CSA program, the farm also hosts weddings, Victorian teas, luncheons, Civil War barn dances and quilt shows. In 2015, the farm began hosting a series of farm-to-table dinners complete with entertainment.

Her days’ activities include tending to her gardens, harvesting produce, interviewing couples for weddings, supervising employees, running errands for programs, turning compost, experimenting with new gardening techniques or marketing herself on Facebook. Its all part of her job description. “There’s always something to do and there is always a new challenge.”

No matter what the challenge, though, it doesn’t seem to get her down. “One of the things I go back to from my Allegheny education, time and time again, are the critical thinking skills that I developed while I was there as a student. I was always encouraged to look deeper. I came away with a different way of looking at the world and at the bigger picture. That’s something that’s remained with me.”

“I loved my Allegheny experience. It was one of the best parts of my life. Because I was so interested in sustainable agriculture I tried to incorporate it into everything that I studied. … Allegheny has come a long way even since I graduated. (Allegheny Environmental Science/Studies Professor) Eric Pallant tells me that I attended  five years too early because now Allegheny is doing so many amazing things that I would be interested in.  I wish I could come back and go to school now.”

Good luck getting her away from what she’s doing. “The best part of my job is that I get to go to work every day in such a beautiful place, to do what I love—to walk out my back door and go to work. I have the perfect job!”