Alumni Spotlight: Mary Oldham ’06


Although the Dickinson College Farm existed only as a garden while Mary Oldham ’06 was a student at Dickinson, her involvement with the program sparked a passion within her that has shaped her career. Mary describes, “I didn’t know a thing about agriculture before I started working at the garden at Dickinson, and I found it to be where all of my interests and passions collided.” Under the mentorship of Jenn, Matt, and many area farmers Mary began to recognize the importance of food, people need to eat. This need has been the driving force of her passion for agriculture.

After Dickinson, Mary engaged herself in agriculture through a variety of contexts, both in the United States and internationally. The Dickinson garden inspired her to farm and to work to enhance sustainable farming as a rural economic development opportunity. She combined her interest in rural agriculture with an interest to follow in Jenn Halpin’s footsteps, Mary served as a volunteer in the Peace Corps in Honduras. She was working with a women’s farming cooperative to help them get their mini-farm plots set up to earn them some income by selling to grocery stores. Building off of her time in Honduras, in addition to her involvement with the garden at Dickinson, Mary applied her interest in rural agriculture to communities of West Virginia. Most recently, she has further explored her interest in the economic side of agriculture. In 2013 she received a Master’s Degree in Agricultural and Resource Economics from West Virginia University.

Mary works part-time as a Regional Coordinator for the Natural Capital Investment Fund’s Value Chain Cluster Initiative (VC2), a grant-funded project that offers business development assistance to food and farm business and organizations in [West Virginia]. Through this position she works to connect businesses seeking to grow in food or agricultural fields with professionals from related backgrounds to offer necessary training and consultation. Mary and her husband also run their own 3-acre farm, Mountain Harvest Farm, on rented farmland outside of Morgantown, West Virginia. As a part of their business they grow produce for more than 50 CSA members, local farmers’ markets, and area restaurants. In discussing the benefits of renting land, it helped them learn and make a lot of mistakes without a big investment in land or infrastructure. 

Looking back on her time at Dickinson and involvement with the garden, Mary recognizes that the opportunities she was exposed to had countless applications. While from an academic standpoint, Dickinson praises itself on interdisciplinary learning, Mary notes that her time with the garden program proved to be the epitome of an inter-disciplinary experience and balanced student lifestyle. Throughout her time with the Dickinson garden program, Mary engaged in the local community, through work with Project Share and connecting with area farmers, and conducted research, which connected her academic interests to agriculture. She feels it inspired her and the skills she learned would have been valuable no matter what career she chose. The Dickinson garden and what Mary learned from Jenn Halpin and Matt Steiman and the do-ers they exposed her to were the root of her interest in agriculture, belief in its importance and potential for rural communities, and beginning of her skills building and knowledge base around it. 

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