Alumni Environmental Stewardship Profile: Cynthia Hall ’97, Free Haven Farms

Jun 18, 2022

From Among Friends magazine: Responsible stewardship of our planet has long been a resonant theme at Moorestown Friends School. This is one in a series of profiles about alumni who practice and foster responsible stewardship of the environment as part of their livelihoods.

Cynthia is the Co-Owner of Free Haven Farms in Lawnside, NJ, as well as an Adjunct Professor at Rowan University (Environmental Sciences) and West Chester University (Earth and Space Sciences). She has a Ph.D. in Geochemistry from Georgia Institute of Technology and a B.S. in Chemistry from Howard University.

After earning your Ph.D., you worked as a professor at West Chester University for 12 years. How did you become involved in your research on soil testing and the mitigation of lead exposure?
It really started in my backyard in Philly. I got the job at West Chester and my family moved from Atlanta to Philly and we started to grow food. My department had just gotten a new instrument which allowed you to test for heavy metals. I decided to test in our backyard and I found lead in our soil where our kids were playing and we were growing our vegetables. That moment literally turned my career and research focus.

My husband (Micaiah) got really into growing food. That connected me with the urban agriculture community in Philly. The research I did tied in with many of the local urban farms and personal gardens. I began to explore how soil contamination was affecting urban farms and growing spaces.

Describe the history and evolution of Free Haven Farms.
We lived in Philly for seven years and my husband was working on an urban farm and it got to the point where we wanted to buy a house and he really wanted more land to start his own farm. It was like serendipity. The stars just aligned. When we were looking to buy a house, a property became available in Lawnside, which is my hometown. My family has been there for four generations. We ended up buying this one-acre property and starting our farm.

Free Haven Farms has definitely evolved. We started the farm to grow food for Lawnside and other communities, especially to provide access for people in Camden and Philadelphia. But while we were doing our business with farmer’s markets and direct sales, we saw the need for education. So we turned into more of an educational farm rather than a commercial farm that just grows food. So with my background as an educator, it made sense for us to get into teaching food education. We now work with a few Philadelphia schools to develop gardens and grow food and run after-school programs. We want to expose more children to growing food in urban communities. We will be running summer camps here at Free Haven for four weeks for kids ages 5-12.

How was your passion for sustainable practices/environmental stewardship stoked and were there any moments/experiences that perhaps had an impact on you?
To be honest, it started at MFS. I started in sixth grade and remember immediately being exposed to recycling and stewardship in general. In Upper School, we discussed environmental issues and how they related to world problems and I specifically remember writing a paper on deforestation. That was the first time I really understood what it was.

What are some of the leading ways that people can be environmental stewards in their everyday lives?
As human beings, we’re all interested in food. We eat every day. The choices that we make around food are very important and have a real impact on the environment. The saying goes that “you vote with your dollar.” Choosing to buy local food and supporting our local farmers has such an impact, of course on the local economy, but also on the environment when you think about the fossil fuels needing to transport foods. People can make better choices about where they buy their food, and we’re doing better in this area as a country.

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