Jax Hughes

Ethereal musician, compassionate thinker, evidence-based farmer

Cincinnati, OHIO | born & raised

We sat down with Jax over a warm cup of coffee and reveled in his story of self-discovery and love for the culture of Sterling.  Jax entered in January ’16, and found a warm, cozy home here on campus.


A roundabout journey

Jax came to Sterling after a brief, unsatisfying stint at college on the west coast led him to explore the world through agriculture.  Jax explained that his WWOOFING experience in Europe helped him realize that cultivating vegetables was what he wanted to be doing; he found joy in every aspect of cultivation, and the headiness, science, and creativity of farming drove him to explore academia and sustainable agriculture.  After returning to the States, Jax took on various jobs that were ultimately unfulfilling, but a 10-day Vipassana meditation retreat helped clear his head and guided him back to academia.

Jax applied to several schools including Sterling, but he appreciated the relationship he formed with his admission counselor at Sterling, and the environment on campus when he visited:

“Honestly, I just had a wonderful time during the visit and I was in such close contact with Harley at the time.  We talked every week, whether I was interviewing or not, we just kept talking … when January came around I was either going to Sterling or I wasn’t going to go to school at all.  I was scared of the cold, but I took a leap of faith and just decided to come.  I didn’t decide to come conditionally– I wasn’t just gonna’ try it on.  I was really convinced that I would be here for the long-haul … this is a place where I want to get a degree.”


Highlights of his Sterling experience

When asked about his favorite parts of Sterling, Jax first complimented the coffee, and went on to talk about the incredible people here at school, “I’ve gotten really close with certain people on campus who are just extraordinary people.  And they bring the most joy and satisfaction to my life … with everyone’s interests and responsibilities on campus I am constantly being invited to take part in something happening on campus.”

Jax’s musical stylings regularly grace our ears on campus.  He couldn’t help bringing up music when discussing what it is that he loves about Sterling: “The music is a huge factor in me being happy here.  I play music every day–– either by myself or with some group of the other 12 musicians that I tend to play with on campus.  I play all different kinds of instruments and that’s wonderful.  We really enjoy playing music with each other …

“There’s a culture of people here that appreciate art in general, music and visual art, and dance and performance, so it’s nice to feel that people are really receptive to what I like to do.  Everyone here brings a very unique artistry, and it’s a slow process getting to know everyone’s interests.  People here are very impressive … it’s nice to know that you’re in close proximity to lots of little projects happening all the time.”


He mentioned that he learns from everyone on campus, but Jax has also found a few professors, in particular, that he enjoys learning from the most:

Anne Morse

Anne Morse: “Even though I’m not an Outdoor Education major, I think she’s just a force of social consciousness, she’s vital.”




Gwyneth Harris

Gwyneth Harris: “I worked closely with Gwyneth on the farm.  She’s awesome.  I like that she knows so much, and that she teaches with great subtlety.  She engages you in a really casual problem-solving process and through that she is telling you little things.  And she’s also very kind and receptive; her pace is nice.”



Laura Spence

Laura Spence: “I think I like that Laura is also a force– of academics, and that is why I came to this school.  When I was in the class with a real, live Ecologist I was inspired to take as many courses with her as possible.  Her pace is quick, but also very thorough, and in every class I’m with her I learn A LOT.  It would have felt morally wrong to not make her my advisor.  She’s systematic in her thinking, but she doesn’t conform to a particular system of thinking, she’s constantly questioning, as a scientist, you know?”


Got any advice?

When asked what advice he might dispense to new spring admits, Jax couldn’t help counseling others to  feel empowered in their educational experiences … he advised new students to take courses they are specifically interested in in their first semester, no matter the consequences.  He went on to talk about the need for vulnerability in new experiences:

“Be vulnerable with new people. Through vulnerability other people are willing to be vulnerable with you, and that’s the way you can actually learn the best things, and learn from your community –– if you’re vulnerable you’re actually receptive to moment-to-moment opportunities that can actually change your life.  I am constantly reminding myself to be open to how other people might influence me and push my trajectory.  Everyone influencing everyone’s trajectory is the magic of this place.”

Jax spoke of the importance of engaging head-on with the winter elements, and suggested that every incoming student challenge themselves physically and emotionally: “Even if you have zero interest in cross-country skiing or snowshoeing, just try it for the sake of putting yourself in an uncomfortable place and growing from there.”


What’s next?

Jax still has a little while to go at Sterling, but his experiences and faculty advisor here have helped him cultivate a real interest in managing a small piece of land on which he would like to maintain a market garden and a holistic orchard.  “My short-term goal is to manage interns on different ag operations around the world over the next several years, to help get a better feel about what kind of climate I want to settle down in–– ecological climate, but also human climate, what kind of subculture I want to be part of.”  With the help of his faculty advisor, Laura Spence, he is digging into the idea of evidence-based farming, using science to justify farming techniques and to aid in farm resilience.

Filed Under: Blog Community Sustainable Agriculture & Food Systems

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