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Kenyon Farm program is growing under new management

Ryan Hottle wants the farm to be an educational tool, an AVI food source and a local hub.

On a chilly Thursday afternoon at the Kenyon Farm, Ryan Hottle, the farm’s new full-time director, stepped out of his truck and was immediately greeted by several of the farm’s student managers. A volunteer work day would begin in less than an hour. As Hottle walked through the farm, he checked up on each of the different student managers. He spoke with one of them about a sulfuric smell that had appeared in the house. With another, he planned out jobs for the volunteers. Each person worked diligently to get everything ready before the arrival of volunteers — all while three goats bleated from their pens.

“I like research work,” Hottle said. “But I also like getting my hands dirty.”

Hottle, who was hired this past fall out of a pool of almost 80 applicants, is part of a larger movement by the College to increase the farm’s educational value and solidify its place at Kenyon. “Initially, the College paid for a farm but didn’t pay for a program,” David Heithaus ’99, said.Kenyon’s director of green initiatives.  “A lot of what they were doing was geared towards staying in the black. There wasn’t a reflective component at the time.”

Heithaus and Managing Director of the Philander Chase Conservancy Lisa Schott were behind the decision to hire Hottle. They wanted a way to provide a “reflective component” to the farm, which was first purchased in 2012, and quickly determined that a full-time manager was the way to go. After some convincing, they got the College to fund the position.

Hottle worked as an intern with renowned soil and water scientist Daniel Hillel at NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies while earning his M.A. in climate and society at Columbia University. He also has several ongoing sustainable farming projects in Uganda, Senegal and Malawi, each with a different organization. Before Hottle came to Kenyon, he taught sustainable farming at The Ohio State University, where he earned his Ph.D. in environmental science.

As Kenyon’s Farm Manager, Hottle is responsible for acting as a liaison between faculty and students, which frees them to focus on their own interests. He also assists students with individual projects and helps them choose crops and design the layout of the farm.

“He spends a great amount of time at the farm,” Claire HarnEnz ’17, a student manager at the farm, said. She pointed out that while she was talking to this Collegian reporter, Hottle was out tilling in the fields.

Hottle’s strong academic background also provides the farm with more credibility as an educational resource. He is already assisting Professor Emerita of Biology Kathryn Edwards’ environmental science class, which uses the farm to study winter permaculture (sustainable agriculture), but would like to see the farm become involved with even more classes.

The farm was mainly a potato producer in the past but is now planning to diversify its crops. This shift will give students the opportunity to experiment with their agricultural interests instead of worrying about making a profit. The farm has revamped its garden for individual growing projects — if a student wants to try to grow a rare variety of pepper, for example, then the farm provides the means for them to do so.

The farm is also expecting to use its new diversity of crops to expand its involvement with AVI. In the past, the farm has supplied potatoes and turkeys for Peircegiving, the annual Thanksgiving meal put on by AVI. Steven Ring ’17, a student manager at the farm, expressed a desire to produce microgreens like cilantro, basil and thyme for AVI. “We’re trying to find the gaps in [AVI’s] own local food programs to see what we can do to try and supplement that,” he said.

But the farm has much more in store besides producing food for dining hall. A few weeks ago, about 50 people attended a goat roast on the farm, for which student managers slaughtered and then slow-roasted a goat they had raised. Students and Gambier residents alike got to enjoy the fruits (or meats) of their labor. Student managers at the farm want to host more such events; Ring said a large meal down at the farm is in the works for next fall.

“The community is vital to our success,” Ring said. “We don’t want to just be the College’s farm. We want to be a farm in Knox County that is part of Kenyon.”

Those involved with the farm are quick to reveal their enthusiasm for its future.

“It’s got a lot of untapped potential right now,” Hottle said. “It’s not a blank slate, but it’s something we can start to shape.”

The farm is already attracting a lot of attention. HarnEnz said one in 10 Kenyon students volunteered at the farm last year. Heithaus noted that many donors have taken an interest in the farm and that there was a large amount of student manager applicants this year.

Ring, who has been a student manager at the farm for three years, counts his time with the farm as one of the most important experiences he has had at Kenyon.

“That juxtaposition of going out to slaughter a chicken, butchering it and then putting it in the freezer and then coming in to write your essay about the Iliad,” he said, “that’s invaluable.”