By Eric Geller
A single nationally recognized local food program made up 40 percent of Peirce Hall’s food last year.
That program will be the focus of a panel called “From Farm to College” on Tuesday, Feb. 7 at 11:10 a.m. in Peirce Lounge. The panel, the first of three community-oriented events in the “Visits” series presented by the Rural Life Center, will feature AVI Sustainability Director John Marsh, Jr. and AVI’s Executive Sous Chef Meagan Worth-Cappell. Participants will answer questions from moderator Becca Katzman ’14, whose research into the subject of the local food network has included an AVI internship and trips to farms and food auctions.
“Kenyon’s farm-to-college process is uniquely successful,” Katzman said. “The really big thing about our local food system is the fact that we’re providing such direct support to our community. Through supporting [local farmers], we’re keeping the dollars in the community.” The purchasing process involves collaboration between Marsh and local food producers. Together, they schedule the various planting and harvesting stages, agree on prices and determine the quantity and availability of each food item Kenyon needs.
Every year, Kenyon spends around $640,000 bringing locally produced foods to Peirce Hall, according to a news release from the Office of Public Affairs. “In local food systems like this, the dollars circulate seven times before leaving the community,” Professor of Sociology Howard Sacks said in the news release. “Those dollars go to local restaurants and local stores.”
Kenyon’s local food comes from approximately 42 families on a regular basis. The College’s fresh milk supply, which was in jeopardy last year after Kenyon’s regular supplier could not keep up with demand, remains one of the most popular local products, along with beef, pork, pesto sauce and fresh fruit. Other locally made items appearing in the dining hall include cookies and bread, and AVI is working on getting fresh goat cheese for its pizzas, according to Worth-Cappell.
Sacks has personal experience with the local food system: in addition to being a Kenyon professor and the head of the Rural Life Center, he’s also a sheep farmer. While Kenyon diners aren’t eating his sheep -he raises only a small number and they are sold in advance to local families – he said his experience with the farming side of the equation helps him at the Rural Life Center.
Sacks said AVI’s flexibility regarding local food issues has been essential to the smooth operation of the local food network. From scheduling to preparing menus, the process requires AVI to adapt their food-service approach to Kenyon’s specific situation. Sacks also commended the company’s focus on relationships and said that AVI Resident Director Damon Remillard understands the importance of college-community connections.
AVI recognizes that “it’s not just [about] business,” Sacks said. Instead of dropping a supplier when they find a cheaper option, AVI works with farmers to solve problems and strengthen existing partnerships “in a way that’s consistent with the sort of goals we have for liberally-educated individuals.”
Kenyon’s approach to local food also involves educating the college population and the community about the importance of sustainability. Sacks wants people to ask themselves, “What’s on my plate and why does it matter?” The Rural Life Center has “tried to turn the cafeteria into a classroom,” and Sacks described how ethics, religious studies, anthropology and many other aspects of a college curriculum connect to food and sustainability.
Sacks and others have worked to improve Kenyon’s local food network because they want to create a model for other institutions that have to prepare meals on a large scale. Sacks hopes that if Kenyon’s nationally-recognized program continues to succeed, local institutions like hospitals, public schools and senior citizen centers will follow suit and buy local.
“The farmers who are working with us say … that the relationship they have with Kenyon is the difference between making it and not making it,” Sacks said. “We’re a big player.”