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Keepin’ it rural: Food for Thought hosts events

Keepin’ it rural: Food for Thought hosts events

By Celia Cullom

In a world that’s constantly more urbanized, going to school in Knox County puts Kenyon students in a unique position ラ we have the opportunity to experience rural life. “Rural by Design,” the three-year Food for Thought project that will culminate in a series of events next week, aims to help the community understand its rural surroundings and how to sustain them.

For sociology professor Howard Sacks, director of the Rural Life Center, “Rural by Design” was a logical step to follow previous initiatives. From 1994 to 1997 he worked on the Family Farm Project to explore how family farming affected community life.

“Knox County began getting very concerned about its future, about the erosion of rural character,” Sacks said. “The Family Farm Project sort of morphed into the effort to sustain the rural character of Knox County. Because family farming was seen as so important to that, the question of how you preserve family farming and make that sustainable suddenly became the key question in preserving the rural community.”

Food for Thought, a subsequent three-year project, succeeded in making family farming more sustainable by emphasizing the importance of local food. “Rural by Design” expands on this idea, going beyond agriculture into other aspects of rural life. With funds provided by the McGregor Farm, students have been able to participate in classes, internships, public projects and international exchanges to learn about sustainability.

One student who has become particularly involved is Rebecca Katzman ’14.

“At least my personal solution to happiness and fulfillment is a simpler lifestyle, which I find in rural life and in kind of going back to the basics, which I find in agriculture,” Katzman said.

As the student manager of the Rural Life Center, Katzman has been deeply involved in the planning process for next week’s events. She’s particularly excited for the keynote address, “An Amish Perspective on Rural Sustainability,” which will be given by David Kline. An Old Order Amish bishop, farmer, author and editor of Farming Magazine, Kline is known nationally for his contributions to rural sustainability.

“The whole character of the worldview of modernity doesn’t really connect with sustainability,” Sacks said. “That’s not the case in an Amish worldview, so I think the value of his talk is to provide a very different kind of reality construction about sustainability and rural life and community and what that means.”

Sacks emphasizes that one of the important aspects of rural sustainability is being able to connect with the community through public spaces. With the assistance of two students, dance professor Balinda Craig-Quijada has choreographed a site-specific performance that makes use of a nonworking barn from the 1830s.

“The hope is that we’ll get to bring the audience into the barn, they’ll get to interact, contemplate, take into the natural environment as well as look at the natural construction,” she said. “There’s a history of barn dancing that is a way to bring community together and we’re wanting to tap into that tradition and carry it forward in a different context.”

Site-specific dances, then, give the audience permission to interact with the environment and notice things that they might not otherwise. Other types of performances serve different functions. Mountain Music, Southeast by Southwest will feature two performing groups that are representative of different cultures within the community.

“One of the things that’s important to rural sustainability is incorporating new forms of diversity in a rural community,” Sacks said. “Appalachia and the Hispanic Southwest represent two significant groups that comprise Knox County.”

The New Ballard’s Branch Bogtrotters from Galax, Va., carry on the tradition of old-time fiddle music that’s so characteristic of Appalachian culture. Lorenzo Martinez, who has been designated a National Heritage Fellow, and his band perform Spanish Colonial music.

“These are both rural musical groups and they both represent cultures that are significant to the community,” Sacks said.

In addition to these events, two students and two alumni will be sharing some of the work they’ve done regarding sustainability. David Daniels, Chairman of the Ohio Department of Agriculture, and Dewey Thornbeck, who started the Center for Rural Design at the University of Minnesota, will also deliver lectures. Throughout the week, there will be an exhibit at Gund Commons that explores where Kenyon’s food comes from.

Katzman believes that all of the events are of value to everyone.

“The way that rural society functions serves as a more simplistic microcosm for the way an urban society functions,” Katzman said.

“So understanding rural society ラ what makes it tick, what’s necessary in the preservation of rural society ラ can say something about the development and preservation of any society as a whole.”

For more information, visit www.rurallife.kenyon.edu. Vans will leave from outside the bookstore at 4:00 pm on Friday to drive to the barn dance.

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