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Rural by Design: program teaches about sustainability

Rural by Design: program teaches about sustainability

By Phoebe Roe

Rural by Design began around three years ago, but its roots go back nearly 20 years to when Howard Sacks, professor of sociology and director of the Rural Life Center, and his students began exploring family farming in the Knox County area. They quickly realized that the notion of a rural community was declining.

For Sacks, an event such as Rural by Design is a valuable opportunity for students and community members alike. “I have always believed from the time that I first arrived here that there was great value in linking Kenyon College to the surrounding rural community,” Sacks said. Sacks believes that through its events, Rural by Design will teach its audience about rural life and sustainability, and ultimately will lead to a more educated group of people who can take these ideas into the real world. “This is the sort of big presentation that is trying to generate a big discussion, not only at Kenyon but in Knox County and central Ohio, about rural sustainability,” he said.

In the past few years, the College has made a concerted effort to go green, Sustainability Director Everett Neal explained, “It’s not about saving money; I think it’s about being a good steward of our environment. Saving money happens when you’re sustainable, but the real focus is just being a good steward of our environment and just doing the right thing.”

Kenyon’s efforts range from 11,000 new energy-efficient light bulbs to low-flow fixtures and a sustainable food initiative, which began five years ago. Because Kenyon is surrounded by a rural community, the school makes every effort to buy from local farmers, giving the farmers a reliable source of income and providing students with safe, fresh and local food. Kenyon also has its own farmhouse that houses students at a reduced cost in exchange for their farming labor.

Aaron Naves ’16, who will be living at the farmhouse next year and who has been immersed in the ideals of farming since he was eight years old, believes the farmhouse has potential to expand on Kenyon’s already impressive sustainability efforts. “We’re only in the preliminary steps so far, but we’re planning what we want to do for next year,” said Naves. Students living at the farmhouse will be growing food not only for themselves but for the general student body, an excellent way for Kenyon to make its local food initiative even more local.

Eli Redfern ’16, a People Endorsing Agrarian Sustainability member and another future farmhouse occupant, believes the green trend is here to stay. “There’s a need for things to change and we’ll either suffer and perish as a society or we’ll learn how to fix things,” Redfern said. Sacks agreed, saying, “I don’t think this is an issue that is going to go away nationally or globally. It’s an increasing debate. This is part of a national dialogue.”

So what’s next for Kenyon’s sustainability efforts? Students will notice the huge new exhibit in the center of Gund Commons Ballroom that explains where our food comes from. Soon, kiosks and tablets will appear around campus to educate students about sustainability efforts at Kenyon. New housing initiatives also aim to make Kenyon buildings as sustainable as possible. “We’re focusing on all aspects, from the new buildings we built, to restoring the older ones,” Neal said.

Rural by Design is just one step in Kenyon’s plan to teach students the importance of sustainability. “When we educate students about sustainability at Kenyon we are educating them to think about this as an issue ラ as part of their lives in the broadest liberal arts sense,” Sacks said. “Then they carry it with them and that’s what it takes to have a sustainable world.”

For more information on Rural by Design, visit

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