Section: Features

Dharma Farm sparks student enthusiasm for local foods

Dharma Farm sparks student enthusiasm for local foods

By Claire Oxford

After weathering a tough, gray winter in Knox County, the sight of baby goats wobbling and bounding about green grass is a welcome distraction for Kenyon students visiting Dharma Farm.

Dharma Farm — a local organic, sustainable farm run by community members Eric and Kate Helt — offers Kenyon students a sort of pastoral escape from the daily grind of school- work and courses. Founded 17 years ago and nestled on 92 acres, Dharma Farm has goats, sheep, chickens and a guard llama trained to watch the goats roaming the property.

In addition, the Helts also tend their own greenhouse and garden. They sell their eggs and lamb at the Village Market and auction off live goats for their meat. With a commitment to sustainability, they’ve installed $100,000 worth of solar panels and make their own biodiesel fuel.

While the Helts now work tirelessly to keep Dharma running smoothly, the two did not always have such a passion for farming. Eric, after getting his master’s degree in hospital administration from the University of Michigan, originally pursued a career in medical care. He never found it as satisfying as he has his present work.

“The difference really for me is that those executive jobs are highly political,” he said. “They’re not really about doing the right thing. They’re about satisfying the medical staff and the board and making sure you make money. And I was never really into any of those.”

Kate, on the other hand, enjoyed her career as a small business manager and co-owner. However, later on in her career she began to dislike living in the ever-expanding greater Columbus area. She wanted a change. One afternoon in 1997, Eric and Kate met at a meditation class, and realized they shared a similar, farm-centered vision. They’ve been together ever since.

This past week, several sections of the Introduction to Environmental Studies course visited Dharma.  Professors of Biology Robert Mauck and Siobhan Fennessy, and Visiting Assistant Professor of Environmental Studies Karen Bagne joined students as they got a glimpse of what birthing season is like for the Helts, as goats and sheep deliver their babies.

Juliette Moffroid ’18, a student in Introduction to Environmental Studies who visited Dharma last week, said one of her classmates, Jackie Arkush ’16, stumbled unwittingly upon a fresh-out-of-the-womb goat kid. “She went over the hill, just took off by herself … [and] when she came back she was holding her hands in the air,” Moffroid said. “We were all like … ‘What’s going on?’ … She basically picked up a newborn goat.”

Mauck said he is appreciative of all the Helts do. “We’re really fortunate [at Kenyon], because [the Helts] not only have a farm that is being worked sustainably, but they are very much interested in the educational angle of the endeavor.”

For 16 years, Dharma has been taking students for independent studies, volunteer work and the environmental studies course Sustainable Agriculture.Since the Sustainable Agriculture program began in 2001, over 170 students have been a part of the class — which meets once a week for five hours of hands-on farm work at either Dharma Farm or fellow Knox County farm Fox Hollow.

In 2001, Professor of Sociology Howard Sacks had two students interested in studying local farms, and suggested the duo reach out to the Helts. Kate said this interview had an unexpected impact on her and Eric. “We sat on the back porch with these two girls and had such a provocative and evocative … and energizing [talk] that we went back to [Sacks] and said why don’t we do something regularly with students?” Kate said.

While the Helts will likely downsize in the coming years, the spirit of Dharma Farm remains intact. “Dharma” is a Sanskrit word and the inspiration for the farm’s title. “Dharma is … often likened to truth itself — the ground we stand on — as well as the spiritual way, or the path that can be trusted to support, uphold and embrace us all,” Kate said.

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