For over a decade, AVI Foodsystems’ program at Kenyon has focused on purchasing food from local vendors. Even with fewer mouths to feed this semester, AVI has continued buying locally to support their existing relationships with vendors.
AVI typically purchases approximately $740,000 worth of food per year from vendors located within a 40-mile radius of Kenyon, according to Resident Director of AVI Christopher Wisbey. Since AVI began serving Kenyon students in 2006, the initiative has grown beyond its initial 10% goal: According to Wisbey, AVI currently buys 42% to 44% of its food locally.
In their time at Kenyon, AVI has established relationships with local vendors based on mutual trust, according to Director of Local Purchasing David Kraynk. Kraynk coordinates between Kenyon and vendors, including local farms, dairies, picklers, beekeepers and meat processors. In advance of the growing season, Kraynk and the farmers cooperate to plan meal and crop schedules.
Kraynk cites several reasons that local vendors directly benefit from selling to Kenyon. According to Kraynk, selling directly to Kenyon is usually a more stable option for farmers than the most common alternative, selling at an auction.
Each year, AVI agrees to pay forward a certain amount for a set quantity of food, whereas auction prices react to the forces of supply and demand, Kraynk said. AVI has also purchased tunnels — long greenhouses that extend the growing season of fresh produce — for some farmers.
AVI’s model has inspired neighboring institutions. Oberlin College and Ohio Wesleyan University have drawn from Kenyon’s program when adopting similar initiatives, Wisbey said. He also consulted on a local food initiative for the Mount Vernon Public School District. Wisbey and Kraynk refer Kenyon vendors to those programs, increasing their customer bases.
Given this long standing commitment, the decreased demand has not changed Kenyon’s commitment to purchasing local when possible. Despite having fewer students on campus, AVI has made a point of purchasing the amount of food that Kenyon had agreed to purchase from farmers who sell exclusively to the school. Kraynk spoke candidly with the sellers about the pandemic early on, allowing AVI time to plan how to use the surplus. For instance, root vegetables such as sweet potatoes, beets and potatoes will not spoil when stored in freezers for long periods, so Kraynk said that a surplus of those products has presented less of an issue.
Kraynk cited the strong relationship between Kenyon and its local suppliers as their motivation for prioritizing small vendors. “We [would] feel bad not buying from the little guy,” Wisbey said. “We’re pumping three quarter million dollars within 40 miles of this campus. That’s a huge impact on this community. To take that away, it hurts.”