On Aug. 25, students ushered in the new academic year with sunflowers, pet rocks and a concert from the Symphonic Wind Ensemble at Kenyon’s annual Community Feast. The product of a herculean effort from AVI and the Office of Campus Events (OCE), the Feast is a newer College tradition that is cementing itself in the hearts of Gambier residents, one bite of locally-sourced food at a time.
The event began as an annual picnic hosted by the Office of Student Engagement, but it didn’t develop into a true “feast” until 2014, when the Gund Gallery hosted a farm-to-table meal to complement its exhibition at the time, titled Feast: Radical Hospitality in Contemporary Art. The gallery collaborated with the Cinearts Club to bring food trucks to campus and screen food-related films, such as the movie “Chef,” in a series of showings aptly titled “Dinner and a Movie.” A 2014 Collegian article emphasized the importance of the community spirit in making or breaking the Feast: “Because the people of Gambier and Kenyon are so intertwined, the ‘Feast’ program has pulled the already close-knit stitches of the community a little tighter, allowing citizens, students and faculty to bond by eating together on Ransom Lawn.” The Gund Gallery continued to host the event until 2020, when it was canceled due to the pandemic. In 2021, OCE hosted the festivities for the first time, though attendance was limited to just students in an effort to comply with COVID-19 restrictions. Last year, the Feast returned in full force for all members of the community to enjoy.
At this year’s event, the OCE worked to improve upon the existing tradition without abandoning the Feast’s heritage: “The Office of Campus Events strives to make the Community Feast better every year,” Howard Grier, Director of Campus Events, wrote in an email to the Collegian. “We start with what worked the last time and try to add more of that or new elements.”
The primary concern for Grier’s office was one worryingly outside of their control — the unpredictability of Ohio weather, made even more stressful by the numerous thunderstorms that had battered campus in the days leading up to the event. “As with all outdoor events, weather can present an issue,” Grier wrote. “Two nights of storms did not bode well for the picnic element of Community Feast, but fortunately, most of the lawns dried in time.”
Alongside the OCE, AVI worked to provide feast-goers with a meal fit for the occasion, closing the Peirce Dining Hall servery after lunch to prepare for the hungry attendees. The menu included local grains, Amish potato salad and hamburgers, as well as plentiful vegan options and an impressive array of cookies for dessert. Watermelon proved to be a favorite among guests.
In addition to the meal, the Feast featured a litany of activities for attendees both young and young at heart to engage with. They included face painting sponsored by the Kenyon Staff Council, crafts sponsored by the Center for Global Engagement and the Office of Student Engagement, button making with the Gund Gallery and pet rock painting with the BFEC. Kenyon’s Symphonic Wind Ensemble also treated picnickers to a concert of new and old repertoire, made more impressive by the fact that the ensemble had held only one rehearsal prior to performing. Grier stressed the importance of having such community-building activities at the Feast: “Proximity does not create community; positive interactions do. Bringing everyone together at the beginning of the academic year in a social environment is meant to strengthen relationships, whether people are gathering a team to play cornhole, bonding over crafts or just catching up while eating a delicious meal.”
Though it may not be as longstanding a Kenyon tradition as the First Year Sing or avoiding the Peirce seal, the Community Feast is evolving into a highlight of the fall semester. Grier summed it up best: “Community Feast has existed with different names and in various iterations for many years. There is no right or wrong way to do it.”