Last week, the Office of the Provost and the Office of the President informed Kenyon student farmers that the residential program at the Kenyon Farm will be eliminated next semester, after 10 years as the only collegiate residential farm program in the country. Though plans for the future of the Farm’s residential program are not yet solidified, the College hopes to hire a post-baccalaureate fellow in place of the four to six students who typically live there.
Provost Jeff Bowman said that the two offices did not make the decision to end the residential program alone, and it was done in “careful consideration” of those who work and live there. “We have consulted with faculty, alumni, and professional farmers about how to advance the goals of the program, and regularly consider the input of students who work or volunteer at the Farm,” he wrote in an email to the Collegian.
The current farmers, however, felt particularly blindsided by the choice to end the residential program. None of them were informed of the decision until Jack Cheston ’22 had an individual meeting with Director of Green Initiatives Dave Heithaus, who ultimately revealed that the program would be ending.
“That’s honestly what’s the most hurtful about this. We were trusted with the Farm, and we’ve been running it ourselves… And then they don’t even consult us on these major decisions,” Lynn Butzlaff ’22 said. “It’s like they don’t even really care about the people who are doing that work.”
In efforts to increase awareness about the importance of keeping the Farm’s residential program, the farmers have since created and circulated a petition expressing their disappointment at the program’s end, which has amassed over 700 signatures as of Wednesday from students, faculty, alumni and others.
The Farm and its residential program began in 2012, when the College purchased the land on Zion Road as a way for students to gain hands-on and pre-professional agricultural experience. Since then, students have transformed the Farm, overseeing more than 30 animals, mitigating emergency crises — such as a chicken coup catching fire in the middle of the night — and maintaining the farmhouse.
Student farmers have done this work almost entirely on their own. At the beginning of the academic year, the manager of the Kenyon Farm resigned suddenly, leaving students with the responsibility of making decisions about farm life by themselves. According to Cheston, after their manager’s resignation, the College took away the Farm’s emergency credit card, and farmers needed to learn how to deal with their finances another way.
Heithaus praised the farmers for their quick thinking and problem solving, and said that the decision to end the residential program should not detract from the work they’ve put into the space. “The team at the Farm has always done an admirable job of working with minimal supervision,” he wrote in an email to the Collegian. “The decision to end academic-year residence is in no way a reflection of our student managers’ perseverance or commitment.”
But many were still unimpressed. Many members of the past and present Kenyon community took to Twitter to raise concerns and share the petition. Farm alumnus Dante Kanter ’21 was particularly impacted by the Farm and distressed by this decision, calling it “callous” and “inhumane” in a message to the Collegian.
“I have said repeatedly — often to tour groups — that the farm (by which I do and have always meant the farm house) was Kenyon to me. It has been Kenyon to several generations of farmers,” he said. “By destroying the residential program, you are destroying an entire way of life at the college.”
Butzlaff, too, spoke to the necessity of the residential program, saying that much of the work and conversations about planning happened outside of volunteer hours. This space, according to Butzlaff, is the cultural heart of the Farm community.
“So much of the Farm and so many of the successful projects we’ve had is because we’re there all the time,” she said. “It heightens that collaborative atmosphere.”
Molly Orr ’24, who began work at the Farm in the fall of her first year, was also deeply hurt by this decision. During the pandemic, she has found the Farm to be her main connection to campus life, and she cannot fathom a future at Kenyon without the residential opportunity.
“Since the first couple of weeks that I was volunteering at the Farm, I always saw myself living there in the future,” Molly Orr ’24 said. “It has always been an assumed part of my arc at Kenyon. So it’s personally devastating to imagine a future at Kenyon where the Farm is not my space and a space I can offer to other people.”
The Farmers will host a picket in conjunction with the Kenyon Student Worker Organizing Committee (K-SWOC) on Saturday, Jan. 29 from 1-4 p.m. to protest this decision, and they encourage all who are interested to join them.