Last week, Kenyon responded to K-SWOC’s petition for a union recognition election by filing a motion to dismiss the petition altogether. One of their main arguments against an election was that student work positions “are not core to the College’s business operations.” The only workplace they used as proof of this claim was the Kenyon Farm, which they argued “allow[s] student workers to further their education in public policy, sustainability, and farming practices, even though the Farm serves no core business operation and generates no revenues.” The Kenyon Farmers object to this unfair and dismissive characterization of our labor and its contribution to the College. This claim is blatantly untrue — our labor is tied directly to Kenyon’s bottom line through our contributions to marketing and to the College’s educational experience. More importantly, Kenyon’s analysis of the Farm’s supposedly negligible contribution to the College reveals a calculus that runs antithetical to its mission statement, statement of goals and objectives and advertised investment in sustainability and green initiatives.
Despite Kenyon’s attempts to separate our work from its business operations, we clearly see the value the Farm contributes to the College’s bottom line. Prospective students and families often visit the Farm on campus tours, curious about the role it might play in their time here. We talk to them about our experience, show them around and answer questions. We often hear from current students — and know from our own experiences visiting Kenyon as prospective students — that those interactions make the College stand out for students who later choose to come here. Therefore, Kenyon actively uses the Farm as an advertising tool for admissions. This marketing strategy directly connects the student labor that makes the Farm operational to Kenyon’s profit margin.
Apart from just helping the College’s business operations, the Farm contributes value to the Kenyon community in many other ways. The value we add to this community is tangible in the produce we provide to faculty, to Peirce and to the Center for Hope, a local food pantry. It is also tangible to the students who come to our work days seeking community, purpose and education. The opportunities for education at the Farm extend beyond individual students into classes and research projects that engage all Kenyon students. By establishing the Farm Fellowship, Kenyon has closely aligned the Farm with Summer Science programs, providing the opportunity for one student every summer to conduct agricultural research with a professor. In addition, several professors bring their classes to visit the Farm as part of their coursework. Student farmers give tours to these classes and carry out the labor which turns the Farm into a space of learning. All of these examples demonstrate how we are facilitating our peers’ educations in conjunction with our own. The Farm, and the labor we devote to its continued existence, is key to the College’s stated commitment to sustainability within the curriculum and beyond. Along with the BFEC and the Philander Chase Land Conservancy, it is the Farm that the College points to in promotional materials to demonstrate its sincerity on environmental issues.
Additionally, we do all of this valuable labor and manage Farm operations on our own. At the beginning of this semester, our manager informed us via email that he was stepping down. Now without a manager, we have kept our animals alive and safe, we have harvested and distributed produce to Peirce and the Center for Hope, we have planted fall crops, put our summer fields to bed for the winter, planned for future growing seasons and independently managed the day-to-day urgent tasks and emergencies that arise on any farm. We have done all of this while continuously educating students and faculty who make class-related trips to the farm.
The contributions we provide to the College are indeed core to its operations. This semester we have done all of this work alone, and it is only through our unwavering dedication to the Farm that it remains operational. Thus, for the College to argue that “the Farm serves no core business operation and generates no revenues” is insulting, demeaning and untrue. We strongly caution Kenyon against trivializing its student workers’ contributions to this institution. The College may find that doing so undermines their stated values of “close-knit and lasting community” found in the mission statement, and drives deep fissures into the trust and mutual respect that any such community must be built upon.
The Kenyon Farmers
Djibril Branche ’23
Joanna van Dyk ’22
Chloe Shane ’22
Rose Cobb ’22
Peter Fornell ’22
Jack Cheston ’22
Molly Orr ’24
Lynn Butzlaff ’22