Dear Kenyon Community,
The Kenyon Farm was founded in 2012 to create opportunities for students and other community members to engage in responsible food production, sustainable food systems and experiential learning. Lively conversations on campus in recent days have made it clear that the Farm has become a cherished place in the hearts of students and alumni, who have found intellectual stimulation and community at the Farm. We should all be grateful to the managers, student farmers, volunteers and community members who have contributed to the Farm’s work over the past decade.
As the Farm enters its second decade, and as we search for a new farm manager, it is an opportune time to think about how we build on the Farm’s strengths and ensure that its programming has the greatest impact. While this is necessary work, it is understandable that any possible change in the Farm’s operations might feel unwelcome to some people.
Here’s where we stand in the process:
First, we have begun a search for a new manager to oversee the Farm. (The last manager resigned effective December 2021 after five years at Kenyon.) This job involves managing the Farm’s daily operations, supervising student farmers and volunteers, supporting faculty research projects, coordinating with Kenyon’s other green centers and developing community partnerships and programming. The farm manager has also taught courses related to sustainability and agriculture in environmental studies. We hope to find someone who will bring experience and leadership to the Kenyon Farm. We expect this person to play a vital role in shaping the Farm’s program.
Second, starting with the fall 2022 semester, we will discontinue use of the farmhouse as a student residence. In terms of available housing choices, this will affect four or five students per year. Most years, there are six to eight student farmers. Typically, about half of these have lived in the farmhouse and the others have lived on campus. Living on the Farm is not a requirement of working at the Farm, nor is it connected to compensation for any work on the Farm.
The four or five students who have lived at the farmhouse each year have clearly contributed to the Farm’s success and have helped build community there. They have also valued the experience, and with good reason. However, using the farmhouse as a student residence has also precluded other possible uses for it. Though we have not made final decisions about how the farmhouse will be used, we expect a new manager to have a voice in making these decisions.
While we do not plan to use the farmhouse as a student residence, many things will not change. The student farmers who currently live at the farmhouse will continue to do so through the end of the current academic year. Discontinuing the use of the farmhouse as a student residence does not mean that there are plans for curtailing programming. Although students will not live at the farmhouse next year, there will be no reduction in the number of positions available to interested students or in the number of hours students may work.
Those who have worked and volunteered at the Kenyon Farm during its first decade have accomplished a great deal. Going forward, we hope to deepen the teaching and learning opportunities available on the Farm and make them available to the largest possible number of community members.
Director, Office of Green Initiatives
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Zoë Packel '22
As a student who is not a farmer but has benefitted immensely from the Farm's residential program in both my academic and my personal life, I am very disappointed that the Provost has not only dismissed the many creative ideas and solutions proposed by the farmers for expanding student residency and better integrating it into curriculum, but also continues to insist that this unilateral change will not affect student work hours despite the fact that the farmers have patiently explained why this is not true on several occasions. I respectfully insist that Provost Bowman and President Decatur accept the farmers' invitation to attend an upcoming public forum with current students and alumni supporters to work towards a generative solution as opposed to a hasty total elimination of the program. As a student worker, this response, and the fact that this top-down decision was made in the first place, are demonstrative of why I will be going on strike in solidarity with the Farmers and why I will not accept any empty arbitration from the college until all student workers are allowed to practice our legal right to unionize.
Reply to Zoë Packel '22
Jack Cheston '22, Current Farmer
The Farm makes Kenyon unique and they are taking it away as one more step on their quest to become like every other liberal arts college.
President Decatur and Provost Bowman have failed to properly vet and explain this decision. Currently, students can work 20 hours a week if they live at the residence, but only 10 if they don't. The extra 10 hours residential farmers get come from daily chores, weekly upkeep and generally being around for emergencies—e.g. recently a residential farmer had to care for a goat who was ill early in the morning. It's impossible to work 20 hours if you don't live on-site. This is a cut in hours, and that is a ULP given that we voted to enter a NLRB election process in the Fall.
Moreover, it's irresponsible to take away the primary on-site stewards of the land and caretakers of animals without a clear plan to replace them. It enrages me that the college is trying to dispossess students from the land. Working and living on the Farm makes me feel like a real person living in this community and contributing something to the existing culture, rather than an intruder and consumer. The calculus behind this decision disgusts me. They didn't do this because of "accessibility"—just yesterday we proposed a plan to make the residential program more accessible— President Decatur and Provost Bowman have not responded to us yet. They did this because they value things like profit and risk assessment over programs that are actually human and are tied to a particular place.
How much is Jones Day costing us? Is it so much that you need to raise tuition to 80K (announced this afternoon via News Bulletin, up from 50K in 2016-17)? Is it so much that the College cannot support this program—one that people clearly love? One that maintains Kenyon's commitment to place based initiatives—a commitment that distinguishes Kenyon from other institutions?
There are many reasons that this decision is a bad one. But mostly, I feel hurt. I have been disrespected. My work is not valued. The clear service I provide to the college is seen as replaceable by Jeff Bowman. The program that has changed my life and other people's lives is being struck without our input. College's may not be democracies, but there is a long American tradition of workplace autonomy. Kenyon ought to live up to that. I know most about my workplace and I ought to have a say over my working conditions/any changes to it. That's why I voted to authorize a strike. Until the College shows that they are willing to rectify the unfair labor practices they have clearly committed against us and cooperate with the NLRB election process that student workers voted to enter, I will strike. I hope other student workers join me.
Reply to Jack Cheston '22, Current Farmer
Glad to be a senior
You guys realize that you look like the villains in a populist, melodramatic cartoon made for six-year-olds, right? The evil, disinterested company ruining the lives of the humble farmers who don't nominally have the power to stop you. Any six-year-old could come up with this plot and write a mediocre bedtime storybook about it with the happy ending of the farmers winning and the evil administrators disgraced and shunned. Get outta here and leave the Farm alone.
Reply to Glad to be a senior