Introduction  | Marketing  | Education  | Research  | Public Programs  | Organization  | Funding  | Contact Us  

Teaching and Learning about Food at Kenyon

  Food in the Curriculum

    Across the nation, students and faculty are expressing increasing interest in food-related issues—from eating disorders and the environmental impact of agriculture to ecoterrorism and the ethics of land-use practices. In conjunction with Food for Thought, Kenyon College has launched an initiative to explore food, farming, and rural life that spans the academic curriculum and the College’s residential life.

    Many colleges and universities offer courses about agriculture through a specific program, such as environmental studies, but Kenyon’s offerings span the arts and sciences. A religious studies course on prophecy examines the work of the poet, critic, and small-scale farmer Wendell Berry; a chemistry seminar evaluates agriculture’s petroleum dependency and considers alternative fuel sources; a sociology course explores globalization of the food system; an international studies seminar on rice investigates that commodity’s significance to much of the world’s economy and culture.   
Kate Brown discusses canning techniques to preserve tomatoes with Kenyon student Lisa Groesz.

    Studying food in this way offers a holistic understanding that is consistent with liberal education’s emphasis on the synthetic character of knowledge. It offers a clear alternative to the specialization embraced by many university agriculture schools in addressing the challenges facing contemporary agriculture. The holistic knowledge gained in Kenyon’s classrooms informs all of our community efforts.

    The curricular offerings comprising Food for Thought are currently listed as a special initiative in the Kenyon College Course of Study. Many of these courses include site visits and fieldwork in Kenyon’s rural surroundings. Students amplify their coursework on food issues with independent studies and honors projects, farm internships, or summer research.

    For several years, the Rural Life Center has coordinated semester-long internships for students on local organic farms. These internships give students a more in-depth understanding of farm production than field visits can provide. Working with the Ohio Ecological Food and Farm Association, Kenyon has created an expanded program of coursework and summer internships, leading to a certificate in sustainable agriculture.

    To better integrate the many opportunities for food-related academic study, faculty developed a summer food seminar to explore their common interests, share their particular areas of expertise, and identify ways to enhance   
Kenyon’s faculty summer food seminar included visits to nearby farms.
their work through public, coordinated programs and events. In addition to daily discussions of readings, the seminar included guest visits by community members involved in the local food system and site visits to farms and a livestock auction.
  Food and Residential Life
    Kenyon’s efforts to educate about food do not stop at the classroom door. Working with the College’s dining service, AVI Foodsystems, Food for Thought has begun to turn the cafeteria into a classroom with materials about food and local rural life. Signs at food stations highlight local ingredients in menu selections.Tabletop displays, many created by students in conjunction with their coursework, explore the history of agriculture in Knox County, offer biographies of local food   
Kenyon students enjoy a picnic featuring local foods, one of many activities designed to explore the local food system.
producers, and examine the nutritional value of the foods we eat. Plans are underway for a series of student-produced films on local agriculture, to be shown in the dining hall on a large-screen monitor.

    Kenyon’s new dining facility, set to open in 2008, is designed to facilitate a food-waste composting system. By reducing food waste, student board dollars can be better spent on high-quality local foods, and students will appreciate the social and environmental implications of their food habits. Toward this end, students in a campus environmental group sorted and weighed all food waste at two dining facilities for a three-day period. Their research suggests that students currently throw away approximately 450 pounds of food each day. To raise campus awareness of the issue, students have mounted displays of wasted food, placed trash bags representing food waste in the center of campus, and organized presentations as part of a campus “Sustainability Week.”

    Student engagement with environmental issues has stimulated much campus activity regarding local food. In response to this interest, in 2006 students created a new campus organization, People Endorsing Agrarian Sustainability. PEAS emerged to promote the use of local foods in the campus dining halls, to educate the community about food- related issues, and to organize the efforts of various environmental groups already on campus. As a first initiative, PEAS members will take primary responsibility for developing educational materials to promote food-waste composting.

    Efforts to educate students into the local community now take place as part of Kenyon’s orientation for incoming students. In 2005, a group of three dozen first-year students was invited to Kenyon for a special preorientation program that featured engagement with the surrounding community. Rural Life Center director Howard Sacks provided a brief introduction to Food for Thought, after which the students spent much of the day cleaning out the Buckeye Candy & Tobacco Company building, which will become a retail outlet for local foods in Mount Vernon.   
Incoming Kenyon students prepare a warehouse for renovation as a local food outlet, as part of their first-year orientation program.
Following a local foods lunch, students toured a nearby organic farm.

    Beginning in 2007, Food for Thought faculty organized a Sophomore Experience for twenty returning Kenyon students. The yearlong experience includes reading discussions, trips to local farms, panels with community members involved in the food system, and local food meals prepared together. The effort is designed to provide new opportunities for student-faculty interaction, offer insights into the food system, and educate Kenyon students and faculty into the surrounding rural community.

    In all of these ways, Food for Thought works to mainstream efforts to understand food and our community throughout the College.