Student Organizations, Theme Housing, and Community Engagement
Kenyon’s local food system is also supported extracurricularly by our student body. People Endorsing Agrarian Sustainability (PEAS) is one of the largest student organizations on campus. PEAS’ primary goals are to spread awareness of local food throughout the student body and to provide a link between Kenyon students and members of our surrounding agricultural community. Members of PEAS meet regularly with food service staff to advocate for local foods in the dining hall and to help the food service staff with local food signage and other means of educating their peers. PEAS also brings large groups of students on organized tours of area farms, and it has a system whereby smaller groups of students can sign up to work regularly with farmers.
PEAS members also put on local food brunches each semester that attract over one hundred students and members of the faculty. The students acquire the food for these brunches by forming connections with many of the farmers in our surrounding region. The local food brunches give PEAS members the opportunity to experience the intricacies of a farm-to-college system, and they help to spread awareness to the college community of the institution’s broader efforts in supporting local farmers. The brunch itself serves as a vehicle to spark student discussion and awareness, and PEAS provides clear and detailed information about the foods served and the farms from which they come. By providing a link between the students and the farmers of our community, PEAS facilitates critical student involvement and awareness in various steps of Kenyon’s farm-to-college process.
Our campus-wide local foods initiative has also spread into the residential life of the college. A student Housing and Dining Committee meets weekly to examine the various residential issues of the college, which often include matters concerning Kenyon’s local food system. When Kenyon’s contract with AVI comes up for renewal, members of the Housing and Dining Committee provide Kenyon’s administration with input in the revision of the contract.
Theme-housing options surrounding the common interest of local foods and agricultural sustainability are now available to students. Several students now live in a food co-op, which cooks Saturday morning local food brunches and Saturday evening local food dinners that are open to all members of the Kenyon community. In order to obtain food for their meals, Kenyon’s food co-op forms connections with farmers of our local agricultural community, and they also receive a weekly CSA share. PEAS shares residential housing with the environmental group on campus, and they hope to develop a fully sustainable homestead at some point in the future.
Some might argue that having a college farm would build residential support for Kenyon’s local food system. Other emerging leaders in the farm-to-college movement such as UC Santa Cruz, and the University of Vermont have campus farms where students cultivate a portion of the food served in their dining halls. For institutions with few farms in their surrounding region, this can be a great way to educate students and to get local foods into the dining hall. Kenyon, however, does not currently have a campus farm. We keep a small herb garden behind the dining hall, from which most of the basil to make our pesto is grown. There is another small garden at the elementary school just down the street from the college, where Kenyon students work to teach young children the basics of food cultivation and sustainability.
We are quite fortunate that our local food system has the ongoing, active support of the college’s senior administration and the board of trustees. Yet another key in the success of these kinds of initiatives is having enthusiastic interest and support from the student body. At Kenyon, the support and interest of the student body has grown exponentially in the past decade, as seen by the unprecedented student enthusiasm for academic courses relating to food and agriculture, and the growing number of members in PEAS. Student support of our local food system is visible everywhere, from the signage and posters throughout our dining hall, to the opinion’s section of our school newspaper, to the emails received by the entire student body. Yet it is still a continuous challenge to educate the students about the sources of food in the dining hall, and the benefits of supporting local for themselves and for the rest of their community.