Kenyon’s local food program is unique, just like any institutional farm-to-college system. There exists no other institution exactly like Kenyon; we are distinctive in our character and our locale. Although no definitive formula exists, our investigations have led us to identify a few general recommendations: a functioning farm-to-college system requires additional time and resources, establishes fixed infrastructural systems, and entails dynamic and communicative relationships.
One key to establishing any local food system is starting small. A working farm-to-college system doesn’t appear overnight; rather, it grows organically one product at a time, one farmer at a time. It is important to ask what’s easiest to do where you are, and to do that well. Kenyon, for example, began by introducing one new local food item a month. We highlighted and publicized it to the student body, which enhanced student support and awareness for our growing local food system. We catered a delicious meal comprised entirely of local foods for our board of trustees, which contributed to the administrative financial support for our local food expenditures. It is critical to develop real interest and enthusiasm from both the bottom up and the top down—there has to be both grassroots interest from the students and the faculty and involvement from the senior staff and the board of trustees. A newly developing local food system will probably require additional financial support in the beginning. Yet the administration must remain patient and realize that although they may lose money in the beginning, they will be better off in the end.
An institution must be willing to devote additional time and resources to the development of their local food program. Establishing fixed infrastructural systems helps immensely in dealing with this. Upon gaining the necessary administrative and student support for institutionalizing a farm-to-college program, the key players must gather to establish their goals and to define the system’s basic framework. The roles and obligations of all key individuals must also be clearly defined and understood. Functional and mutually understood systems need to be in place for handling individual producers, for transporting and storing local foods, and for preparation and serving. Furthermore, a fixed system of labeling educates the students on the food that they are eating, which is beneficial for institutionalizing program support. It is also important to establish a flexible economic system that works well for the college.
In short, a local food system requires a paradigmatic shift in the mindsets of all individuals involved in the program. From the students to the culinary personnel, and from the college’s senior staff to the corporate leaders of the food service company, the key players must unlearn the standard ways of a conventional food system and start anew.
As we have learned from our fieldwork and investigations, relationships are key in nearly every possible dimension of a local food system. Developing these genuine personal relationships entail working closely together. The role of the sustainability coordinator, or John Marsh’s position, is an indispensible component of Kenyon’s local food system; and other colleges going local would greatly benefit from institutionalizing at least some component of his job into their program. A local food program requires interpersonal relationships among various members of the system. In highlighting a few of the key relationships in a local food system, the personal relationship between the sustainability coordinator and the individual producer is important for enhancing reliability in the sourcing of local foods. Another important relationship is that involving the sustainability coordinator, the food service director, and the executive chef. They must work together closely in coordinating local food purchases, the menu, and local food education.
Learning what works and what doesn’t work at other colleges helps to shape a farm-to-college system. Our farm-to-college system is adaptable; maximizing the resources that our local region has to offer, and working the best that we can under our institutional constraints. A local food system does not develop overnight; rather, it requires a great deal of time, dedication, and hard work. Yet for Kenyon College, the innumerable rewards of going local include reaching out to our surrounding community and nourishing our students with fresh and local food, which has greatly outweighed any initial difficulties that we faced.