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Kenyon College National Leader in Local Food Movement


UPDATED: Friday September 28, 2012 7:06 PM

At Kenyon College students eat in the Pierce Hall cafeteria. 

There's a lot of variety which includes everything from main courses with meat and cheese, to salad bars piled high with fruits and vegetables.

But what makes this college cafeteria different from most is where the food comes from. It's not supplied from factories across the country.

Instead, it's delivered daily from surrounding farms. Sustainablity Director John Marsh said the idea came from professors.

"Here we are with all these farms around us, and yet we don't ever see any food from the land that's actually surrounding us," Marsh said. "Maybe we could actually get some food here from local farmers,” said Marsh.

But Marsh said that getting started was more a challenge than the faculty expected.  So the school partnered with a company called AVI and contacted farmers within 20 miles. 

Many produced food for companies far away, but gradually 60 of them agreed to supply the college with everything from dairy and meat to fruits and vegetables in season. 

Marsh reached into a large container filled with over-size heads of broccoli, and pulled one out.

"This was picked yesterday morning," he said.

Students like Ned Vogel appreciated the effort. 

"It's really impressive that they're able to do it on such a large scale. Everyone here's on the meal plan, so they have 16-hundred to feed daily," said Vogel.

Signs are everywhere that indicate "green," or "local," or "fresh" and to remind students where the food comes from.

Diners can make requests on a message board for foods that aren't offered, and the chef responds.  A dozen notes asked for tuna.  The chef responded in writing that it wasn't available because tuna was "over-fished right now."

That effort to sustain the food supply also pleased sophomore Brett Miller.

"It was one of the reasons why I decided to come to Kenyon. Sustainability and sustainable farming is a big deal of importance to me," said Miller.

Marsh said that whenever possible, he arranged with local farmers to provide the requested foods.  One request was for kohlrabi, so a farmer agreed to grow it.

"In December and January I sit down with the farmers and we plan out their whole entire garden," Marsh explained.

He said that fresh food tastes so much better, that the consumption of produce skyrockets during harvest season, and eating habits change as students acquire a taste for fresh produce.

"We see a humongous difference in the way kids eat," he said.  "You'll see a kid come up and get a whole entire bowl of cherry tomatoes and eat them like candy."

Students Rhiannon Suggs and Brett Miller appreciated the fact that forty percent of campus food is local and sustainable.

"It's very unique about Kenyon, and it's very cool," Suggs said.

"And it's delicious," added Miller.

Marsh said that colleges from across the country have visited Kenyon College to learn how the system works, and more may try to replicate it on their campuses.

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