Mindful of FoodGAMBIER, Ohio (September 12, 2005) Kenyon's "Food for Thought" program will begin an ambitious new effort this year, including academic research and public presentations, with the help of a $250,000 grant from the McGregor Fund of Detroit, Michigan. The three-year grant will enable professors and students to prepare a comprehensive "local food assessment," mapping the possibilities for greater commerce among area farmers, food processors, retailers, and consumers. Students will also help create exhibits, multi-media programs, and a Web site.
The grant, awarded earlier this summer, will take "Food for Thought" from the dining halls--where the program serves up central Ohio meat and produce along with increased awareness of farm and food issues--into the curriculum and throughout Knox County. Students in courses ranging from "Anthropology of Food" to "Practical Issues in Ethics" will participate in projects under the grant, according to Howard Sacks, director of the Rural Life Center and organizer of the "Food for Thought" initiative.
Students in Sacks's sociology course "Fieldwork: Rural Life" will interview area farmers, food processors, and consumers (including "institutional" consumers like schools and retirement homes) in order to create the local food assessment, a detailed portrait of the food economy in Knox County--who produces food, how and where it is processed and marketed, and to what degree consumers actually buy food that is grown locally.
"The disconnect is that we produce a lot of food that is not consumed here," says Sacks, "and most of what we do eat here comes from far away. That means tens of millions of dollars lost to the local economy."
The food assessment will serve as a knowledge base for building a local food system, replacing this dislocation, or at least tempering it, with strong, mutually beneficial community links. "Food for Thought" includes plans for an array of efforts--for example, developing marketing techniques to promote the county's food products--that would help sustain local family farms and rural communities, while providing consumers with healthy, locally grown food. In late August, new students attending a pre-orientation program at Kenyon began working on one of these efforts, the transformation of two floors in Mount Vernon's old Buckeye Candy building into a local food warehouse and community kitchen to create specialty products.
Students will undertake the local food assessment using a geographic information system (GIS), computer-based technology that analyzes and displays data in relation to geography, in effect mapping information and relationships. The McGregor Fund grant will enable the College to purchase the GIS equipment and train students and faculty in its use.
Grant funds will also support independent student research, classroom activities, a lecture series, a Web site, and the creation of an exhibit combining GIS data, recorded interviews, and photographs. Through these efforts, the project hopes to build consumer interest in local foods and enhance understanding about how our food choices affect the community.