Ecology Meets AgricultureGAMBIER, Ohio (February 12, 2008) Learning the link between the pitchfork and the salad fork has become part of a liberal arts education.
For Phil Hartger, a lesson in environmental studies started with daily farm chores. But it was the thinking side of ecological agriculture that intrigued Hartger, Class of 2009, of Washington, Pennsylvania.
"It's an intellectual process," Hartger said. "A lot of planning is involved. You have to think about it. It's not just labor as some people think."
Hartger joins Aaron Clark-Ginsberg, Class of 2008, of Portland, Oregon, as the first students to complete the Certificate Program in Ecological Agriculture offered by Kenyon and the Ohio Ecological Food & Farm Association (OEFFA). The certificates will be awarded on February 17 during the OEFFA annual conference in Granville, Ohio.
Students, working with a faculty advisor, must complete three relevant courses and a ten-week summer internship on a farm where the techniques of ecological agriculture are practiced. Students earned a $2,500 stipend for summer farm work in 2007.
The program evolved after OEFFA shared its interest with some Ohio colleges. Kenyon, with support from the McGregor Fund of Detroit, Michigan, seized the opportunity to run a pilot program.
Howard Sacks, professor of sociology and director of the Rural Life Center, saw a chance for students to build on the knowledge gained in the classroom by applying it to experience in the field. Students will get their hands dirty while they develop skills for the critical analysis of the economic, political, and social forces at play in modern farming.
Students are exposed to "cutting-edge work in sustainable agriculture," Sacks said, and are invited to attend related workshops and conferences. Three students are expected to participate each year.
Bruce Rickard welcomed Hartger to Fox Hollow Farm in Fredericktown, Ohio. Rickard takes "an organic approach" on his grass-based farm that is heavy on protein products, including beef, eggs, and lamb. "We don't do things the conventional way around here," Rickard said.
Students are not expected to arrive with farming skills, but they should be ready for hard work and "be willing to listen and learn," he said. The payoff for Rickard is well-informed students who will share their knowledge of the origins of food with friends and family.
Hartger is an anthropology major whose interest in the environment has grown during his time as a college student. "I really felt like trying something new," he said. "This is tied to the environment and it's tied to food. Environmental studies is a field I'd like to go into."
Hartger commuted from campus housing to the Fox Hollow Farm and a forty-hour workweek that included chores, such as washing eggs and helping at a weekly farm market. And Hartger absorbed lessons in farm sustainability. Chicken coops, for example, must be moved occasionally to protect the soil from chemical imbalance and sheep must be moved from field to field to prevent overgrazing.
Hartger's certificate-related coursework included the Anthropology of Food, Introduction to Environmental Studies, and Solar Energy. He worked with faculty advisor Bruce Hardy, assistant professor of anthropology.
"We certainly have people who are very interested in where their food comes from," Hardy said. "We love that. That's the true message: Know where your food comes from."
Students who leave Kenyon to pursue careers in environment-related fields will benefit, he said. Kenyon's strong reputation in cultivating local-foods production and sustainable agriculture made the College a natural for the OEFFA program.
"I'd love to see it spread all over the place," Hardy said.
That's the goal of the OEFFA as well, said Carol Goland, executive director of the Columbus, Ohio-based organization. "We see tremendous interest in sustainable agriculture and farm issues on the part of Ohio's liberal arts students," she said. "The next generation of environmentally sustainable farmers may very well come from the liberal arts schools."
The program helps farmers who need summer help and students find each other, and the Kenyon model adds academic rigor. Consumer interest in food production and protection sets the stage for emerging careers in the field, Goland said.
OEFFA promotes farming and gardening methods that take advantage of natural processes, quality local food markets, and environmental health. For more information about OEFFA, visit www.oeffa.org .
For information about the Kenyon Rural Life Center, visit email@example.com .