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Mount Vernon, Knox County, Ohio

GAMBIER — On March 24 the Rural Life Center at Kenyon College will ask how much it has fulfilled its mission to promote a sustainable local food system over the past 15 years.

This discussion with farmers, retailers and health care professionals is part of the Rural Life Center’s “Visits” series and will be held at 11:10 a.m. in the lounge of Peirce Hall, 201 College Park St. Two Kenyon seniors, Kayla Arnold and Thabo Kasongo, have been researching the local foods initiative and will moderate the discussion.

The “Food for Thought” discussion March 24 will include Erin Salva, director of the Knox Community Garden Initiative and director of student accessibility and support services at Kenyon; Pat Crow, manager of the Woodward Project; and Benji Ballmer, director of the Yellowbird Foodshed.

Arnold said, “Local foods can benefit a community in many ways, not only economically. For example, the Knox County gleaning project utilized local farmers to donate over 2,200 pounds of produce to local food pantries.”

Beginning in 2000, Kenyon and Knox County have steadily increased support for family farming to preserve the county’s rural character, from beginning a farmer’s market in the downtown square of Mount Vernon to incorporating locally grown food into the daily food service for Kenyon students.

“After 15 years, I would say that the local foods initiative has been successful and continues to grow. The next step is to simplify the logistics of local sourcing, in order to make it easier for buyers and sellers to connect,” Arnold said.

The Knox County Community Garden Initiative provides garden plots, gardening advice, and plant and seed swaps to local gardeners as part of an effort to help people lower their food bills with healthy food they grow themselves.

The Harvest @ The Woodward, located in nearby Mount Vernon, serves as a market for locally grown food year-round.

Yellowbird Foodshed directly connects about 40 small farmers to colleges, restaurants and grocery stores to provide the Columbus, Ohio, area with local food.

Howard Sacks, professor of sociology at Kenyon and director of the Rural Life Center, is particularly interested in how Knox County farmers can connect to consumers in the larger markets of Newark, Mansfield and Columbus. It’s the next step in a long-term effort to build a community of sustainable agriculture, he said.

The Rural Life Center promotes education, scholarship and public projects about Knox County and has won awards for its model of college-community engagement.

“We’re looking at our initiative 15 years down the road and asking how well we have been doing. This is an attempt to assess our work,” Sacks said.

To learn more about the free event, visit the Rural Life Center website or call the Rural Life Center at 740-427-5850.

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