Sacks, who founded the Kenyon Rural Life Center, explored how those ideas are important to a liberal arts education in his speech, “Food for Thought: Farming, Community and Place,” Thursday, April 23, in the Community Foundation Theater in Gund Gallery. The Kenyon Unique lecture series features distinguished faculty members whose talks are recorded for a digital archive. Sacks' speech was also livestreamed.
One way the College fosters that community connection is by using local sources for 42 percent of the food for dining services, making Kenyon a national leader in the use of local foods, Sacks said.
“Beyond providing tasty and nutritious food for our students, this effort constitutes one part of a countywide initiative to build a sustainable local food system that will support the family farms that are central to our rural character,” he said.
Connecting to a community is more difficult in an increasingly mobile and virtual world, he said. “The liberal arts are designed to teach us how to live a good life in the broadest sense of the term ‘good.’ I think connecting to place is central to that goal.”
Sacks, who says he practices “backyard sociology,” has spent his career championing rural life in the area, working with Kenyon students since 1978 to document Knox County’s history, culture, economy and nature. Through the Rural Life Center, Kenyon helped start the Mount Vernon Farmer’s Market, published a guide to local food sources in the county, supported the community garden program, developed a garden at Wiggin Street School and worked to get fresh, local foods to the neediest residents.
Strengthening ties between Kenyon and the Knox County community is a priority for the College. For example, Kenyon recently announced a plan to renovate the Buckeye Candy building as an extension of the College in downtown Mount Vernon. Members of the Kenyon College Board of Trustees met April 23-24 to consider final approval of the plan and tour Knox County and the building with community leaders.
Sacks will introduce a new first-year seminar in the fall semester called “Life Along the Kokosing,” designed to familiarize students with the place where they live. They will learn about the community through several topics and locations, including Wolf Run that feeds into the Kokosing River at the Brown Family Environmental Center and a song about Knox County by the Snowden Family Band, an African-American group that performed locally starting in the 1850s. “Ultimately, the goal in true liberal arts fashion is to show the interconnection between the natural, the economic, the social and the cultural,” he said.