Food with a Face

Watermelon was on hand every day at every meal in the late summer at the Peirce Hall servery.

"A lot of schools won't let you do that, but it's understood that we're buying local—and the students love it," said Bill Clapp, the former AVI district manager who supervised the servery opening. "All the watermelons are coming from right down the road."

AVI has a goal of spending 80 percent of its food dollars on local food and this year reached 40 percent, he said. Knox County farmers are the first priority, followed by Licking County and then expanding outward to the state line. That includes bakery and dairy products and most of the meat.

John Marsh, a 2006 graduate who matriculated with the Class of 1976, is the local-food nexus. The Knox County farmer works as a consultant for AVI with money provided by the College. Marsh scours the countryside in pursuit of produce. About 90 percent of the vegetables come from Amish farms, where Marsh fetches the food in a pickup truck.

Marsh can deliver the goods at the three-bay Peirce loading dock thanks to two dock levelers. The levelers can accommodate different truck sizes, up to a tractor-trailer rig. A flash-freeze unit helps preserve the produce for use in the off-season.

Marsh is not satisfied with the amount of local food used, but he savors the work. "It's meaningful," he said. "I've been told, 'We would have had to take off-the-farm jobs if you had not come along.' My definition of local is food with a face. I have to have a farmer I can go to who is the boss. The idea is to preserve the farmland ... keep the farming in the community."

Where does Kenyon rank among its peers when it comes to serving local food? "This institution does more than anybody is doing," Clapp said.

Definitions of "local" vary and no national standards exist, said Joseph Silva, executive director of the National Association of College & University Food Services. Forty percent, he said, is "pretty high and very good." Middlebury College in Middlebury, Vermont, also emphasizes sustainability and uses about 25 percent local food, defined as food generated in Vermont. Howard Sacks, interim provost and director of the Rural Life Center, said, "I know of no other college or university that approaches us in the proportion of food we source locally."

And wasted food is put to use. The servery includes a mechanical system that channels cast-off produce into a pulper. Water is extracted, leaving pulp that is eventually converted to compost used on campus. Recycled water is used to help flush the next batch of food waste.

Adjusting menus to handle a bumper crop of apples or a weather-depleted harvest of sweet corn is a kitchen challenge. But the quality of the food is not in question, said Dennis Bean, a chef and AVI director of culinary operations education. "You can't touch it," he said.