Gardens & Nature

 Gardens & Nature

Antioch College’s organic farm produces food for its dining hall.

By Carol Siyahi Hicks

The average meal in America is said to travel 1,500 miles to reach our tables. At Antioch College in Yellow Springs, food from the Antioch Farm travels less than 1,500 feet to Antioch dining halls.

Located on the south end of campus, the farm covers roughly 4 acres and shares green space with 5 acres of solar panels and a geothermal wellhead aiding heating and cooling of campus buildings.

At Antioch College gardening is more than the production of food. It’s practiced as a statement of social responsibility, a principal upon which Antioch is historically based. The farm, now six years old and tended by students and farm manager Kat Christen, last year provided more than 3 tons of fresh food to Antioch’s dining halls.

The farm has six guiding principles: Environmental sustainability, including use of organic methods; healthy, living soil; a diversity of plants and crops attracting beneficial insects; care for local water quality by not using synthetic chemicals or fertilizers; experiential education; and economic sustainability.

Antioch is educating student palates and providing opportunities to understand how decisions about food choices, sources and preparation can affect not only their health, but also the lives of local growers and the broader community. In doing so, Antioch College has become a national example among higher education institutions of farm to table dining.

Last year Antioch College ranked second in the nation among schools accepting the Real Food Challenge, says Isaac DeLamatre, Antioch food service coordinator. The Real Food Challenge, fired by students across the country at more than 200 higher education institutions, promotes a practice that supports local farms, healthy and humane farming practices, and encompasses a concern for producers, consumers, communities and, ultimately, the Earth.

While the challenge’s goal may sound lofty, the reality resides daily on the plates of Antioch students—and in the impact that Antioch’s regular fresh-food purchases from 15 local farms has upon the area’s community of smaller farmers and producers. Sixty percent of Antioch’s food meets all the challenge criteria, says DeLamatre. He notes that very fresh food has a vibrancy of flavor and a nutritional density that food trucked long distances can’t begin to match.

“Many of our students have an interest in food and farming,” says Christen. “Food is one of our primary connections to nature. And we make choices about how the environment is used, which affects how clean our waterways are, how healthy our bodies will be, whether farm workers are given fair wages.”

“When you grow food responsibly you protect an area—and your own health,” she continues. “This is important to the students and to me as a mother of young children. I want them to feel connected to the earth and their surroundings and to relate to food and how it is grown.”

Christen hopes people will consider adding at least one organic product when they food shop, or “make a weekly or monthly trip to a farmer’s market. Or grow one plant you can eat—especially if you have children. This can be a hugely important connection for a child.”

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