The Alumni Network Blog

Welcome to the Alumni Network Blog. In an effort to facilitate a stronger connection between RLC students and alumni interested in rural life, we have put together this blog. We have included several testimonials, interviews, and essays.

Leave a post. Share with us what you're up to. Or shoot us an email to join our new network ( Enjoy!

New Alumni Network to publish RLC alumni testimonials and connect students

What are alumni of the Rural Life Center doing today? What were their experiences like while at Kenyon and working with the Rural Life Center? Have these experiences in Knox County, Ohio and at the RLC influenced their interests, career paths, and general understandings of the world?

We recently sent-out an email to RLC alumni asking these questions and then some, and got many enthusiastic responses. From these responses and newly acquired contact information, we have compiled an Alumni Network for the Rural Life Center. Then we realized both students and alumni could benefit from a medium that fostered greater connection and discussion. Therefore, in an effort to facilitate a stronger connection between RLC alumni and current Kenyon students interested in various issues pertaining to rural life, we have put together an Alumni Network Blog (see below). We  posted a handful of RLC alumni testimonials below (as separate blog posts). If you are a RLC alumni or student and have questions or comments about these testimonials, the Rural Life Center, or life in general, leave it in a post in our Alumni Network Blog.

To read more about our Alumni Network and what current RLC alumni are up to, click here. If you are interested in joining our Alumni Network, please contact us at or add your contact information and/or story below as a comment.

Rachel Balkcom (1995)

“I participated in the first year of the Family Farm Project.

My work with the Rural Life Center changed how I see the world, the potential I see in ameliorative social action, and how I teach. It taught me that the best education is immediately applicable and doesn’t only create in students a zeal to change their communities, but it provides opportunities for them to do so while they are still students. These habits exercised and skills honed then inform life choices. My teaching is also leadership development, is also change maker creation. I teach nothing—if I can help it—without my students understanding and demonstrating in their communities the potential in the knowledge to augment societal, economic, and ecological systems. My career has been marked by significant student-led community projects that complement classroom learning.

More relevant to Farm Project content, I have trained many other teachers to teach for sustainability and social justice with a particular focus on food systems. My students successfully lobbied the Santa Fe School Board to pass an ordinance requiring sustainability measures at Santa Fe schools, including stipulations for both the school food systems and curricular content. I’ve been involved in garden creation and food system reform at every institution of which I’ve been a part. In my personal life, I’ve dug more deeply (ha ha) over time into issues of local food security, participating in multiple urban gardens initiatives. In April, my partner and I plan to finally get chickens—my first farm animal!—and we live in the middle of Denver on a busy street in a business district.

It is true that the Family Farm Project led me to recognize many of my latent inherent interests. But it’s also true that I can’t imagine another way I would have happened upon them. The Project—and Howard’s classes in general—was the single most influential experience in determining the choices and actions of my life.”

Erin Hatton (1996)

“My cohort developed a series of web pages (back when the Internet was shiny and new). I created the web page on organic farming.

The work I did for that project really spoke to me. At Kenyon, I was an English major.  But, although I loved my English classes, I knew that English literature was not my future.  After college I joined the Peace Corps where I wanted to work in agriculture. The Peace Corps had other things in mind for me, however, so I became a high school English teacher in West Africa. Nonetheless, that experience further developed my interest in rural community development and, after the Peace Corps, I went to graduate school in rural sociology at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. Today, although my research is in quite a different field (work and labor), I continue to see my professional life and research interests as stemming (at least in part) from the work I did with Professor Sacks.”

Jenny Lawton (2001)

“As part of the 2000-2001 Fieldwork course, I was part of the “Foodways” project, studying local food systems and writing an article about gardening.  Before I was a participant, I encountered the work of the Rural Life Center as a consumer.  In the summer of 2000, I used the guide to local farms a previous class had produced to chase down some of my favorite food: berries.  I was surprised to pull up onto an Amish Farm — I came away with 4 pints of of blackberries I’ll never forget.

My experiences with the Rural Life Center have influenced me significantly!  Little did I know that my trips to interview local farmers were preparation for a career as a reporter.  Although the product of my work these days is a bit different, the fundamentals are the same: careful observation, sensitivity and adaptability to a new environment, interviewing techniques, a sense of a larger narrative, technical skill, ethics, diligence… Much of my work now had its roots in my experiences with the Rural Life Center.”

Alumni speak about OEFFA experiences

The following three blog posts include essays written by RLC alumni that detail their experiences working on sustainable farms in Knox County through the Kenyon-OEFFA Internship Program. Click here to read more about this dynamic internship program, co-sponsored by the Ohio Ecological Food and Farming Association, the Rural Life Center, and a grant by the McGreggor Foundation.


“My Experience with the OEFFA Internship Program” by Sarah Cleeton (9/22/08)

Before coming to Kenyon, I never really thought about where the food I eat comes from. Thankfully, student environmental organizations, classes, and the Food for Thought initiative here at Kenyon have made it almost impossible for students to remain naïve or apathetic about food issues. The Ohio Ecological Food and Farm Association (OEFFA)-Kenyon Certificate Program is an outstanding way for Kenyon students to gain in-depth knowledge and hands-on experience with local foods and farming systems.

I first heard about the OEFFA program two summers ago when I was on campus doing microbiology research through Kenyon’s Summer Science program. While I really enjoyed the experience, I wished that I could have worked outside rather than in the lab. When I returned from work some days I would run into my friend Phil Hartger who was staying on campus and working on a local farm. When he shared his experiences, I immediately knew that I wanted that very job next summer. Phil suggested that I contact Professor Bruce Hardy about the OEFFA program, and so I did. Professor Hardy was very kind and helpful about setting up the internship. He matched me up with the Bruce and Lisa Rickard who own Fox Hollow Farm about 30 minutes North West of Kenyon.

[Read more…]

“Reflections on Dharma” by Shaina Cantino (Summer 2009)

Raised in a rural SE Ohio, I grew up with fantasies about farming life.  The fantasies developed into a more remote social and environmental vision when becoming a dance/drama student in a few environmental studies courses at Kenyon.  Through the Sustainable Agriculture course, though, I met Kate and Eric Helt and the “critters” of Dharma Farm.  At Dharma, I began to learn to conscientiously inhabit the system within which we live and in doing so, tasted the blissful ease and belonging that drew me back.  I returned to the farm the next summer eager for this—not only for continued acquisition of skills but also for cultivating the energized mindfulness that is demanded and nurtured by the skills of farming.  It is difficult to distinguish between what I learned and what I felt because it all fed me concurrently.   I did things that I hadn’t imagined I could do, which implies the acquisition of skills, but these skills came unnoticed as I chiefly experienced growth in the muscles that exercise intuition— compassion, holistic observation, curiosity, and responsiveness.

[Read more…]

“Summer in Zion: A Midwestern Education” by J. Barclay Katz (Summer 2008)

            I spent the summer of 2008 interning on a ten-acre farm just outside of Gambier, Ohio, home to my Alma Mater, Kenyon College. When I applied for the internship, what little I knew about agriculture came from following my Dad around his garden and from living around—but being uninterested in—large corn and soy operations. I grew up in Indiana and Ohio surrounded by farms, but they were always just out of sight and mind. They reappeared in October: Halloween bringing with it a desire for pumpkins and corn mazes. Strangely, my most vivid memory of these seasonal trips consists of being chased through one of these corn mazes by a scarecrow wielding a chainsaw.

            I was not the kind of person usually hired as a farm intern. I grew up in precisely the kind suburban neighborhood that is to blame for the loss of so much farmland in the United States. The land that my parents’ house sits on was in production less than thirty ago. When I was living there, it wasn’t so much that I was indifferent to such recent history, but rather it didn’t occur to me or my peers that our surroundings were in any way unnatural. How could an entirely different way of life have existed there so recently?

            In all honesty, I only applied to this internship because I wanted to stay in Gambier for the summer. I had no previous interest in agriculture, only a desire to work outside and the vague, unimpassioned notion that the environment was important.

            On an overcast day in March—as I left the frenetic energy and gothic architecture of campus—I went down the hill to meet John Marsh, the owner and operator of Zion Gate farm. He was clearing trees at the edge of his property. A chainsaw splayed its teeth into the truck of a weed tree, one of many that had taken over as a result of the negligence of the previous owners. At the time I was a bit freaked out around power tools, mostly due to lack of experience, but also because of an incident involving a router and my right index finger. Not to mention scarecrows and corn mazes. The zeal with which John brandished that chainsaw didn’t help.

[Read more…]

The Alumni Network Blog is intended to encourage a dialogue between current students interested in issues of rural life with those who have graduated. Let us know what you think by adding a post!