Eating Locally at Olney Friends School
Eating Locally at Olney Friends School
By Kirsten Bohl, director of communications
What’s for lunch at Olney Friends School? Increasingly, the answer is “meat, eggs, or produce we raised ourselves on our farm.”
“We are getting close to meeting all the school’s needs,” says assistant farmer Sandy Sterrett, “in eggs. Also in beef. Where else can you enjoy a fresh green salad with greens picked just an hour beforehand?”
Why eat local foods? For one thing, says Sterrett, “It’s a way to decrease an individual’s and the school’s carbon footprint substantially. For each meal a person can eat locally, 672 gallons of oil are saved that would otherwise have been used in processing and, especially, in transportation,” she notes.
“It wasn’t always in fashion to eat locally. Now, it’s in fashion,” says Olney’s farm manager, Don Guindon. “But for Olney, it’s been the history of the school.”
Founded in 1837 in nearby Mt. Pleasant, Ohio, and operating in its present location in Barnesville since 1876, the school originally produced all of its own food. “Everyone did then,” Guindon says.
The 350 acres on which Olney is located comprises several original farms, donated over the years for the school’s use. Presently, Guindon and Sterrett harvest more than 300 tons of hay and nearly six tons of produce annually. The school’s beef herd numbers 32. Olney’s farmers also care for 18 goats, and about 60 chickens. Honey comes from a hive of bees.
Transferring – and transforming – such bounty from farm to table is a major undertaking, says food service manager Kathy Kovalick.
“It’s a different matter to have applesauce come into your kitchen in the form of a bushel of apples. What are the steps, and how much time will it take, to have applesauce on the table?” Volunteers assist the kitchen staff with activities ranging from snapping beans to blanching corn to freezing peaches.
In addition to eating more food in season, the school has added more freezer space to preserve vegetables, frozen fruit, and beef. In addition, plans are in place to expand cold storage for root crops and other foods ideally stored in cellar-type conditions such as carrots, potatoes, and cabbage.
Kovalick points out another reason to eat locally – taste and quality. “One of the most immediate, pleasurable results of local food is that it tastes better,” notes Kovalick. “You see that quality right away.” The food is fresher, less processed, and in many cases, the vitamin content is higher due to the quick transit to the table, she notes.
“When we can’t eat from our own farm, we can still eat local food some of the time,” Kovalick says.
Nearby vendors, such as J-Mo Meats (for beef) and Crossroads Farm (for poultry), help to fill in the gaps.
How do students feel about eating locally? “I think it’s good,” says Ellie Taylor, a senior from New Albany, Ohio. “It shows the integrity of the school, that we actually live by the things we talk about. Just the idea that we need to be grateful for what we have. A lot of the time, Americans eat a lot of food that comes from all over the world. It’s not necessary, and it’s harmful to the planet. Quakers want to avoid contributing to something that’s harmful.”
Senior Don Snyder of Flushing, New York agrees. “I only eat local meat now. It’s not only better for the environment, it’s also better for personal health. Plus, I like being able to say, ‘I helped raise the meat I’m eating.’”
Taylor and Snyder also speak highly of the student farm team, which was added as a physical education option for students this winter.
“I like farming,” says Snyder. “I’m really interested in the environment. I want to be able to survive on my own. Part of that is being able to grow my own food. Personally, I think farming as a sport is a lot tougher than basketball or volleyball. It’s more than just cardiovascular. There’s also a lot of strength training. You also have to concentrate all the time, so it’s good mental training.”
“I love farm team,” says Taylor. I’ve always been very outdoorsy. I like physical labor. I enjoy growing things, picking food that will be served in the kitchen. I like raising chickens, and eating the eggs. So many people are so out of touch with the land. Farming gives me a better understanding,” she says.
Early farm team projects included digging fence post holes and setting posts for the chicken yard; and harvesting 34 bushels of potatoes. Ongoing projects include caring for the chickens; washing produce on its way to the kitchen; and in warmer months, assisting with soil preparation, planting, and harvest. Students also work in the kitchen as part of a regular rotation of chores on campus.