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Applause, pleas at farm forum

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In some ways last week’s public forum regarding the Antioch College farm was a pep rally for environmental sustainability and the resurgence of a unique liberal arts college. Upwards of 200 villagers attended the event in the Bryan Center gym on Wednesday, May 7, mostly clapping and cheering for the seven administrators, staff and student representatives who spoke of the model production farm and planned solar array on the 36 acres known as the college golf course.

In other ways, the forum appeared to be a standoff between the farm proponents and a smaller group of villagers, mostly neighbors of the farm, who continue to state their belief that the golf course is an inappropriate place to raise animals and should remain the open space that has benefitted the community for the past several decades.

For both farm supporters and detractors, long-time villager Richard Cook asked a provocative question: “How do we integrate the village of Yellow Springs” into the college’s plans for this property central to the town?

For its part, the college had a well rehearsed answer in the seven presentations laying out its plans for a small, tightly managed vegetable and animal raising operation to feed and power its campus and develop “new and better ways” of farming, eating and living. College President Mark Roosevelt, physical plant director Reggie Stratton, Glen Helen Ecology Institute Director Nick Boutis, farm manager Kat Christen, admissions director Micah Canal and several students spoke about the reasons the farm is a necessary academic and environmental focus for the school and needs to occur in the location of the golf course.
“It’s abundantly clear that the way we live in America is not sustainable … it’s our obligation to address these issues — to take them on in an Antioch manner and serve as a model for others,” Roosevelt said, to much clapping throughout the room. “The location is pedagogically important — this is not an ancillary activity for us.”

In addition, the college had a small panel of several faculty members and Brett Henderson, of Miamisburg’s Solar, Power & Light, which is developing the solar array, to help field questions and comments from the audience.

Antioch almuna, Yellow Springs native and college neighbor Jalyn Roe spoke about her deep professional and cultural connections to the college and also about feeling disrespected when the college failed to consult its neighbors regarding the farm’s location. Her support for the college is unrelated to her opinion that the farm, while good, doesn’t belong on the golf course, she said.

“I am a villager who gets this — but not on this particular open space property,” she said. “The farm and sustainability are excellent ideas but with so many stakeholders involved, we need to reach out and see where the best spot for this project is … I doubt seriously that students and faculty wouldn’t support 50 acres outside the village.”

But Antioch alumna Lynn Sontag said the college had tried that approach with its farm along Grinnell Road, which she helped manage in the early 1980s. And retired Antioch professor Peter Townsend agreed that few students made the relatively short trip to that off-campus farm, a situation that would repeat itself today if the farm were moved from the current location.

“If the farm isn’t on campus, it isn’t gonna happen,” he said.

But what about animal smells and noises, villager Steve Hetzler and neighbor Betty Ford said, with Ford asking, “How would you like to have cow and pig waste in your back yard?”

And how about the college’s original commitment to protect natural resources, neighbor Lauren Miller asked with a plea to purchase part of the golf course.

“Antioch College said it had an opportunity to use the golf course without destroying resources, but the natural resource of land was left out,” Miller said. “And your plans keep changing — first there was a dog park, now there is no dog park — when your plans change it’s hard to trust you.”

Glen Director Boutis asked villagers to withhold judgement until the results were clear.

“We’re not here to say, ‘trust us,’ but give us the opportunity to earn your trust,” he said.
Boutis pointed out that the supposition that having animals on the farm would result in harm was unproven.

“We are managing the farm in a way that that doesn’t happen … so that the farm doesn’t create ecological harm to the environment and to the community.”

Many villagers applauded the unique work the college is doing for the environment, energy conservation and for the community. Anisa Kline is excited to be able to walk to the farm and show her baby Layli the animals — “That’s why we live in Yellow Springs,” she said.

Community Solutions Director Pat Murphy asked if the college had approached the Department of Energy for funds to publicly promote the farm project. Nadia Malarkey feels the farm is needed to educate people about the ecological disaster industrial farming practices and energy consumption have created. Michael Jones is sad to see the tranquil open space erode but likes that the farm “is cultivating a sense of intimacy with the town” and hopes the farm will revive an old idea for an Antioch culinary institute to “exalt” its harvest.

Villager Ed Amrhein, parent of a current student, said, “I’m with you all the way — I’m with you and I’m delighted to see the plan articulated so clearly.”

Regarding the solar array, neighbor Steven Roe asked if the college had considered alternatives to the golf course. According to solar rep Brett Henderson and facilities director Reggie Stratton, the cost of moving the solar off campus or onto existing rooftops would make the cost prohibitive for the project’s investors.

“Unless we cut down every tree on campus and restored every roof … and then we’d only get half of what we need” to power the college and the geothermal HVAC system, Henderson said.

Others asked about the power arrangement with the Village, with former Village Manager Laura Curliss voicing her concerns, including using a prime location for a purely utilitarian cause and changing the feel of the once open and natural field in town.

In terms of the power contract, according to Stratton, the college negotiated with the Village a net metering arrangement in which the college will initially supply 50 percent of its power from the solar field (with excess going to the village grid). The college will also absorb the $10,000 in annual “demand charges” the Village will incur because of reduced power demand. Henderson believes the deal will “more than make up for” the loss in Village electric revenue, and though the Village has a power contract for 84 percent of its power from renewable sources, Stratton wants a truly green energy source for the college, not green energy credits.

“The electrons coming across the grid [to the Village] are coal and gas based,” he said. “We want energy we know and can verify.”

To the initial question from villager Richard Cook about how the college and village will work together on the farm project, Roosevelt said this:

“Our future and your future are intimately tied; we know there are some things in this plan that some of the neighbors object to — we know that and we worry about it,” he said. “But we think that 95 percent of the time our interests are going to be in common, and we believe that we and the village will succeed. … It won’t mean it will always be kumbaya, but it will be respectful.”

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