Days 27-29: Gambier and Mt. Vernon, OH

13 Sep

It had been 3 years since I’d returned to Kenyon – not enough time for Gambier to lose its familiar comfort and quirkiness, but enough time for me to completely forget about the street that led me up the hill to “downtown.” I pumped up the hill, which I remembered as a formidable end to every ride I took those years ago, but which was oh so much easier than the many rollercoasters of the morning outside Granville.

I had contacted a handful of key people at Kenyon before arriving, but things didn’t come together until the last minute. I had planned to visit a few farms near Fredericktown on Friday, but freak winds had blown through on Tuesday evening and left them with lost barns and too much of a mess for visitors. My cold had settled in with full force, though, so I didn’t fight the unexpected rest day. Ruth and I went down to John Marsh’s farm on the edge of Gambier, where Matt Riley gave us a tour. I’d heard of Matt – a friend of Aaron Zaremsky (in Yellow Springs), Matt’s a recent Kenyon grad who’s stayed in Gambier to tend this farm, as well as another he started at Wiggin Street Elementary School. This is the farm’s first year, and it’s mostly experimental. Matt and the others, including John, have a great piece of land, and plenty of hopes for supplying the Kenyon dining hall, co-ops, and local food banks with fresh produce. Right now, there’s just not enough man-power to harvest everything, and connections to get the food to people who need it are still not well-established, so lots of Matt’s efforts are focused on saving as much as possible from being tossed in the compost.

When evening approached, I headed over to the Parish House for a workshop with students from PEAS (People Endorsing Agrarian Sustainability), a student organization led by Sara Berman, my enthusiastic and reliable contact on campus.

A great crowd showed up, full of questions and enthusiasm and knowledge, and a couple of hours later I fumbled across the street with more yogurt than I had room to incubate. Disaster was averted, however, thanks to Ruth and Joseph’s fancy dehydrating oven.

Saturday morning opened chilly and gorgeous, and I was pretty near ecstatic as I pedaled into Mount Vernon on the Kokosing Gap Trail. Melissa Raines had published a piece about me in the Mt. Vernon News on Friday, so plenty of people came up to me having read that I would be at the market. The crowd was fantastic – all ages, and I nearly ran out of my samples, saving some for afternoon demonstrations back in Gambier.

I restocked on yogurt recipe flyers, then set up in front of Farr Hall right in downtown Gambier. I quickly gave away all of my goat milk yogurt, which was absolutely delicious, and met plenty of wary and very excited Kenyon students.

On Sunday I got to see the new Peirce dining hall – backstage! I met John Marsh, who owns the farm I visited Friday and is in charge of getting local food into the dining halls, to talk about the feasibility of making homemade yogurt in the kitchens. I was really looking forward to it – it’s just what I’d been hoping to do on this entire trip: inspire people to make their own yogurt. It’s pretty easy for people to taste the difference in freshly-made yogurt, even if the texture isn’t just what you like every time. And John understands. I’ve long been an avid cook, my love for farms was a major inspiration for this trip, and I’m now very much involved and invested in food distribution at Open Produce, but I’ve never worked in kitchens before, and I loved seeing all of the enormous machines arranged cozily in the surprisingly-small Peirce kitchen. Space is certainly lacking, John concedes, but that didn’t stop us excitedly re-arranging pots and pans to determine possible set-ups for the various stages of yogurt-making.

He has two enormous “kettles,” where milk could easily be brought to temperature. Then, eliminating one key observation stage, there is a handy “chiller” that can bring the milk quickly down to a certain temperature and keep it there steadily. After inoculation comes the incubation stage – and this is where things always get complicated. We played around with different ways to immerse yogurt pots in water, rest them on hangers in the heaters, or (if necessary) resort to using the very exposed pilot lights on the many gas burners.

I left hopeful, and John was excited about experimenting with the stability of hot water temperatures in the kettles overnight. I can’t wait to hear how they go, and I hope to hear that Kenyon students are eating homemade yogurt before the year is up! Does anyone have suggestions for yogurt-making on a semi-industrial (10-15 gallons/day) scale?

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