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Author: Keegan Smith-Nichols

Keegan Smith-Nichols / Author

<p>Keegan Smith-Nichols is a fourth year student at Antioch College in Yellow Springs, Ohio. He is a declared history major with a French language focus. Keegan’s four co-ops have allowed him to explore both his academic and non-academic interests, which include queer history, archives, aviation, and animal husbandry. His first co-op was at Moonshadow Farm in Yellow Springs, Ohio, which allowed him to work closely with goats, including assistance with goat birth, milking goats, and making cheese. His second co-op was at Nature’s Kennel in McMillan, Michigan, where he learned about living off the grid in winter at a sled dog kennel. His third co-op was at the Peace Resource Center in Wilmington, Ohio, an archive devoted to the Quaker testimony of peace. His fourth co-op was at the Library of Congress in Washington, D.C., where he participated in a Great Lakes College Association grant to study financial access to higher education for immigrants to the United States. Additionally during this co-op, he researched how the advent of affordable commercial flights allowed Puerto Ricans to resettle in the mainland United States.  <br /><br />In addition to these co-ops, Keegan has worked on the Antioch Farm since 2013 and has managed the compost programme, the sheep, and the flower beds of the Antioch Farm. He has also been layout editor and editor-in-chief for the Antioch Record, the student newspaper, and has served as a  member of the Record Advisory Board since Spring 2015, including as chair for three terms.<br /><br />Selected Publications: <br /><em>The Road to Monteverde: Examining the Intersection of Intentional Community and Ecotourism</em><br />Presented at Grinnell College’s Peace and Conflict Studies Student Conference, March 2016<br />To be published in Grinnell College’s Peace and Conflict Studies Journal, 2016</p>

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Gallery I

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Research: Keegan Smith Nichols’ 17 at The Library of Congress in Washington, D.C.

Aug 07, 2016

My fourth co-op finds me in Washington D.C. living with Antioch alums Karen and Jim Foreit. Essentially this has been an independent research co-op, as Karen Velasquez, Kevin Mulhall, Jane Foreman, Keegan Busick, Hanna Strange and I received a grant from the Great Lakes Colleges Association to spend ten days in the Library of Congress researching a proposed topic of our choice. We decided to pursue a project based around the inclusion of immigrants and refugees (especially undocumented immigrants) in American higher education. The grant officially allotted for ten days in D.C., but I shaped my entire co-op around this project and have been dedicating all my time to it, so I will be able to spend more time in the library if I need to. With the newspaper clippings, journal articles and books I have found as a result of this ten day experience, I hope to author a paper for presentation at the digital humanities symposium to be held at WYSO in October.

I focused my project on the relationship between the expansion of the tourist industry in Puerto Rico, Pan American Airways decision to offer regular air service between San Juan, Puerto Rico and New York, and the reaction of New Yorkers to an increased presence of Puerto Ricans in the mainland United States. I chose this topic because I read a section in Phil Tiemeyer’s fabulous book Plane Queer about how Puerto Ricans resettling in New York were the first group of economic migrants in history to reach their new home by plane. This stuck me as unusual, or at least something worth pursuing because commercial aviation at this point was prohibitively expensive. I’m curious about the role of official citizenship to a society and its relationship to societal inclusion. Additionally, I was curious about the status of Puerto Ricans in the mainland United States, as they were granted American citizenship in 1917 but due to linguistic and racial factors are often treated much like international immigrants and outsiders to white American culture.

As part of our grant, we had a team of librarians on hand to assist us at basically any point in the project, for which I am incredibly grateful. Doing research in the Library of Congress is different from library research I have done in the past because all the stacks are closed, meaning you can’t just browse for something you are looking for and stumble across other relevant books. I’m torn about the closed-stack nature of the LOC, because while I understand their desire to protect their books and how inconvenient the massive size of the library would make browsing, it was difficult and time-consuming to search for and request books using the online catalogue. Several times, I got a message saying that the book I had requested was not on the shelf, which I later learned was probably as a result of overcrowding in the library. There are more books than can fit on the shelves, and oftentimes excess books end up in piles near the shelf they are supposed to be on, making it difficult for even the most polished librarian to find them.

Security is very tight at the library, and each day started off with a trip through a metal detector and an inspection of our bags. (Our bags were additionally searched at the end of the day as a precaution against thieves.) We were able to use the special researcher’s entrance to avoid the long tourist lines. Once again, I thought this was going to be akin to going through airport security, but the only point at which someone asked to see identification was upon entering any of the reading rooms.

When the grant period first began, I imagined that gaining access to the reading rooms of the Library of Congress was extremely difficult and by appointment only. However, it turns out that all we needed to do was present valid identification to get our reader cards and then the vast resources of the library were all available to us. (Perhaps that is a bit misleading- nearly all of the vast holdings were available to us. As casual observers we would not be able to simply request to view some of the extremely rare holdings of the library without an extremely valid research proposal. For the most part, though, we were able to make full use of the library’s reading rooms, books, databases, and other materials.) Using the huge number of databases available was an incredible experience and extremely helpful in my research.

Using the New York Times online database allowed me to locate primary source documents about the arrival of Puerto Ricans to New York as well as see the development of advertising for Pan-American Airways’ flights between San Juan and New York. Additionally, I found an interesting series of articles detailing New York’s reaction to Puerto Ricans. New Yorkers apparently wanted to place limits on (or altogether ban) Puerto Rican migration to New York, which engages directly with the theme of our project on access to higher education, citizenship, and migration and suggests that citizenship really isn’t the key issue in terms of deciding access to jobs or higher education. I can’t wait to read all the resources I have sitting on my hard drive. My strategy for making the most of my time in the LOC was to download as many articles as seemed useful at a cursory glance so that I can amass as much information to sort through later. Of course, because I am spending the entire summer in D.C., I could go back and continue researching if the need arises.

I will use the rest of my co-op term to draft and refine my paper, which I expect to be between 15 and 20 pages. Although this does not directly tie into what I would like to pursue for my senior project, this co-op has been good practice in gathering information and researching a specific topic. It has been fun to live in a city with public transportation and with so much to do, especially free things to do.


Preserving History: Smith-Nichols ’17 at the Peace Resource Center of Wilmington College in Wilmington, Ohio

Feb 09, 2016

My third co-op finds me at the Peace Resource Center of Wilmington College in Wilmington, Ohio. I am an intern working in the archive, which houses the Hiroshima/Nagasaki Memorial Collection and the Barbara Reynolds Papers.

I carpool to Wilmington three days a week with my boss, Tanya Maus, and we normally listen to murder mystery audio books. Currently, we are working our way through Henning Mankell’s Sidetracked, a Kurt Wallander mystery. This is the first job I have ever had that has a serious commute as well as involves me sitting down at a desk or computer for a good portion of my working time.

During my co-op, I have been focusing on three major projects: applying for a grant to preserve a collection of historic 16mm films, organizing the information available about the archive, and writing an independent scholarly research article to eventually be submitted to an academic journal. Each of these projects has been exciting and challenging in their own way, and I am enormously thankful that I have had the opportunity to learn about them on this co-op.

I have always loved the process of organizing things, so working in a setting that requires me to organize information and objects is satisfying. During this co-op, I have learned a lot about the formal processes of the archival world and helped create a finding aid, a document which essentially tells researches what they can expect to find in a collection. Initially my co-op was a little overwhelming because there are a lot of acronyms thrown around in library and archival that I had to learn as well as a lot of jargon. Jargon is cool if you know how to use it and also seems to help people communicate more clearly about very specific subjects but can make a workplace inaccessible.

Grant writing also requires an incredible level of organization. In order to be attractive to a grant committee, a proposal needs to have a clear outline of what the project is, what the project’s budget looks like, how the money will be spent, and how likely it is that the project will archive its goal. I have conducted a survey of all the 16mm films held in storage to determine the level of decay in the films and figure out which films are in most immediate need of preservation. This project has really grown on me because I feel like I am taking part in an important part of history; the preservation of rare films that tell of radical peace activism and post-war anti-nuclear work.

Another of my projects is the independent research article. I have found that articles that eventually end up being published are different from papers written for class, so I’ve had a lot to learn in terms of the style, format, and organization of my article. It has also been exciting to be able to fully utilize the services of the archive in the PRC as well as the library staff at Wilmington College. I am working on an article about the Quaker Community of Monteverde in Costa Rica and am very excited about the progress I have made.

Having an office job has many exciting perks that I never imagined actually existed in a workplace, as my previous two co-ops were outdoors with varying degrees of ruggedness. Here at the PRC, we have a kitchen with a microwave and I can make tea any time of day because we have unlimited hot water. I hear that these are pretty standard in the American workplace, but I am still amazed when I get to work and brew a pot of tea.

In addition to working three days a week at the PRC, I work two days a week at the Antioch College farm, where I have worked part time since I began as a student at Antioch. In addition to being a source of modest income, it is a beautiful time of year to be outside and I enjoy the balance of indoor and outdoor work. Working on the farm while not being on an academic term is also quite refreshing, as I don’t worry during my farm shifts about all the homework I have to do, so I am better able to enjoy digging around in the dirt or herding chickens.

Finally, having a clear distinction between my living space and my workplace is a truly incredible thing. Coming from a co-op where I worked nearly 12 hour days and lived 300 meters down a snowy path from my workplace, I love being able to have a life outside of my work. I have started bowling again and have plenty of time to read for pleasure. Overall, this co-op has been a very enjoyable experience.


Animal Husbandry and Cheese-Making: Keegan Smith-Nichols ’17 at Moonshadow Farm in Yellow Springs, Ohio

Feb 08, 2016

Running a farm requires many sets of hands. I co-oped at Moonshadow Farm, outside of Yellow Springs, Ohio. The farm is owned and run by Caroline and Paul Mullin and their two teenaged children, Max and Anna. Caroline mainly works with the animals, while Paul focuses on the greenhouse and construction. As a co-op student, I sat between these two worlds and used my hands for many seemingly disparate tasks: milking goats, planting tomatoes, rounding up chickens, making yogurt and cheese, and building gates.

On their own, each of these tasks could be a full-time job but they all fall under the umbrella of regular life on a farm. Every day begins and ends with chores; giving food and water to the animals, letting them out or putting them into their shelters, and making sure everyone is accounted for. My chores start at 7:30, and once they are done, I move on to other tasks, generally involving the garden or the greenhouse. I usually finish before lunch and sometimes work in the evenings after the heat of the day.

The first couple weeks of co-op were about preparing for the birth of the goats. Stalls had to be cleaned, medical supplies had to be gathered for “what-if” scenarios, and the soon-to-be mothers and I had to become well-acquainted. At this point, I suppose it’s pertinent to mention that I didn’t have much experience working with animals. I had worked on the Antioch farm with the sheep, but only for a few weeks and they didn’t require much maintenance. I had also raised chickens in high school, but again, they weren’t very hands-on.

I knew before I got to my co-op that I was going to be around when the goats were giving birth. My mind skipped entirely over the birthing process and I imagined myself sitting in a field surrounded by small goats who only ever wanted to snuggle and follow me everywhere. How convenient. One night, I decided to research what actually happened during goat birth- in what position the kids should be born, how long labor takes, and what happens once the kids are born.

The next day when I arrived at work, Caroline informed me that Abbie’s pin bones had disappeared, a sign she was surely to give birth later that day. Good thing I did all the research last night, I whispered to myself, terrified. I worked on the greenhouse, stopping to check on Abbie every half hour. She moaned and kicked all day, unable to get comfortable in the birthing stall. I came back in the afternoon and sat beside her, unsure if I was really capable of helping a goat give birth. I secretly hoped nothing would happen while I was alone. Fast forward through my many hours of observation, and Abbie gave birth to a baby boy during the brief time no one was with her. I guess she didn’t want an audience. Two more babies were born that night.

I’d never actually been present at the birth of another creature before. My cat had never had kittens, and my younger brother was born when I was young enough to not remember anything. I’m told human birth involves a lot of blood, but goat birth is thankfully much less bloody and the kids are, in my opinion, a lot cuter.

A few days later, Caroline informed me that Magic was in labor. She had to go into work early that morning, so it was just me on the farm. Just as I was preparing to ride my bike back to campus, I heard a noise from the barn that can only be described as screaming. That sounds like a goat giving birth, I thought to myself. Sure enough, Magic was in the process of giving birth to a goat who would later be named Rembrandt. Ten minutes after he was born, he was trying to stand up on shaky legs. He was a noisy goat, and when his brother Vermeer was born, he didn’t appreciate having to share mom’s attention. We, each the oldest kid, bonded instantly.

With the arrival of baby goats comes milking. Up until working at Moonshadow Farm, I’d never had raw milk before. I do remember the day my mom switched from buying non-organic to organic milk and I remember raving about how organic milk tasted so much better, but that barely prepared me for the difference between pasteurized, processed milk and raw, whole milk fresh from a mother goat. Before I arrived at my co-op, I did a little bit of reading about the social behavior of goats and how to milk a doe. But it’s hard to put theory into practice, and it took me about a month of on and off practice to successfully milk an entire goat.

The first goat I tried to milk was Abbie, the queen of the herd. Dairy goats are often bred specifically for the shape of their teats, and the goal is to find a match between the shape of your hands and the shape of a goat’s teats. Abbie’s teats are long and thin. I had no trouble getting my hands around them, but I was unsure exactly how much force it took to stop the flow of milk. My instinct was to be delicate, maybe even dainty, and I didn’t have much success. Abbie kicked and complained.

The second goat I tried to milk was Magic, the other goat in the herd who is a multiple time-mother. Her teats are drastically different from Abbie’s; thick and wide. I struggled to get my small hands around them, let alone pinch tightly enough to stop the flow of milk from the udder. I managed a few drops of milk before my hands got tired and I conceded to Caroline’s expertise.

The third goat I tried to milk was Midnight, a first time milker. Her teats are somewhere in-between Abbie’s and Magic’s; not too thick, but not too thin, either. Long enough to use most of my hand, but not unmanageable. I closed my thumb and pointer finger around the top and squeezed the milk down the teat one finger at a time. A success! The first couple of days I milked Midnight, we hadn’t pulled her away from her kids during the night, so she didn’t have much to give. But now in the morning, she spends the night in another stall with Magic and Abbie and has a chance to stockpile 9-10 hours worth of milk.

After it’s filtered and chilled, the milk can go towards a variety of things. You can drink it straight out of the bottle or add it to coffee. You can make cheese, and you can made soap. But what really grabbed my attention was that you can make yogurt. With a quart of fresh goat’s milk, you can make a quart of fresh goat’s milk yogurt just by heating it and adding some starter cultures, something commercial yogurt manufacturers probably don’t want you to know. I experimented a little bit with each batch I made and have found my groove in making a tangy, sour yogurt that’s thin enough to drink, rather than eat with a spoon. It is enormously refreshing after a day of work.

Amy Magnus, attendee at the cheese making class, wrote a piece about her own yogurt making for the Yellow Springs News, found here,

It was at Antioch that I first ate meat that I had looked in the eye. I fed the sheep raised last summer on the farm, gave them water, and eventually ate them as part of a dinner in late fall. At my co-op, we raised 100 Freedom Ranger chickens for meat. I was with them nearly every day of their lives, and I can honestly say I would feel comfortable eating one. I never got very attached to the chickens because there isn’t much to get attached to.

I don’t remember ever eating goat meat before, and at this point, I’m not sure I want to. I know that “the animal is so cute and snuggled with me” is a morally ambiguous code for determining which meat I eat and don’t eat, but I suppose I don’t have to have all the answers by the end of co-op. Instead, my co-op has been a wonderful continuation of thought to the issues surrounding food that are relevant at Antioch. The Mullins have a greenhouse to grow vegetables, land to raise animals for meat, and the capacity to milk goats, meaning a large chunk of their food is grown just outside their front door. Talk about reducing the distance between pasture and plate. I’ve had a wonderful time planting seeds for beans, peppers, tomatoes, and more, learning to milk goats and make cheese and yogurt, learning how to run a farm, and, of course, snuggling with ten baby goats.

To learn more about my experience, see the video below.