For two years prior to coming to Antioch I worked as an AmeriCorps Vista for Rural Action in their Sustainable Agriculture department. The financial aid offered through the program and the OEFFA conference is what allowed me to come to Antioch to finish my degree in the first place. Rural Action was originally an organization of rural activists working to preserve the regional environment, history, and economy of south eastern Ohio, its founder Carol Kuhre turned it into a more sustainable long term non-profit concerned with a myriad of local issues from the Ohio Stream Restore Corps, their environmental education programs, and other means of helping a historically economically disadvantaged community become self sustaining and preserve its rich history.
The sustainable agriculture departments page reads : “For the past two decades, our Sustainable Agriculture program has worked with local farmers and a network of partners to build the food and farming economy in the Mid-Ohio Valley of Ohio and West Virginia. Each year we engage with hundreds of small, diversified farmers and landowners in order to understand their needs and provide the tools they need to increase food production while reducing risk, enhancing profitability, and restoring local ecosystems. At the same time, we’ve expanded a regional network of shared use infrastructure that helps bring beginning farmers to market, including the Chesterhill Produce Auction in Morgan County.”
The office I worked out of was beautiful, it used to be the Foreman’s house of an old company town. For those who don’t know, Appalachia was once dotted with towns founded, run, and populated entirely by for profit corporations. The mayors were hired positions, and employees of the mines, logging camps, what ever resource extraction the town was dedicated too, were the only citizens. They would rent their houses from their bosses, and were paid in a company script only redeemable at company owned stores. Rural Action Renovated this former eclipse company town foreman’s house, and made it into their main office, powered it with solar panels, and started a garden outside, staff were free to take time off to work in the garden or go for a stroll around the hill. It was a beautiful location.
My day to day work would consist of helping the director of sustainable agriculture write grants for various projects, data input from the Chesterhill produce auction, occasionally-ride-alongs for deliveries of produce to local food hubs, and on those special Mondays and Thursdays I was actually in the moment working with my hands at the Produce Auction, helping people unload and load produce, running the cash register, and getting an intimate connection with the Chesterhill community. There I learned a great deal about Anabaptist theology, which lead me in part to various anarchist political philosophers like Peter Kropotkin, and I even got to practice some German with the local Amish community as well.
Every year the team attends the Ohio Ecological Food & Farm Associations annual conference in Dayton. An association dedicated to Sustainable Agriculture, it was there I met several Antioch Grads who were also serving in AmeriCorps and they spoke to me about the schools progressive history, and unique Co-op design. With the $6,000 education award I had received for completing my two years of service in AmeriCorps I became curious and was astounded at the full tuition guarantee of the school, so I used my education award to cover my room and board expenses which, wouldn’t you know it were just cheap enough to be roughly around $3,000 a year!