An issue of increasing global importance, sustainability has taken on particular significance in America’s rural communities including Knox County, Ohio, home to Kenyon College. First settled in 1800, this agricultural community has enjoyed two centuries of relative stability and prosperity. In 1946, the county seat of Mount Vernon was selected as an All American City and became the subject of a State Department film series to represent life in a democracy following World War II. But in recent decades the instability of global agricultural markets, decline of locally owned businesses to national chain stores, urban sprawl, and growing diversity have created significant challenges not only to the natural environment, but to a way of life that has long been a fundamental element of our national character.

Kenyon’s Rural Life Center has played a pivotal role in Knox County’s efforts to address current problems and preserve local rural character—conducting relevant research, facilitating broad public discussion of community issues, and implementing major initiatives. Chief among these is Food for Thought, whose work to build a sustainable local food system now influences state agricultural policy and serves as a national model of effective college-community collaboration.

Rural by Design expands on these achievements through a comprehensive and innovative initiative that speaks to rural sustainability, exploring those qualities and ways of life that distinguish our small towns from big cities. Informed by the liberal arts, Rural by Design employs a holistic approach that integrates the arts, humanities and sciences to explore the interplay of economic, social, cultural and environmental forces shaping community sustainability. In so doing we reflect the emerging rural design paradigm first developed at the University of Minnesota to find innovative solutions to the problems facing rural communities