Jonathan Aird

Learning from live cultures

My freshman year I was at a large university, and basically it was all the flare of the college experience without any substance. I wasn’t learning anything; I was doing things so I could check it off on a checklist to get my degree to get a job, and didn’t really have contact with any real people. I went there because I thought I would have a lot of options in the terms of the kind of people I want to be around, but really I had no options because it was so big you couldn’t really get to know anyone. Getting to know people at Marlboro is pretty much inevitable.

On working independently

This semester the art faculty is essentially letting us work on our own individual projects, so I’m using that time to build a soda machine to dispense fermented sodas. I’m taking a tutorial to make the sodas and this art class to make the actual soda device. I want it to be more than a fancy Coke replacement, something that has that Marlboro essence in it already.

On cultural narratives

I’m still exploring at this point. I’m interested in belief systems and a collective narrative—the power that narrative has to basically instruct the structure of a community, and therefore its health. I’m interested in the use of ritual. We have a lot of rituals we preform every day, and we don’t consciously realize what they are. We think they are sort of obvious, or inevitable, or perfectly rational but what they are essentially doing is holding us inside of a narrative, inside a cultural story. I’m interested in bringing that to a conscious level and trying to engage in an intentional way.

On Fermentation

It started as a response to a health crisis. I was looking for healing essentially, and by a pretty miraculous set of coincidences was introduced to a book, called Nourishing Traditions by Sally Fallon, that basically totally changed the way I think about food. It’s a diet inspired by traditional societies, and fermented foods is something pretty universal to traditional societies that we don’t consume at all, essentially. So I did a lot of cooking over the summer and it’s just really fun, and you get amazing flavors out of such simple ingredients. They’re live cultures—you have to take care of them like pets almost.

I started a fermentation club, and it’s been surprisingly successful. It’s a lot of fun having dinner and sharing kombucha and sauerkraut. Kombucha is a pretty ancient drink originating from northern China, made by fermenting tea. Basically you’ve got a jar and you fill it with sugared tea and you have a thing on it called a Kombucha mother—a stable group of organisms—it’s kind of a living, breathing tea with a lot of flavor to it. It’s very much like an ecosystem, with checks and balances and things like that.

On being in Vermont

I really like the culture here in southern Vermont. It kind of feels like this magical corner of the United States that everyone forgot about; there’s a lot of cool stuff going on and it’s not gotten to be a fad yet. A lot of people here really care about what they are doing. The food has been great, I love going to the food co-op—it feels like a break from 21st-century consumerist America.

Advice for prospective students

Visit. Definitely visit. You really need to be here in person. Marlboro isn’t a utopia. It’s not this heaven where you do literally whatever you want and you’ll automatic have all these happy friends. But, that said, it’s a really special place. It’s something that I really care about, and that’s…pretty rare these days.