In the late 1960s the concept of free universities was taking hold across America. The alternative education movement arrived at Emporia State when Union Activities Council (UAC) added a program committee called Your Own University (Y.O.U.) in the 1970-71 academic year.
The Learning Connection of the Flint Hills (TLC) and Its Emporia Farmers Market
The UAC committee developed a series of free classes per semester taught by locals to locals. Increasingly, Emporia citizens participated in many of the offerings. In the early to mid-1970s the committee name changed to the Neosho River Free School (NRFS). Course offerings were deliberately promoted to both the community and ESU students. A modest fee was assessed to non-students. Associated Student Government’s annual allocation to UAC funded the participation by Emporia State students.
The University for Man at Manhattan/K-State had a developed, model program in the nation and worked with UAC and the Neosho River Free School to secure broader community support to move it out as a community-wide amenity, more town than gown. University for Man wrote a grant which identified two VISTA Volunteers to work for two years to secure funding and develop a community/campus-based board of directors.
The VISTA Volunteers were successful in finding financial support through the United Way, ASG funds to enable ESU students to attend at no cost, and in-kind support from ESU’s Continuing Education office.
An Emporia Literacy Program was initiated soon after working with the Emporia Public Library and a core of volunteers. No literacy effort was in place in Emporia at the time. Over the years the program made a real difference for hundreds of citizens. In 1982, the Neosho River Free School started the Emporia Farmers Market.
The free school name changed again around 1995 to The Learning Connection of the Flint Hills.
Through the years, catalog courses ranging from family financial literacy to food-related classes to crafts to first aid and health to yoga and biking. The list goes on and on. As an agency of the United Way, TLC became a valuable education/outreach tool for other UW agencies through the catalogs and classes. TLC even partnered with the police department to produce a series of Spanish for Peace Officers classes.
Classes were convened on the ESU campus, in homes, in gardens, in churches, in senior assisted living centers, in the Extension kitchen, etc. Everywhere imaginable in and around Emporia courses were held.
The Emporia Farmers Market started small trying different locations. By the fifth year EFM was hitting its stride and would settled on its present location on Merchant St. between 7th & 8th Avenues. The Market has grown more successful through the years as greater demand for fresh, local food brought more venders to sell homemade, homegrown products and produce. The EFM is a crossroad of community.
The EFM kiosk which stands in the Merchant Street parking lot was engineered and created and donated by Hastco, Inc. The Kiosk not only serves the EFM but is used for Emporia Main Street “Live in the Lot” series and Christmas carriage rides. Winter Emporia Farmers Markets began in 2010.
Increasing demands for United Way funds by other agencies and difficulties in meeting the UW drive goals led to The Learning Connection of the Flint Hills losing support about six years ago. The Literacy program survives through the Adult Education program, EPL and volunteers. The Emporia Farmers Market continues in its 30th year under the TLC board and banner. Revenue from the market, fundraising, and grants supports the scaled-back program. The market is still a venue where public education happens from time to time during the growing season.
by Roger Heineken