A growing effort

Ciara Sidell ’15 is spearheading an initiative to create a vegetable garden on campus, hoping that the garden will contribute to campus sustainability efforts and provide students with yet another opportunity to engage in community service.

During Parents and Family Weekend in September, students worked together in the Dimple to construct two new 8-by-4-foot wooden frames to hold plants, and they carried the structures across campus to the garden site, in a grassy area across from Clark Center. The frames are an addition to two other frames that were built last year and now hold a growing crop of radishes and kale.

The idea for the garden was planted in Sidell’s mind long before she arrived at Wheaton.

“After a short-term internship on an urban farm in New York City at the end of my senior year of high school, I basically had farming, and only farming, on my mind,” said Sidell, who is from Queens, N.Y. “When my internship ended and I graduated, deep down, I was hoping that my college of choice, Wheaton, would have a place for students to grow their own food.”

She began working on the Wheaton garden during her freshman year, drawing on a proposal for a farm that was written by Patty Kaishan ’13 . Kaishan and Lana Rosen ’13 led efforts on the farm proposal before Sidell took over.

Sidell is holding onto the bigger dream to create a farm on campus, but for now, the garden is a start.

The garden idea harkens back to the campus “Victory Garden” that was planted by Wheaton faculty during the 1940s. At the time, the garden, which no longer exists, provided vegetables for the dining halls, food-related groups on campus, the nursery school and the local community.

Sidell, who is member of AfterTaste, which promotes sustainable agricultural practices on campus, envisions a similar function for today’s garden. (All of the members of Aftertaste have been active in the planning of the garden.) Sidell hopes that one day a theme house will be established to take direct care of the garden.

“It would be great if certain classes and clubs would choose to keep a plot of their own, in which case the produce grown in those plots would go directly to them,” she said. “A campus garden—and maybe someday a farm—has the potential to serve the greater good. It also engages the community in activities that focus on the impacts of hunger, food justice and sustainability.”

Also, said Sidell, “I envision a plethora of ways in which the garden will reach out to the surrounding community. Norton does not have a community garden, so the student-run garden could be a great way to bring the campus community and residents of this small town together.

Her desire to contribute to the community extends well beyond the Wheaton campus and Norton, Mass. She wants to do it on a global scale in the future, so she has created her own independent major to help her achieve that goal—food and environmental studies.

Sidell said she was inspired to create the independent major by several classes she has taken at Wheaton, including her First-Year Seminar “The Rituals of Dinner,” taught by Professor of Religion Jonathan Brumberg-Kraus, “Feast or Famine: The Ecology and Politics of Food” taught by Professor of Anthropology Donna Kerner, and “Nutrition” with Instructor of Biology Deborah Cato.

Sidell has also collaborated with Associate Dean of Service, Spirituality and Social Responsibility Vereene Parnell and Academic Administrative Coordinator Bernice Morrissey.

“Both of these women supported the project from day one in every way possible, and without them, I do not believe the garden would have become a reality,” she said.

—Adam Kilduff ’16