Can social justice be achieved through farming? Wheaton College senior Jessica Kruger believes so and has earned a $10,000 Projects for Peace grant to find out.
Kruger, a psychology major, won the award for her proposal to establish a community farm aimed at relieving hunger, providing at-risk youth with meaningful work and building connections among residents in her hometown, Framingham, Mass.
“I feel unimaginably excited for the opportunity, grateful to Wheaton and Projects for Peace, and most of all, motivated to bring this project to life,” said Kruger, who admits that at the time she applied for the grant it seemed like a lofty goal but she had to try because she believes so strongly in her project.
“I hope that the farm will significantly increase the number of meals our partner organization will be able to provide to the homeless and hungry population of my hometown; and that the young people who work on the farm realize that making a difference in their community is well within their reach,” she said.
Projects for Peace, an initiative open to undergraduates at the American colleges and universities in the Davis United World College Scholars Program, encourages students to create projects that innovatively focus on reconciliation, building understanding and breaking down barriers that cause conflict in an effort to foster peace. Proposals judged to be the most promising and feasible are funded at $10,000 each.
The late Kathryn Wasserman Davis, an accomplished internationalist and philanthropist, established 100 Projects for Peace for her 100th birthday. She was the mother of Wheaton alumna Diana Davis Spencer ’60. Wheaton students have won grants since the start in 2007.
Kruger will use the grant to establish the Framingham Community Farm, which this year will include a vegetable garden plot with raised beds and an apiary with three beehives. The farm will be a community service placement for youth who are referred by Middlesex courts and local group homes, and a place for them to interact with area residents.
She stresses that this is just a first step, as she seeks to make the farm a sustainable model that can be widely replicated.
The seed of the idea sprouted when Kruger was a Wheaton junior doing a practicum at a group home for youth in Massachusetts. There, she saw the need for healthy recreational and constructive service activities that would prevent boredom and motivate youth to move beyond the negative circumstances that led them to the home, including drug and alcohol abuse, self-harm and crime.
“We can’t expect kids to succeed if we don’t give them opportunities conducive to success,” Kruger said. “I think one of the most powerful things we can teach young people is that they have the ability to combat social problems and enact change.”
Planting vegetables, watching them grow and having a hand in impacting the lives of others in a positive way seems like a good way to do that, she said. “Also when I looked at the most pressing issues in my hometown, hunger kept appearing at the forefront. So combining youth service with the battle against hunger seemed a natural pair.”
Kruger already has established partnerships with five organizations in the area, including the hunger relief organization Daniel’s Table and the Massachusetts Trial Court Community Service Program. She also will have the help of a local farmer and a caretaker throughout the growing season.
Social justice has long been an interest of Kruger’s. During her junior year, she was chosen as one of 16 executive fellows with the Wheaton Institute for the Interdisciplinary Humanities, which involved taking courses related to the theme of gender and social justice, and applying what had been learned to analyze and recommend changes for the college’s sexual assault prevention and education materials. She also helped lead the Campus Wide Empowerment Drive that resulted in the production of 150 bags full of staple products for women in local shelters.
Kruger says her Wheaton education contributed to the successful development of this project idea.
“Wheaton let me claim my education exactly how I wanted. While I majored in psychology, I also spent a lot of time taking courses in anthropology, Hispanic studies, and English, among other disciplines. All of my professors put great emphasis on honing the craft of thinking. For every one thing I learned in class, I became aware of a hundred other things I had to explore. These were the most valuable aspects of my Wheaton education: the humbling discovery of all there is to know, and the skill to think about the world in complex ways that allow us to make it better. This is why I was able to be bold enough to pitch this abstract idea in the first place, and why I will now be able to make it a reality for my town.”
Previous Wheaton winners
Rebecca “Becca” Rosenzweig ’19 coordinated the building and operation of a student-run shop so young refugees living in Thailand could develop business skills to improve their long-term career prospects and futures.
Marguerite Dooley ’16 launched a program to provide educational and creative outlets to support youths who are facing challenges in southern Vermont.
Jorge Clemente de Leon Miranda ’14 distributed water filters in Guatemala and helped villagers develop plans for replacing the filters on an annual basis.
Molly Skaltsis ’13 helped a small village in the Peruvian Andes develop an ecotourism business centered around one of the world’s largest waterfalls.
Pagna Donlevy ’13 created opportunities for young people and women in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, by establishing a mathematics education program for teens and a micro-lending initiative for women-owned businesses.
Merretta Dickinson ’12 established a sustainable tutoring program to help students with mild learning differences learn to read fluently in Namibia.
Arielle Burstein ’10 and Rachael Powell ’10 built greenhouses in the Andean regions of Peru to help address malnutrition.
Caroline Cornwall ’09 started an after-school program in Santiago, Chile; and Matthew Kuch ’11 introduced a new type of cooking stove that he helped design to make life easier and healthier for families living in northern Uganda.
Sui On Kwan ’09 established a handicrafts shop for a Cambodian nonprofit; and Kelly Maby ’09 took urban high school students on a tour of the American South to learn from Civil Rights leaders.
Derron “J.R.” Wallace ’07 implemented an intensive literacy program for 100 primary school students and provided school uniforms for children in Jamaica, and established small school libraries in Tanzania. Ashley Mott ’08 and Caitlin O’Connor ’08 helped to expand and enhance an established after-school program in Tanzania.