Apple orchard to take root on campus

It’s not pie in the sky. Two Wheaton seniors will see the fruition of a cherished idea on Earth Day, when the college breaks ground for an apple orchard behind the Presidents’ House.

The groundbreaking will take place at 2:30 p.m. on Earth Day, April 22. The campus community is invited to enjoy live music, refreshments and apple bobbing, and help plant the first of the trees. Up to 60 trees will be planted throughout the spring; the President’s Office has jump-started the project with some seed money, and the organizers plan to seek additional donations from the Wheaton community.

Seniors Sierra Flanigan and Chad Mirmelli have been working on the orchard project since last fall, when they decided they didn’t want to graduate without leaving a sustainable legacy.

“The idea came to me over a glass of cider, when Chad and I were brainstorming creative ways to implement a sustainability demonstration project on campus—one that did not require a hefty up-front cost,” Flanigan says.

They didn’t have to mull it over for long. An apple orchard at Wheaton seemed a natural: Norton has the right climate, and the college has available land.

“Wheaton even has an apple tree on its official seal,” Flanigan says.

The idea also fits with the area’s agricultural past. In Wheaton’s early years, an apple orchard flourished on the spot where Knapton Hall now stands.

The orchard will be named the Murphy Apple Orchard in memory of Jeremiah Murphy, professor of political science, who died last December. Murphy was a strong supporter of student activism and sustainability initiatives on campus.

To advance their idea, Flanigan and Mirmelli formed a steering committee of students, faculty, and staff and presented their idea to President Crutcher earlier this year.

“The president immediately invested in our idea,” says Mirmelli. “He is already excited about the prospect of Wheaton’s own apple strudel and apple sauce!”

The students expect that Wheaton’s orchard will one day yield fruit for many a strudel and sauce and also become a source of apples for Dining Services. And they hope that the orchard will become the focus of new college traditions—perhaps an annual apple picking in conjunction with Homecoming or Community Day.

Flanigan and Mirmelli say the orchard will demonstrate Wheaton’s commitment to sustainability and innovation while serving as a living laboratory for the college and local schools, including Wheaton’s own Elisabeth Amen Nursery School.

The steering committee has lofty goals for the orchard beyond this spring. They have outlined a phased plan that includes expanding the orchard into the field near the old observatory and eventually working to create a produce exchange among local colleges.

Two student interns will maintain the orchard this summer, and three student employees will take on the job during the academic year. Working through the Office of the President, one of these student workers will help facilitate educational and outreach activities related to the orchard.

The student organizers have also enlisted the support of their fellow seniors. Their “class tree” will be an apple tree, and they will donate a portion of their Annual Fund class gift to the project.

“Some classes give a tree,” says Mirmelli. “We’re giving an orchard.”

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