Beloit College Magazine

Beloit College Magazine

Fall/Winter 2014 (November 4, 2014)

How a Community Garden Grows

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October 31, 2014

NEWS garden
From left: Margaret Kepley'15 and Sam Kindler'17 pull weeds among
the seedum and hostas in the Merrill Community sharing garden
northeast of the college. Photo by Bonnie Willison'17


In 2008, Community Action Inc., a nonprofit serving Rock and Walworth counties in Wisconsin, took control of a vacant lot in the Merrill Community, one of the city of Beloit’s most challenged neighborhoods. Since then, a group of volunteers has transformed this space into a vibrant community garden.

In just four years, the garden expanded across five lots and attracted Beloit students who want to get involved in the community effort.

This summer, the garden sprouted a Little Free Library thanks to the persistence of Bethany Clarke’16, a Sustainability Fellow. Part of Clarke’s vision for the Merrill Neighborhood was to install a Little Free Library, one that would specialize in offering volumes about gardening. Clarke found a local volunteer to help build the library, which was unveiled in the sharing garden in July. (The Little Free Library movement was co-founded by Beloiter Rick Brooks’69).      

According to John Ramstad, director of housing programs for the Merrill Housing Initiative, the library continues to attract interest in the neighborhood.

Before Clarke got involved, Ousia Whitaker-DeVault’15, a Duffy Intern last spring, helped devise plans for the garden’s current growing season while also engaging local students in volunteer efforts.

Since the Merrill Housing Initiative’s inception in 2007, more than 100 Beloit students, faculty, and staff have volunteered their time in the community. In 2009, Community Action began offering internships for up to five students in return for 45-90 hours spent in the Merrill Community, including the sharing garden. For Ramstad, the working relationship with the college is one of mutual gratitude.

“Being able to tap into the energy and creativity of Beloit College students and staff has been integral to our success with the garden,” he says, adding that he hopes the collaboration continues far into the future.

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