Otterbein Community Garden Still Feeding Community During Summer
Posted Aug 04, 2021
By Madelyn Nelson ‘23
When Otterbein students leave campus for the summer months for jobs and internships, the Otterbein Community Garden doesn’t slow down. In fact, activities around the Community Garden amp up just in time for summer programs. The garden continues to serve the Westerville community with the help of dedicated Otterbein students.
Throughout the summer, the garden has 10 students working on individual projects and plots ranging from children’s activities, grocery pick-ups, photography, volunteer nights and teaming up with Westerville organizations.
Aubrey Hudson is a junior early childhood education major from Hilliard, Ohio, and works with the Garden Explorers – an educational program that intertwines nature and hands-on learning. Hudson works alongside the Westerville Library to build the curriculum for Garden Explorers by creating engaging activities for kids.
“I am working on creating a curriculum to get children involved at the garden, and I hope to create positive experiences for children to carry with them throughout their lives,” said Hudson. “By doing so I hope they develop a passion for nature and care for the earth we live in.”
In partnership with the library, Hudson prepares the activities for the children which take place at the Otterbein Community Garden.
“One of my favorite memories is teaching them about bugs and pollinators. Every child was very engaged and eager to learn. After completing a butterfly craft, they all ran around the garden pretending to pollinate the plants. Even the more reserved kids joined in,” said Hudson.
Not only are the college students developing their own skills but pouring into the lives of children in the community.
“I know they will remember this place and that brings me joy,” said Hudson.
There are many opportunities within the Otterbein Community Garden to help students work in a way that best reflects their interests, strengths and involvements that further their learning outside of the classroom.
Curbee Wheeler-Hall is working on setting up a social enterprise for the Promise House Bike and for the Community Garden as a whole. Wheeler-Hall is a business administration and management and organizational and business communications double major.
The Columbus, Ohio, native has been developing products like resin crafts and bracelets and children’s activities for the Westerville Farmers Market. This project is also part of an internship for her degree.
Hudson and Wheeler-Hall are both participating in the AmeriCorps VISTA program through the Community Garden this summer. The program works with Otterbein’s Center for Community Engagement including the Community Garden and the Promise House to provide summer opportunities for students to learn about global society, leadership and community service.
“An internship is the last assignment on my list to graduate, and AmeriCorps gave a great opportunity to earn those credits,” said Wheeler-Hall. “I thought it would be neat and fun to try to make new things that the Promise House has never sold at the Saturday Farmers Markets before.”
Wheeler-Hall explained that there was strategy behind deciding what items to sell at the Farmers Market.
“We didn’t want to compete with the other vendors, so selling small, cute things like bracelets and buttons seemed to fit our target audience,” she explained. “We sell homemade cards by Melissa Gilbert, buttons that are designed by the VISTA members, wooden spoons with different designs on them, as well as bracelets that we make ourselves. We are trying to make items out of resin too, such as drink coasters.”
One of the most impactful aspects of the Promise House this summer is the Promise House Bike that students ride to the Farmers Market every week. Over the course of the summer, the Promise House volunteers have collected over 300 pounds of produce from vendors at the Westerville Farmers Market for food-insecure members of the community.
Wheeler-Hall recognizes the impact that her personal connections have on collecting an abundance of produce from the vendors every week.
“It feels like an accomplishment each week. We get so many donations from all the vendors, and it has so much to do with the relationships we have built this past summer with them,” said Wheeler-Hall. “A lot of the vendors know me by my face and always get their donations ready before we even come to collect them.”
The collected produce allows Otterbein students to have fresh produce and extends the mission behind the Promise House.
“[The produce] benefits the students a ton just because each week we get fresh produce; not just veggies from a can or frozen,” said Wheeler-Hall. “I believe it gives the Promise House more attention towards gaining students to be members of the promise house as well.”
Wheeler-Hall reflected on a previous job at Cardinal Pizza in Uptown Westerville that drove her desire to become more involved in the community.
“Working at Cardinal Pizza allowed me to involve myself in the Westerville community. I knew folks by their names, their orders, and I even know many people outside of working at the pizza shop,” said Wheeler-Hall. “Joining the AmeriCorp VISTAS this summer just allowed me to keep those same connections with people, as well meeting new members of the community!”
Hudson and Wheeler-Hall are just two examples of Otterbein students exemplifying servant leadership. They are giving back to the community and helping making Westerville a better place for its residents while building leadership skills, growing their passions, and earning an education.