WHEELING, W.VA., Aug. 2, 2017 -- Two Wheeling Jesuit students are seeing that their hard work in two local gardens is impacting the lives of many around the Wheeling area.
WJU seniors Kailee Latocha and Halli Richards have spent the summer planting, caring for and harvesting fruits and vegetables at gardens located at the university and Petroplus Towers. The summer interns said the experience has taught them the inner workings of gardening, educating others about eating healthy and the value of what hard work can produce.
At Right: Halli Richards and Kailee Latocha tie up tomato plants in the garden at Wheeling Jesuit University.
Richards grew up watching family members tend to gardens during the summer. Until this year, the history and theology major from Dillonvale, Ohio, said she really didn't have much experience gardening.
“The best part of working on the garden projects, is watching everything grow from the ground up. As students we are told that Jesuit education involves learning at all levels and this experience has given me a greater insight into gardening, as well as research and working with others,” Richards explained.
Since spring, the two students have been splitting time between the gardens on campus and at the nearby Petroplus Towers. Latocha said the work this summer has really opened her eyes to all facets of gardening - from planting to watering to organic fertilizing.
“I didn't know anything about gardening. This has been a learning process for me. We both talk to the plants like they are our babies. We were so excited when we picked the first pepper and ate it. Working in the garden, watching everything grow and now seeing all the fresh vegetables being harvested, gives you a feeling that all of your hard work has paid off,” explained Latocha. A native of Fairmont, Latocha is a math and secondary education major.
The two WJU students are serving as garden interns through the university's Clifford Lewis, S.J. Appalachian Institute. According to its director, Beth Collins, the Council of Independent Colleges awarded WJU a grant to hire student interns to oversee the two gardens.
“This grant builds off an existing program called Harvesting Health, which we started a few years ago. The funding allows the Institute to provide students real world experience in gardening. They not only manage the gardens, but have expanded our outreach to provide healthy food to members of campus and the resident's at Petroplus Towers,” Collins noted.
Each Thursday from noon to 2 p.m., a farmer's market is held at Wheeling Jesuit. Local residents, as well as WJU employees, can purchase fresh vegetables and fruits at a reasonable price.
At Petroplus Towers, residents provide some assistance in the garden, but Latocha said the best part about the garden is that fresh, organic produce is grow and available on-site for those living at the Towers.
Richards said working at the gardens connects them with the Petroplus community.
“Part of what we do is to teach others about healthy eating. The residents at Petroplus Towers, most of whom are elderly and on fixed income, now have on-site, healthy vegetables available to them,” Richards added.
Once all of the produce is harvested from the two gardens, their work won't be finished. Latocha and Richards hope to create a “buddy program” at Petroplus. Their plan is to recruit other WJU students to work with the residents at the high rise on off-season garden activities that relate to healthy living. There also are plans to expand programming to other senior citizen centers, including nursing homes, other high rises and senior centers.
The students have planted all types of vegetables - from tomatoes, peppers and cabbage to squash, eggplant and cucumbers. Because of the variety and the low prices, more than half of those coming on campus each week for the farmer's market are community members.
“Working in the gardens has allowed me to watch life grow and appreciate that our hard work has made an impact in the lives of so many people. I've really seen God's work in action,” Richards said.