Nathan Peifer is a competent and capable person; that’s why it was extremely disconcerting when, one year ago, he realized, in the most basic way, he did not know how to feed himself. Thus began Nathan’s study of gardening, a journey of self-directed learning he describes as “chasing ignorance.” This summer his chase landed him in the Wake Forest Campus Garden, where he works for the Office of Sustainability as the Campus Garden intern. If you have been to the garden lately, you will find it difficult to believe that just one year ago Nathan’s entire gardening experience amounted to trying (unsuccessfully) to grow grass out of a Styrofoam cup for a grade school craft project. Over this past week alone, the garden produced 74.09 lbs of produce and the harvest has just begun; the fruits of Nathan’s labor will be ripe for picking all the way into the fall.
One of the secrets of Nathan’s success is extensive research. In order to best manage the campus garden, Nathan does a good bit of reading and seeks advice from his gardening mentors. He takes inspiration from other gardens as well. Through these visits he has he has learned that every community and campus garden has its own unique strengths and challenges, so “you should never try to become someone else’s garden.”
Nathan identifies a strong partnership with Facilities and Campus Services as one of our campus garden’s unique strengths. This summer Nathan worked out an arrangement with Megan Anderson, the campus recycling manager, to divert extra cardboard to the garden. Nathan uses the cardboard to keep weeds down between rows of plants and the cardboard improves the quality of the soil as it degrades.
To Nathan, who is entering his third year in the Wake Forest Divinity School this fall, gardening is an art not a science (although, he points out, there is plenty of science happening in our garden). He likes to garden because there are no right or wrong answers and you have to think creatively to solve problems that arise. After two rigorous academic years in the Divinity school, the hands-on, outdoor work of the garden is a welcome change and he finds his work in the garden and his education to be “mutually informative.”
One of Nathan’s favorite aspects of his internship is working with different groups who volunteer their service in the garden. So far this summer has hosted The Benjamin Franklin Scholars, the LENS program, StudentLife, and 4Good volunteers. Nathan sees the garden as an opportunity for service learning and hopes faculty will take advantage of the garden as an unconventional classroom with the potential to “bring cultural assumptions [about farming and growing food] into high relief.”
This summer in the garden has helped Nathan shape his plans for the future. He is seriously considering bivocational ministry, which combines traditional pastoral duties with other work, such as managing a community garden. To anyone who now stands where he stood one year ago, in a place of ignorance about the source of their food, he offers this advice: “Find someone who knows what they are doing, befriend them, and rely on them as a resource. And remember, there is no one right way to do anything. You just have to try.”
By Annabel Lang, Wake Forest Fellow