Student-run garden Wild Roots serves NU and Evanston with harvesting programs


Angeli Mittal/Daily Senior Staffer

Harvested produce from Wild Roots’ garden outside Norris University Center.

Iris Swarthout, Reporter

Without students and activities on Northwestern’s campus during summer 2020, Medill senior Zach Watson kept himself busy tending to Norris University Center’s student-run community garden.

“I was living in downtown Evanston and was bored out of mind when I realized that nobody was taking care of the garden,” Watson said. “So I started just planting stuff, having never gardened before.”

After speaking with a Norris worker and reconnecting with previous members, Watson said he became involved with Wild Roots Garden. The student-led organization grows and harvests produce for community members on a biweekly basis. While NU sold Wild Roots’ harvested produce to students pre-pandemic, the organization now provides goods to community members free of charge.

When Wild Roots officially returned to campus in fall 2020, only a small group of students initially showed up because of COVID-19 restrictions, Watson said.

However, the club grew over this past spring and summer, and Watson said they expect an influx of new members this fall. An abundance of help allows the organization to harvest more of its produce for the community, which Watson said is central to Wild Roots’ goals.

“The mission is basically to help fill in gaps in food accessibility, especially fresh food accessibility in the Northwestern community and also in the Evanston and nearby community,” Watson said.

And the organization has done just that. Programs such as Root Share, which is focused on making produce directly accessible, have provided goods to the NU and Evanston communities on a weekly basis. Communication senior Brendan Riley said Root Share’s weekly harvest was central to Wild Roots’ summer programming.

Root Share not only provides for anyone in the community, but it also accommodates low-income community members in need of assistance. Riley said harvesting produce for those who otherwise couldn’t afford it has been a gratifying experience.

“I feel that (access to nutritious food) should be a human right,” Riley said. “And to me, this feels like my own small way of making it so more people can get food that… has the kind of vitamins or nutrients you need.”

At Wild Roots, a strong work base is central to harvesting nutritious food for those in need. Weinberg junior Molly Schneck said she saw a rise in commitment this spring when more students returned to campus and vaccinations rolled out.

The organization provided an opportunity for members to spend time outdoors, Schneck said, and also helped build a sense of community in a year when traditional social activities were upended. She added that club organizers are currently developing fall activities outside of working in the garden.

“We’ve been talking about a garden party — just something at night with twinkling lights and some good snacks and music,” Schneck said.

While social events are an upside to garden work, Riley said the consistency of meeting weekly and doing garden work made him feel like a part of the community over the summer.

“It’s kind of the highlight of my week, being able to spend a few hours in the sunshine and harvest kale,” Riley said. “It was really nice to see some people who also were the kinds of people that would go volunteer at the garden just for fun.”

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Twitter: @swarthout_iris

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