Two small plots of ground next to Megan Hall, on the northern edge of the Divine Word College campus, bring a great deal of joy to many of the students who are taking classes this summer.
The two neatly laid out gardens—one lush with traditional Vietnamese vegetables and one brimming with varieties familiar to Americans—are a source of fresh, organically grown vegetables favored by Vietnamese and other Asian students. Perhaps more importantly, they provide a healthy diversion from their studies while creating a small connection to their families who are working in their own gardens thousands of miles away.
The idea of a garden took root last year, according to Sr. Uyen Nguyen, SJP who was asked to supervise the project.
"When the Sisters asked me, I said, ‘Ok, I’d like to do that because in the summer, we don’t have work study. I have time and I want to go out and take care of this," she said.
Bro. Kevin Diderich, SVD tilled the first plot last August and added a second this spring. Fresh compost is worked into the soil and leaves and other organic material is spread over soil at the end of the growing season to be tilled in the following spring. Instead of herbicides and pesticides, weeds are pulled and bugs are picked off.
Vietnamese vegetables include a type of lettuce, a plant similar to a radish called "rau cai" and a kind of mustard green called, "cai cuc." They are joined by familiar local favorites like tomatoes, onions, beans, cucumbers and green peppers.
Linda Weidemann, vice president for Finance at DWC, helped establish the gardens and spent time putting plants into the ground. She said it’s clear that there are multiple benefits for the Sisters.
"It gives them a sense of community and belonging, and it keeps their homeland with them," Linda said. "Their vegetables are something that they eat often, and it gives them a little touch of home."
Sr. Uyen goes out every day to check on the garden plots. Once a week, usually on Fridays after the evening meal, she is joined by many of the Sisters who weed, water and harvest their produce.
“We sing, tell stories, and we talk about our parents and our families,” Sr. Uyen said. “Many of us grew up in the countryside and had a garden too.”
Their produce is quickly put to use. Sisters often go out to cut fresh greens that they prepare at Megan Hall. Sr. Uyen has also taken some of the produce over to the DWC dining room where she prepares it for the other members of the DWC community.
“I cooked at least three times for dinner, all the Fathers try,” Sr. Uyen said. “Fr. Mike Hutchins really liked it. He told me it is, “…very healthy.’”