In the past six months, the Wild Wes (Working for Intelligent Landscape Design at Wesleyan University) courtyard plot outside of West College (WestCo) has completely transformed from an overgrown, underutilized space to a thriving permaculture site. The Wild Wes club has been cultivating the area as well as a small space outside Summerfields since 2010. Because of the University shutdown due to COVID-19, the space had not been properly cared for until this summer, when a group of students began a project to revitalize the area.
“Our main priority was basically a Wild Wes renaissance,” Wild Wes President Bobby Bourque ’23 said. “Pads were very, very overgrown because, thanks to COVID, it was completely unmaintained for a year. Our plan was just to clean up the space, cut down grass, reset rocks, reset breaks, and fix the trellis. Then once we got through all that, we were able to have more fun projects: we constructed a trellis out of a wild cherry tree and we planted herbs in the herbs spiral.”
Working 40 hours a week on the project, Bourque, alongside other interns, was able to lead the charge in returning Wild Wes to its previous glory and reimagining what role the group could have on campus. The Green Fund compensated student workers and covered the cost of supplies.
Wild Wes leaders explained that expanding and incorporating permaculture, the practice of including species native to the land to create more sustainable agricultural spaces, into the University landscape is one of the club’s overarching goals. Over the summer, Wild Wes interns visited the University of Massachusetts Amherst, which has an extensive permaculture site. The group is using UMass’ site as an inspiration for what Wild Wes could be.
“The workers for Wild Wes and some of the farmers who were here over the summer, we all went on a little road trip and saw some of the methods that they use to keep students involved,” Bourque said. “And it really helped us because by the end of the summer, we kind of shifted our mentality. June was cleanup, July was new projects, and August was okay, freshmen are coming. What now?”
Since then, the club has expanded its outreach to students. They officially registered as a club on WesNest, hosted a booth at the club fair, and have begun to have weekly workdays on Sundays from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. Wild Wes Events Coordinator Bec Kaplan ’23 hopes that the group can make a space created by the student body, for the student body.
“I’d love it to become a more active community space,” Kaplan said. “I think Long Lane is not always accessible for everyone since it’s so far versus this is literally in our backyard. So it would be really lovely to just have more people involved, even on a very occasional basis.”
The club hopes to expand not only its membership but also the physical space that it occupies. Leaders believe that there is ample space for permaculture on campus and that the University should strive for biodiversity instead of continuing to promote unsustainable agriculture.
“There’s no reason for this grass to just be here [on campus], it’s not being used in the right way,” Kaplan said. “We don’t want the relationship with nature to be just what can we use this for, and right now the land is not being loved in the way it should. It’s all these lawns being maintained for the image of the University. It costs them more to maintain it than for us to just transform it into a food justice project.”
The group also wants to turn the current spaces into a source of sustainable food. Wild Wes hopes to plant more fruit trees, vegetables, and maybe even create a small pond for rice patties. Their larger projects for this year include creating a geocache search, fixing the steps outside of Summerfields, and participating in the upcoming Pumpkin Fest hosted by Long Lane on Oct. 16.
For now, Wild Wes leaders want residents of both the University and Middletown to be aware of what is available to them in the space and how to use the various products that are grown there.
“We are making a zine, which is going to be like a combination of a forging guide plus a recipe book,” Kaplan said. “It will be what you can find in Wild Wes and what you can make out of it and directions of how to do that. Food as well as tinctures and dyes and things like that. So a lot of the work I was doing was research on the different things that are in Wild Wes.”
While the club is thriving for the moment, there is worry about its future. With the upperclassmen graduating and the lack of younger members, current leaders are concerned about having enough participants to sustain the group as well as complete their ambitious projects in the future.
“The people we worked with were mostly people from the class of 2020 and , and so I’ve taken the torch and I guess am officially president,” Bourque said. “But it is still a nebulous phase of the club where like I’m studying abroad next semester, so I’m just trying to make sure that the torch can be passed on from me to somebody else.”
Wild Wes also hopes to work together with other groups on campus, such as the Sustainability Office and the Eco Facilitators. Wiktoria Ostrowska ’24, who is both an Eco Facilitator and a member of Wild Wes, said she believes that the two groups could come together effectively.
“Hopefully there are steps to a future where there’s more Eco Facilitator and Wild Wes collaboration,” Ostrowska said. “That way, we can create more permaculture spaces on campus, revitalize the Butts space, and encourage more projects like these because of the success rates.”
The club looks forward to a bright future filled with sustainable agriculture.
“Very exciting things are happening,” Bourque said. “The Renaissance worked out.”
Lia Franklin can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org