Noah Litwer '15 plants a seed at Prospect Hill

With a Davis Projects for Peace grant, Litwer has started two community gardens at the affordable housing development

Photo/Jarret Bencks

Noah Litwer in The Learning Garden at Propsect Hill.

After Noah Litwer '15 was introduced to the Davis Projects for Peace Grant Program during a sociology course taught by Gordon Fellman, he began to imagine a way to achieve social change through some things he was passionate about: gardening and community organizing.

He came up with a plan to develop community gardens at Prospect Hill, Waltham's largest low-income housing development, created a proposal and was awarded a $10,000 Davis Projects for Peace grant.

Winning the grant was just the beginning. He worked with Prospect Hill residents, the Waltham Housing Authority, Waltham Police Department, Bentley University and others to decide the locations of the gardens, programming involving them and to develop a 10-year plan to keep them sustainable.

Over the summer, Litwer – who graduated from Brandeis in May – established two small gardens, "The Learning Garden" and "Berry Patch Hill" on the grounds of Prospect Hill Housing. The gardens feature an assortment of fruits and vegetables, herbs and eye-catching sunflowers, but they are about more than crops.

"I wanted to try to find a way to stimulate curiosity and empowerment through life sciences and gardening education," Litwer said.  "It's hard to go through life without any understanding of how grass grows or where your food comes from. It's so fundamental."

Litwer linked with Vivek Vimal, a PhD student in the Ashton Graybiel Spatial Orientation Lab and former Waltham High School teacher, to establish an educational component for the gardens, which uses the patches as a springboard to introduce children at Prospect Hill to the life cycle, composting and other science education.

About 50 children at Prospect Hill have been involved with the gardens in one way or another so far and 23 "bucket gardens" -- paint buckets of soil with plantings -- are being cared for by families in the neighborhood and will eventually be transplanted into the gardens.

"Noah found an ability to bring these very different people together and convince them of this project," Vimal said. "Going into a community where people do not know you is difficult and he was so fluid.”

Litwer also connected with Brad Baker, a Waltham resident with a passion for urban gardening, who will construct a greenhouse space for the winter and help oversee the garden's long-term development. Volunteer programs, which will include Brandeis students, will help to maintain the garden and foster community engagement.

"If it keeps maintaining for 10 years, these kids will have grown up with this project," Litwer said. "Having that early engagement and maintaining it can have some really impactful outcomes. It's the beginning of something that could be really amazing."

The gardens are small part of a commitment by Brandeis to community service at Prospect Hill. The university has teamed with Bentley University to establish and staff a community center there, which opened in 2014, and representatives from the two schools along with representatives from the Waltham Housing Authority, the Waltham Police Department and the Prospect Hill community have established the Prospect Hill Community Foundation, a non-profit that will maintain the community center and volunteer efforts. The community center offers an after school program, a literacy program, a teen program, classes for English language learners and coordinates community events.

Categories: Alumni, Humanities and Social Sciences, Science and Technology, Student Life

Return to the BrandeisNOW homepage