Conversations, reckoning and vegetables grow in the Three Sisters Garden

Development of Wake Forest’s newest garden aims to bring community together


Bella Ortley-Guthrie

The Three Sisters Garden provides the Wake Forest community with a space for growth of plants, community and wellbeing.

Bella Ortley-Guthrie, Staff Writer

Between the buildings of Palmer and Piccolo, tall wooden poles and metal wires encircle a plot of dirt, woodchips, and straw. Inside the gate, shovels sit upright above overturned soil. Like the speckles of grass emerging from the earth, a new garden is emerging on campus: The Three Sisters Garden. Piloted by Nathan Peifer, head of Campus Garden, and Jill Perry, the senior project manager for Wake Forest Facilities, the Three Sisters Garden will be a space of growth; for plants, community, historical awareness, and wellbeing. In Fall 2021, Perry began the process of working with Peifer to revamp the old Volleyball court between Palmer and Piccolo as a food garden. 

One of the goals of the project would be to enable the garden to qualify as a Local Food Production Credit and allow the two surrounding buildings, now home to classes in anthropology and environmental studies, to work towards receiving a Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) Silver Certificate. Buildings with this certification can accumulate and earn points in their efforts to address issues like water consumption, biodiversity and energy efficiency. Spaces involved in this program accrue points and credits by partaking in certain activities like creating sustainable environments or using reusable materials 

.”It [LEED] tracks a number of things from energy reduction, energy efficiency, water reduction, water consumption, reduction, materials, recycled materials, sustainably harvested materials,” Peifer said. “That’s a priority for our construction team is LEED certification for all new buildings.” 

A team of students, alumni and administrators work together both inside and outside the garden to bring the project to life. Former student Josh Malin and current students Katie Bullock, and Meilyn Norman are working to develop programs, proposals, goals and educational platforms surrounding the emerging garden. 

As the garden evolves, so will the name of the space. 

“That’s some of the work Meilyn is going to do—exploring what kind of name honors the indigenous wisdom that we’re borrowing and learning from,” Peifer said. “So it might not be the Three Sisters Garden forever.” 

Though the garden looks bare now, the team plans to begin loosening the soil and incorporating organic matter. From there, they hope to plant cover crops to support the soil’s structure and bacteria to aid in future plant production. In the future, the team will organize volunteer sign-ups where students can volunteer at Three Sisters. 

The future of the garden, with mulch walkways and rich greenery, will be made possible through partnerships with organizations such as the Eastern Band of Cherokee, which has a seed bank in Oklahoma. Another potential collaboration is with the Catawba, who have a seed bank in Old Salem — a historical district in downtown Winston-Salem— that employs their own horticulturist and seed keeper. 

While the goals and planting of the garden are still in the making, Peifer hopes that the Three Sisters Garden will cultivate conversations around anthropology, the environment, and Indigenous history. 

“Because of the Garden’s proximity to the anthropology department, Lam Museum and Environment and Sustainability Program, I kind of think of the space as these the crops from the Americas-that are instrumental in feeding many, many cultures around the world,” Peifer said. 

Working with Assistant Director of the Intercultural Center Savannah Baber and others at her office, Peifer hopes to create programming that cultivates conversation around land recognition and Indigenous cultures. Raising awareness about indigenous communities is going to be the primary goal. 

“The university has a land recognition statement, and those [native]communities are still with us; there are indigenous nations in North Carolina and Virginia and South Carolina,” Peifer said. “And so our partnership with the Intercultural Center will help this garden raise that kind of awareness…This is one way in which the university can live out its commitment to land recognition.” 

To Learn More and to Get Involved Contact Nathan Peifer: [email protected] 

Or visit: get-involved/campus-garden/