Driven by student initiative, the project has forged key community partnerships. Early on, students connected with Mark Southard, owner of Artisanal Structures in Allentown, Pennsylvania at a community gathering. A consistent contributor since, Southard aids students with material donations and hands-on expertise for projects.
He applauds the students' resourcefulness, saying, "Every year, I'm still amazed by their creativity and determination. This project really shows their creativity and can-do spirit."
Through years of dedication and hard work, the project team has not only maintained the park but has taken steps to nurture the surrounding community. This journey included collaborations with the community to construct a Nature Built Home in Nazareth, Pennsylvania, an environmentally friendly alternative to conventional housing, leveraging locally available materials.
The current team is branching out into local engagements, enriching the students’ knowledge of community gardening and pushing to make an impact on the broader Lehigh Valley.
Julie Wright ‘26, a 2023 Lehigh Valley Social Impact Fellow (LVSIF) majoring in community and global health, said that in addition to making the park more accessible, the team is developing partnerships, including one with Lehigh Health and Wellness Center. They're initiating a food fridge program, offering students access to nutritious, locally-sourced food at no cost. Additionally, the students are collaborating with Plant a Row, an organization that will assist in distributing the team's harvest to local food pantries.
Emma Clopton '25, majoring in environmental studies who is also a 2023 LVSIF, said the team aims to leverage its research rooted in permaculture philosophy, striving to build a greener future for Bethlehem.
"Permaculture philosophy advocates for utmost sustainability and a strong interconnection with nature," said Clopton. "Being a part of this pioneering initiative has brought a new dimension to my understanding of my major."
Isabelle Spirk ‘25, a double major in political science and environmental studies (and also a 2023 LVSIF), added that the Southside Permaculture Park goes beyond the physical garden.
"Initiating community engagement allows us to solidify our presence in the community," Spirk said. "In the long run, we aim to evolve into a permaculture consulting entity for the entire Lehigh Valley."
--Story by Haidan Hu