Speaker’s House Garden Produces Food and Food for Thought

Environmental studies major runs a summer farm stand at historic Trappe house undergoing restoration. Produce is available Saturdays 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. 

Intrigued by a course on food and society, environmental studies major Jenna Detweiler ’18 is running a farm stand that reflects an earlier society, at The Speaker’s House in Trappe on Saturdays from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. (151 West Main St.).

Fresh heirloom lettuce, Swiss chard, assorted herbs, dried chamomile tea, local honey, and herb-infused butter are available now, and tomatoes, carrots, beets, watermelons, and other crops will be available later this summer.

The farm stand offers produce grown in the kitchen garden at the former home of Frederick Muhlenberg, built in 1763. Born in Trappe, Pa., in 1750, Muhlenberg is best known as the first Speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives. He was also the first signer of the Bill of Rights, a member of the Continental Congress, speaker of the Pennsylvania General Assembly and a pivotal figure in local history.

“From what I understand, the garden is historically accurate to the time period,” Detweiler said. “It may not necessarily be identical to the garden the Muhlenbergs had, but it is a true (to the best of our ability) Pennsylvania German kitchen garden, and the raised beds help with drainage in the clay soil.” The garden is also filled with native/heirloom plants that are documented to have been in the area at the time of the Muhlenbergs.

Detweiler found the internship through the environmental studies department and UCARE on campus, and was drawn in by the farm stand aspect, especially since she could fulfill the internship around the hours of the full-time job she had lined up for the summer. “I am interested in pursuing some form of environmental business, so I thought this would be a good, albeit grassroots, look into that,” said the biology and Spanish minor. Detweiler was a recycling and composting Sustainability Fellow.

Her interest stemmed from Professor Richard Wallace’s food and society course. “We talked a lot about transparency in food systems. We learned/agreed that although for-profit isn’t necessarily a bad thing, that shouldn’t (but often does) take away from transparency, fair worker treatment, product quality, etc. Small businesses and local farms often increase the quality of worker treatment, transparency, and product quality.”

As she learned more about The Speaker’s House she became really interested in the history of the Muhlenberg family. The house was an Ursinus residence hall from the 1920s to the 1940s. Detweiler has a new appreciation for the house’s restoration efforts. In the early 2000s, the house was almost demolished, but an effort led by local citizens, including Ursinus alumna Lisa Minardi ’04, who is now the house’s executive director, saved The Speaker’s House and property. Sigma Pi fraternity conducts annual property cleanups. Members of the Phi Alpha Psi sorority helped paint the garden fence last fall.

“There’s a long way to go, and the house is basically bare bones inside, but I really appreciate the opportunity and have met a lot of great people,” said Detweiler. “I could definitely see myself involved in the house beyond just my summer internship.” – WG