Riley Sandel

Riley Sandel (yellow jacket) passes a metal bar from atop scaffolding at the site of the Maring-Hunt Community Garden Pavilion. The senior Ball State architecture major has been involved in the project for two semesters, spanning August 2017 to May 2018.

Building community, one pavilion at a time

By Kate H. Elliott

Cooking and architecture both require an attention to detail, a thoughtful blend of flavors or design, and an appealing presentation. So, it comes as no surprise that Ball State architecture major Riley Sandel is equally drawn to spires and salsa; well, not any salsa, his grandmother’s salsa, which she cans from the peppers, tomatoes and herbs of her home in Kosciusko County, Indiana.

The senior’s love for farm fresh foods prompted him to contribute to an ongoing student-led design-build to establish an outdoor kitchen and market pavilions to frame the community garden next to Muncie’s Maring-Hunt Public Library.

Vision planning for the project also includes a picnic and grilling area and a storytelling and storyacting pavilion for Maring-Hunt’s children’s programming and Southview Elementary School’s STEM curriculum.

The effort has transformed a derelict exercise track and athletic field into a welcoming greenspace that invites area farmers to sell low-cost, seasonal produce at the market, which features an outdoor kitchen and food preparation demonstration area. Architecture Professor Pam Harwood, who is guiding the immersive project, said the site is an anchor for the Thomas Park/Avondale and South Central Neighborhoods, which are USDA-designated food deserts.

“Excessive housing costs, low incomes, and other extenuating circumstances can leave little money for food. Also, disinvestment can produce food deserts in a geographic area, which prevents people from an easy and cheap way to access healthy goods,” said Sandel, who has worked on the project since August 2017. “This project promotes growing, entrepreneurial learning, a friendly community codependency, and access to food.”

Garden pavilions provide shade, seating, tool storage and accessible garden beds to those who purchase a plot in the longtime community garden. An educational space provides learning opportunities for Southview Elementary School students, Maring-Hunt Library patrons and neighborhood families. The space has built a “vital learning environment” for Sandel as well.

The community garden supports positive physical and psychological well-being by providing residents of all ages and backgrounds with opportunities to relax, engage in physical activity, and socialize with neighbors.

“Architecture majors struggle with a lot of things. We are creative and intelligent, but socially, we tend to be reserved. This project gave us a sense of community, place and belonging,” he said of the project, which involved architecture, landscape architecture, urban planning, construction management, education and natural resources and environmental management majors. “If the sun was out, community members were out, often with their dogs, to tell us what they love, hate and desire. These interactions ensure we produce work that matters to everyone and builds a rapport necessary for this project and others to take hold.”

Senior architecture major Jacob Burris, who worked on the project from August-December 2017, digs a hole for a power lines to access the market and kitchen pavilions. Community garden areas will afford opportunities to learn about horticulture and sustainable environmental practices, such as composting and recycling.

His hope: that other studios will be able to complete development of the entire site, and the library and area residents will partner in making the space “irreplaceably integral to the community.” With that shared responsibility, Sandel said he hopes food insecurity will decrease as a culture of sustainable, self-sufficient food sourcing grows.

“Success and enjoyment are nonexistent without food, water and shelter, and ‘breaking bread’ can relax situations to promote the connectivity that is our humanness,” he said. There is great satisfaction, Sandel said, in producing something with such value and promise.

Several Muncie groups have supported the project, including the 8Twelve Coalition, through funds granted by the Vectren and Lowe’s foundations. Heather Williams, program manager for Ball State’s Office of Community Engagement, said Building Better Neighborhoods has supported and will continue to support the project because, “it’s the perfect blend of student learning and community engagement in a project that really touches at the heart and soul of the neighborhood.”

Learn more about this ongoing initiative at Muncie Neighborhoods, which works to connect Muncie neighborhoods with resources.

Grandmother’s WONDERFUL salsa recipe


  • 10 green peppers, pureed
  • 9 jalapeno peppers, pureed
  • 10 onions, pureed
  • 30 cups tomatoes, pureed
  • 1 1/4 cups garlic, chopped
  • 1 1/4 cups cilantro, minced
  • 1/2 cup oregano, minced
  • 1/3 cup cumin
  • 1/2 cup Tony Chacere’s Creole Seasoning
  • 1 1/4 cups lime juice
  • 6, 12 oz. cans tomato paste
  • 4, 15 oz. cans of corn (to preference)
  • 3, 15. oz. cans of black beans (to preference)

Directions: Prepare all ingredients as listed, then combine them in a large pot. Bring the mixture to a boil and stir before simmering for 15 minutes. Add the desired amount of corns and beans, then cook another 5 minutes. Jar in a hot water bath and store.