Allegra “Lovejoy” Wiprud ’14 gets emotional when she recalls her first land stewardship trip at the D&R Greenway Land Trust, an 18,000-acre land preservation and conservation nonprofit. It was an invasive species removal job in Hopewell, N.J. That day, the dangerous plant that her team tracked down, cut back, and destroyed — the climbing growth that covered, choked, and threatened to kill a tree — was English ivy (Hedera helix).
Perched on a picnic table outside the Johnson Education Center, a historic barn overlooking Greenway Meadows, Wiprud mimes how she removed the ivy, grabbing the vine with her hands as if it were a snake coiled around her neck. By clearing the ivy away, she says, “We can give the tree its life back.”
Ivy might look quintessentially Princeton, but as Wiprud is learning, the non-native plant climbs and grows so fast that it smothers other plants and starves trees of sunlight.
Unlike the local flora, Wiprud, a native of Brooklyn, has flourished amongst the ivy. While at Princeton, she meditated, studied, and practiced yoga. She quickly found a home in Murray Dodge Hall, a center of religious and spiritual life on campus. Eventually, she unearthed and discovered within herself a new belief: Hinduism. She took the lead in student religious groups, planning programs, retreats, and service projects for the interfaith Princeton Religious Life Council and the National Hindu Student Council.
A graduate of the Woodrow Wilson School with certificates in South Asian studies, Near Eastern studies, and musical performance, Wiprud studied sustainable development and religious practices in South Asia, traveling to the region for several trips (to India, Thailand, Burma, Cambodia, and Bangladesh).
Wiprud says that her hope is to help make people’s lives better through “small-scale and local” work, and to perform Seva (the Sikh concept of selfless service) by working directly with communities. She knows the power of doing good, of making an impact.
After graduation, Wiprud worked at an urban farm and greenhouse for one year as a High Meadows Community Programs Fellow at The Food Project in Boston. In July, she began a one-year fellowship at the D&R Greenway Land Trust as a Charles Evans Future Conservation Leader and an urban farm and volunteer coordinator, through the Princeton AlumniCorps Project 55 Fellowship Program. She’s set to lead projects and to attract volunteers for the two-acre Capital City Farm in Trenton.
A life-long lover of nature, Wiprud says that in her new role, “I get to know the forests with a trained eye.” As a fellow, Wiprud lives on the land trust. This is her big backyard.
Wiprud admits that few will likely share her level of deep commitment and devotion to the land. Part of her job, she says, is to translate her passion into something that others can understand. She’s discovered the magic of learning through doing, enlisting volunteers to help out with trail maintenance, planting, event assistance, and an art docent program.
“I want to be a shelter for my Princeton friends on campus. I want to draw students into this type of work,” she says.
As a student, Wiprud says she felt a connection to the “stately” woods in Princeton. “They were special to me. These woodlands feel like home to me,” she says. “They breathe how I breathe.”
“There’s a peace in being out here. It makes your mind stop,” she says.