Growing up, Adriana Quiñonez Solano ’24 questioned whether she was meant to go to college. When she was awarded an Eisenhower Scholarship from Gettysburg College, she knew she had an opportunity to transform her future.
Solano is originally from El Salvador, but she moved to Silver Spring, Maryland, the day after her 11th birthday. Before arriving in the United States, she never pictured herself moving to the country. When she did make the move, she found herself feeling alienated.
“I didn’t know the language,” reflected Solano. “I remember the day before my first day of American school. I was freaking out about having to introduce myself because people couldn’t say my name properly. I Google translated how to pronounce it.”
Yet, by getting involved in a wide range of activities in high school, such as field hockey and lacrosse, and studying cinema and films, Solano soon found her way. She ultimately graduated as the first student from her high school to earn an IB/bilingual diploma.
Now a junior at Gettysburg College majoring in environmental studies, public policy, and Spanish/Latin American, Caribbean, and Latino studies. Solano’s time on campus has taught her important lessons as she’s navigated her formative years.
“For a while when I first came to Gettysburg, I was aware that there was something missing,” said Solano, who as a first-generation college student acknowledges she initially struggled with imposter syndrome and how to ask for help within this new learning community.
Solano began to truly feel at home when she started to volunteer with the Painted Turtle Farm through the College’s Center for Public Service. The farm is a certified naturally grown campus-community garden where students and local immigrant families harvest together.
“Going to the farm and being with local families felt like a home away from home. It is such a safe place. I can speak my language and communicate with the community members,” said Solano.
The Painted Turtle Farm works to bring students and local immigrant families together to share food traditions, grow produce and culturally-desirable food, and initiate community organizing and reflection for social change. The farm’s mission deeply touched Solano. It gave her the platform to develop close personal relationships and it taught her lifelong skills, such as leadership, communication, land stewardship, and farming and gardening techniques.
Perhaps most importantly, Solano found the Painted Turtle Farm to be a catalyst to make a difference at Gettysburg College, not only among her fellow classmates but also among the many immigrant families for whom she has formed a lasting bond.
Solano’s experience with the Painted Turtle Farm has taught her a lot about herself, too. She rediscovered a love for the earth and came to the realization that she wants to pursue similar community-based work as a career path, ideally positioning her to help other people for the rest of her life.
“For a long time, I wasn’t aware of my own connection to the land and the environment. When I was back home in El Salvador, I had my own trees outside of my house and we grew all sorts of things. Moving to Maryland, my house didn’t even have a backyard. It was really nice to connect with nature again,” said Solano.
Currently, Solano serves as one of the three program coordinators of the farm. She oversees Community-Supported Agriculture (CSA), works with families who have plots of land on the farm to grow their own produce, and recently has served as an important voice in promoting the College’s newly adopted Land Acknowledgement Statement.
“We must acknowledge that the land we are on does not belong to us—and do things to honor that. We must raise the voices that are still to this day fighting oppression and challenges,” said Solano, who participated in the College’s Land Acknowledgement Dedication Ceremony this fall. The event honored the Indigenous land on which Gettysburg College rests and the people who have stewarded it across the generations.
One way she has lived this value has been through her work with the Three Sisters Garden plot at the Painted Turtle Farm. This plot, inspired by “Braiding Sweetgrass” by Robin Wall Kimmerer, is a way to engage with Indigenous agricultural methods by planting Indigenous crops, such as corn, beans, and squash. The plot began with Katie Mercer ’21 and is currently run by Gettysburg students and local farmers.
When not at the Painted Turtle Farm, Solano loves to go to Waldos & Company in town and work as a Community Advisor (CA) for Apple Hall on campus. She has found that working in Residential Life, in addition to working with the farm, has inspired her to share her own culture and identity with the broader College community, and help first-gen students and students of color to do the same.
“I really just work to make a good environment for people and to be the best resource possible,” Solano explained. “I had a hard time when I first arrived at Gettysburg because I didn’t think anyone would understand what I was going through. I was scared because I thought no one looked like me. Now, I feel like I am part of the change. I want to be there to help first-generation students navigate things successfully. It means a lot to me.”
Learn more about the Painted Turtle Farm and how to get involved. Student volunteers are involved in a range of projects year-round, such as planning, planting, growing, harvesting, and educating the student body and community about the importance of local and sustainable agriculture.
By Cameron Jury ’23