APU’s New Community Garden: A Place of Growth for All

by Abigail Reed

Students reading next to blooming apple trees, biology majors pushing seeds beneath cold and damp soil, future educators leading elementary school students through rows of yellow squash and leafy carrot tops—Azusa Pacific University’s plans for a community garden will soon transform a plot of dirt and tangled vines into a place of growth for all.

Matt Browning, Ed.D., associate vice president for local and global engagement, cast the vision for the garden nearly two years ago, collaborating with faculty, staff, students, and local farmers to bring it to fruition. Located adjacent to the Office of Alumni Engagement, on APU’s east campus, the garden will offer a variety of future opportunities, including year-round volunteer work, hands-on educational experiences, and farm-to-fork meals. Harvested produce—apples, zucchini, squash, tomatoes, carrots, and more—will be distributed through APU’s foodbank, located in the Office of Women’s Development. Over time, as production increases, those involved hope to extend the garden’s reach to the Azusa community, donating produce and engaging with local elementary schools.

“I believe this project will draw students, faculty, staff, and alumni together around something meaningful: a chance to serve those in their community by producing fresh and healthy food,” said Browning. “In return, the garden will provide a peaceful place of growth and a rich learning environment.”

From business majors envisioning development opportunities to those theologically reflecting on God’s creation, every student can encounter experiential education in the garden. Looking toward the future, APU professors hope to incorporate involvement with this project into their curriculum, allowing students to take their learning outside the classroom.

In order to reach these goals, Browning created a support team, including Paul Kaak, Ph.D., executive director in the Office of Faith Integration, and his wife, Kieva. For close to 15 years, the couple has maximized the available space around their Pomona home to grow avocados, zucchinis, tomatoes, figs, and more. Together, they bring their experience to the table, passionately working to cultivate a sacred space to campus.

“Growing our own food continually reminds us of God’s provisions and allows us to participate in an act of creativity and incredible beauty,” said Paul. “As we nurture life and watch it grow, the garden becomes a living parable, describing for us the concept of spiritual growth through Christ.”

Steven Bouma-Prediger, Ph.D., author of For the Beauty of the Earth, and panelist at APU’s recent creation care event, toured the garden, still in its beginnings, and encouraged members of the community to get involved in this unique experience.

“Working the earth will develop real-life skills that you can take wherever you live, from a farm to a rooftop garden in Chicago,” said Bouma-Prediger. “You will also experience the immense satisfaction of getting your fingers dirty, nurturing life, and finally, eating the fruit of your labor.”

For more information on year-round volunteer opportunities open to all, visit the Center for Student Action homepage and select “join interest list” towards the bottom of the page.

Abigail Reed is a public relations intern in the Office of University Relations. She is a liberal studies major with an honors humanities minor.