“There were professors, there was campus safety…there was a professor’s baby,” one student laughed.
Palm Beach Atlantic University opened its first garden on Jan. 31, inviting people from the surrounding community. The student who made it all happen, Sophia Secrest, eagerly shared her vision for PBA’s Community Garden.
At the grand opening, Secrest, a junior at PBA double majoring in intercultural studies and music, welcomed students, staff and professors. The ceremony’s speaker was Bob Lutz, the vice president for Student Development. Everyone who attended participated in a time of prayer and festivities.
“It was really fun. They had beautiful lights strung up,” said Kira Dewey, a PBA freshman who attended the grand opening. “It was really nice and cozy. They had snacks out for sale to work toward more things in the garden.”
The grand opening was the final step of a long, difficult process. In the summer of 2021, Secrest wanted to become more involved with her community. She wanted to see how she could help the community become healthier while also promoting environmental action in schools. After discussing her dreams with other students who felt the same way as her and observing other opportunities in the surrounding area, Secrest landed on the idea of forming a garden.
According to the 2021 National Gardening Survey, there has been an increase in the participation of gardening activities compared to 2019. A reason for this may be attributed to the COVID-19 pandemic. This was true for Dewey, who reported that she became more involved with gardening during the lockdown in 2020.
“The goal when we first started this was, maybe, workship opportunities,” said Secrest. “The people who are involved in this love to be outside, love to cultivate things and see new growth.”
At first, Secrest tried to start her garden by forming a club at PBA. But, to make sure the garden would continue, she went to PBA’s Student Government Association and made it an official PBA program. She became the Student Government sustainability chair, someone who manages the environmental impact of the program. Secrest and her team were then able to work towards her vision.
However, achieving her dream wasn’t a walk in the park. Secrest explained that one of the biggest challenges she faced was funding the garden. Her first route was to call different companies and ask for donations to sponsor the garden. Although she was unsuccessful, PBA graciously helped fund the garden project, providing soil and supplies.
Other obstacles she encountered were making sure the land was approved, understanding where all the sprinklers were placed, finding where to borrow equipment and organizing a team to put everything together.
According to Secrest, she and her team spent nine-and-a-half hours one work day setting up the garden. For Secrest, the most memorable moment was when one of her professors stopped by and picked up a shovel, even though he was dressed neatly in his work attire.
The efforts of all the volunteers attracted a lot of attention, especially from campus safety. Dewey said that while they were digging in the garden one evening, campus security paid them a visit. From Dewey’s perspective, the gardening crew almost looked like grave robbers. But, to everyone’s surprise, one campus safety personnel was excited about the garden.
“We showed them, and one of them said, ‘Oh, I’ve been planting for 30 years. I’ll bring over plants!’” Dewey recalled. She reasons that people will start to become more involved with the garden just by walking by and seeing it.
“It’s really bringing everyone together,” said Secrest.
Looking forward, Secrest wants to see the people who are there to become even more involved. She and her team have ideas of hosting open mike nights and worship nights. They want to open the garden up to the children in the community so that they can come to learn and grow. Her vision is to ultimately use the garden to reach others around her.
“We want it to not just be inwards, but also reaching outwards,” said Secrest.
By Jasmine Lien