Response Magazine

Campus garden coordinator greens up shared space

Seminary student Gregory Reffner was the first graduate garden coordinator for SPU. He planted and harvested vegetables to share with the community.

Homemade bread and freshly turned soil scented the air as about 30 people gathered at the community garden near the SPU campus to pray and eat together on a sunny Thursday morning in late September.

Gregory Reffner, a first-year SPU seminarian and Seattle Pacific’s first graduate garden coordinator, asked the Seattle Pacific students, professors, and staff to take a piece of earth.

As they did, four readers took turns reciting, “We bless you, Almighty God, as the creator and sustainer of all things … Strengthen these sprouting seeds, and those that are yet to sprout … for the good of body and soul. Amen.”

Reffner wrote that garden blessing liturgy and tended the garden all summer. A $4,000 grant from the Seminary Stewardship Alliance paid for his position.

Last year, J.J. Johnson Leese, assistant professor of Christian scripture, and three other seminarians, including current student Thomas Parks, applied for the grant. It will also help fund a February showing of the documentary Look & See: A Portrait of Wendell Berry.

“When anyone comes on campus, I want them to know that we are serious about the first commandment given to human beings, to tend the garden,” Leese says. She’s not just talking about weeding, watering, and planting.

“In anything that we are doing, we should be environmentally sensitive to the wonderful creation that God has given us,” she says.

Undergraduate students started the organic garden and a corresponding club in 2010. The garden is a small plot of land near Kingswood House on the south end of campus, where anyone could jostle a carrot loose from the soil, watch bees in the raspberry blossoms, or take a spicy bite of mustard greens.

Originally, excess bounty was donated to food banks. In recent years, though, the harvest was simply too small. The garden had one primary problem: It needed the most care in June, July, and August, when students are gone.

“I’ve been really grateful for Greg,” says Sara Derr, a junior chemistry major and president of the garden club. “Having someone take care of the garden during the summer and advocate for it is huge. He set us on the right foot to take the club to a new level.”

The sign for SPU's garden plot.

Reffner, a Kansas native and recent graduate of Kansas’ Southwestern College, had never kept a garden, but immersed himself in gardening books and websites, and regularly asked SPU master gardener Jeff Daley and neighborhood gardeners for advice.

He cleaned up the garden beds, restored the soil, planted vegetables and flowers, and knocked on doors to invite neighbors to pick tomatoes.

“I was surprised at how intuitive it was, how lifegiving it was, and how much joy I found in it,” Reffner says.

Leese is excited about ways the garden can be used in cur- riculum, and would love to see an ecotheology or creation care course, and a minor or major.

“We have this unique capacity to have a theological foundation for the work we do in ways that secular communities don’t,” she says. “There’s so much potential to honor God the creator through our service of the creation.”

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