Growing Community: Under the Soil of PNWU’s Community Garden
A lush oasis bounds over its concrete enclosure at the southwest corner of Pacific Northwest University’s Butler-Haney Hall. Jungle-like in appearance, PNWU’s sixteen-plot community garden seems to contain enough produce to stock a grocery store.
Bulbous yellow onions, flanked by vibrant green carrot tops, peek from the garden’s fertile soil. Pumpkins, zucchinis and cucumbers rest at the base of countless tomato plants, which flare prominently above the tangled vegetation below. In the far-right corner of the garden sits a flat patch of dirt. Thanks to the efforts of a group of PNWU medical students, including second-year student Jorge Parra, it won’t be a flat patch of dirt for long.
It was the beginning of August, and the end of a summer break that had taken Parra on many memorable adventures, including a six-day escape to the 10,781-foot summit of Washington’s Mount Baker. Today, just a stone’s throw from the medical school that would soon fill his calendar, Parra used the final moments of his time-off to fulfill his namesake.
“The name ‘Jorge’ actually means ‘earth-worker,’ and ‘Parra’ means ‘grapevine,’” he explained, smiling as he pressed pepper seeds into the soft soil below, “but I’ve never spent much time doing this.” As he toiled away, fellow second-year student Ciara Gorman examined their newly tilled plot.
“I’m really holding onto the dream of coming out here at lunchtime and eating something that I grew,” said Gorman. “I’m hoping that all this stuff is going to taste better because we grew it. I hope that it’ll encourage me to say things like: ‘I can’t wait to eat chard for dinner tonight!’”
The garden, in its current incarnation, started last year, explained Dr. Rica Amity, PNWU Assistant Professor of Family Medicine. While there had been PNWU community gardens in years past, they became minimally used and were ultimately overtaken by weeds. When plans began to be implemented for Project NEXT, the newest building on PNWU’s campus, members of the university’s community expressed interest in moving the long-forgotten beds to a new location. In the end, the move helped to revitalize the salubrious idea.
On Wednesday, April 3, community garden organizer and Executive Assistant to the Provost Anne Acob delivered an email to the PNWU campus, welcoming them to claim one of the new 3.5-by-8-foot garden plots. In less than 24-hours, all sixteen plots were claimed. Shortly thereafter, the first seeds were sewn in the new PNWU community garden.
“Gardening is, in many ways, a perfect analogy for medical school,” astutely observed Gorman, picking soil from beneath her fingernails.
It takes time: She will have to wait up to 70 days before she can enjoy one of the cucumbers she planted. It requires persistence and a willingness to learn: Experienced members of the community garden provide wise advice, rooted in many years of gardening experience, such as the risk associated with watering tomatoes in direct sunlight (their skin tends to split). There may even be failures. With enough compassion and care, however, the seeds that are sewn will one day grow into lush blooms, offering the gardeners a long-awaited chance to enjoy the fruits, vegetables and herbs of their labor.
“The more we find things that unite us, the stronger all aspects of our community become,” explained Jantzen Hunsaker, PNWU Academic Program Manager. Second-year medical student and fellow PNWU community gardener James Kramer reflected that sentiment.
“This project provides me the opportunity to share soil with other students and staff members that I usually see in the standardized patient rooms during the most stressful times, as well as several faculty members who teach me biochemistry, pathology, and even the Dean!” said Kramer. “Not only do we get to see it grow, we get to use the most ripe and delicious food literally grown in the backyard of PNWU. It is the embodiment of community health — straight to the gut!”
Anne Acob’s Pisto Manchego (Spanish version of Ratatouille)
4 Tbsp olive oil
4 garlic cloves, peeled and minced
1 medium yellow onion, peeled and diced
1 large red bell pepper, diced
1 large green bell pepper (or may substitute a spicier version), diced
1 cup cubed zucchini (1/2” pieces)
1 cup cubed eggplant (1/2” pieces)
1 pound tomatoes
Salt to taste
Pepper to taste
1/8 – 1/4 cup chopped parsley
Preheat oven to 375 F.
1. Skin tomatoes by making a small “X” at the bottom of the tomato and scalding them in boiling water for 1-2 minutes. Remove tomatoes, place in ice water, and peel the tomatoes. Coarsely chop tomatoes and set them aside.
2. Heat oven-safe skillet over medium-high heat, then add olive oil. Saute garlic for 1-2 minutes, then add onion and peppers and saute for 10 minutes. Season with salt. Add eggplant and zucchini and saute for 5- 10 minutes, until the eggplant and zucchini have absorbed the oil. Add tomatoes and simmer over medium heat for about 10 minutes.
3. Make 4 hollows in the surface of the mixture with a ladle and crack an egg into each of the hollows. Place skillet in the oven for 5-10 minutes, or until egg whites are done and yolks are slightly runny. Garnish with parsley.
Note: This recipe can be customized according to which vegetables you have available. If you omit the eggplant, just double the amount of zucchini. You can also skip the eggs on top of the mixture. It’s also delicious mixed in with scrambled eggs.