Among the newest groups on campus, the sustainability club wants to impact the way APU lives

Azusa Pacific is surrounded on all sides by traffic and noise. To the south lies a cluster of fast food restaurants. Between East and West Campuses, there is a constant stream of cars. The movement is relentless, and it is this vital part of living in a city that prevents students from appreciating the nature around them.

Junior nursing major Abigail Zoccola is among a group of students who want to change that.

Zoccola started the community garden in fall 2019 alongside fellow nursing major Audrey Dyer. According to Zoccola, the two wanted to use the garden as a way to bring nature back to the community. But with climate change on the rise, they realized more needed to be done in order to bring APU’s attention to the environment.

Zoccola and Dyer feel they can do the most good within their roles as president and vice president of the Sustainability Club.

“I felt really convicted because it was something I didn’t know [much] about,” Zoccola said. “When I learned about the science — what was going on and [how] plastic never disappears and how it affects neighborhoods — I just really wanted to learn more.”

The Sustainability Club is among the newest groups at APU. Holding to an eco-friendly initiative, the club hopes to guide APU to recycle more, be more environmentally conscious and reconsider its dining habits.

As president of the Sustainability Club, Zoccola has been interested in sustainable living for more than a year, and the garden has strengthened her passion.

“It’s really therapeutic to just get your hands in the dirt,” said Zoccola. “Especially living in a city in Los Angeles County, it’s nice to feel like a little kid again just being able to get dirty in a garden … It’s super rewarding.”

Since the club’s founding, Zoccola and Dyer have worked alongside those in the community garden to plant fruits and vegetables, which are free for students to take. The club has also worked with Hillside Grounds, APU’s coffee shop on West Campus, to boost the amount of compost they are given.

Every Tuesday and Thursday, Dyer receives used, cold brew coffee grounds and extra fruit scraps from the coffee shop, which are taken to East Campus and added to the active compost bin. Compost is composed of biodegradable substances like fruit peels, coffee grounds and dried leaves. Unlike fertilizer, which is meant to help plants grow faster, compost ensures that the soil is full of nutrients. 

The compost system at the community garden on East Campus. Photo by Brenda Covarrubias.

Compost also helps with waste, since it does not have to go into a landfill and can be reused in gardens and lawns. By separating unfinished fruits and vegetables from your trash pile, people can contribute to the active compost bin and lessen the amount of trash APU throws away. The compost is turned often and separated into two other bins when it is ready to be used.

Currently, Dyer is the only member of the club collecting grounds for compost, but the club hopes others will contribute to the efforts by helping her to carry the bags from one campus to the other. 

“[Hillside Grounds] is only giving us the cold brew grounds, which is significantly less than the amount of grounds that they produce, but that’s only because it’s only been me carrying all of it, so physically you can’t lift that much of it,” Dyer said.

Compost is not the club’s only concern. The Sustainability Club also hopes to persuade APU to be more environmentally conscious in upcoming discussions. Although APU has turned to healthier food options since Bon Appetit began managing all of the university’s on-campus eateries, club members say there is still more they can do to help the school be sustainable. 

Looking to the future

The club’s main goal is to begin conversations with the school regarding reusable containers and recycling. While many to-go containers can be recycled, many students and faculty do not do this, according to faculty advisor Sarah Richart.

To combat this issue, the Sustainability Club hopes APU will help them to encourage people to bring their own reusable containers. This is a discussion Richart thinks will take some time since people bringing their personal containers could be a possible health risk. 

Dyer believes that if students were allowed to bring their containers when receiving food from dining venues, the school might require them to sign a waiver to ensure APU is not held accountable if the students get sick. This is a compromise the club is willing to make. The club also hopes groups like Bon Appétit will help to contribute compost materials in the future.

“At this point, I don’t think sustainability is an option. I think it’s a requirement. We are living in a time of potential catastrophe on a global scale, and as Americans, we have contributed more than our fair share,” said Richart. “This world belongs to God, and we often live as functional atheists. We, as Christians, don’t live as if this is God’s world and something precious to care for.”

Club members also hope to connect with the student population more. In particular, one of their most pressing goals is to partner with the Office of Women’s Development, which runs the food pantry on campus to combat food scarcity. Currently, the food pantry is without fresh greens, which the garden can provide. 

Richart said because the food pantry is located in a small area, it may be in the school’s best interest to redirect and advertise the community garden for those who are suffering with food scarcity and who want healthy foods.

Although the club has few members, their goal to change APU’s environmental habits is unwavering. Over the course of the semester, the Sustainability Club hopes to go on field trips, host movie nights and meet in the community garden regularly to discuss club issues.