Peace garden brings community greenery

The community garden facilitated numerous sustainability initiatives that provide benefits to the wellbeing of both students and the environment. (Photo courtesy of Camille Dieterle)

University members are working to spruce up a small plot of land near Shrine Auditorium, gathering weekly to garden and host wellness events through the University Park Peace Garden. Camille Dieterle, associate professor of clinical occupational therapy, leads the Garden Project, which is funded by the USC Chan School of Occupational Therapy ReSPONs grant.“I have had an interest in the intersection between environmental sustainability and wellness for a long time,” Dieterle said. “Most of my teaching and work is in the area of health and wellness.”

The positive effects of participating in outdoor activities — such as cognitive restoration and physical wellness — and the lack of outdoor activities in Los Angeles inspired Dieterle to begin the University Peace Garden Project.

“The neighborhood that our University is in does not have many outdoor spaces,” Dieterle said. “I wanted to create even more outdoor spaces… for the surrounding community.” 

The Garden Project began in March, when Dieterle and volunteers cleaned the space of trash and weeds, installed raised gardening beds and planted vegetables. In September, the Peace Garden began to host weekly open gardening hours and events, which will continue into the spring semester. Fall semester events span a variety of topics including sustainability, wellness and education. 

Dieterle said she intends to use the project to promote green space in urban settings, community health and sustainability education. University partners of the project include the Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Department and USC Office of Sustainability. 

The Office of Sustainability assigned interns to work on the University Park Peace Garden Project through its President’s Sustainability Internship Program, which connects students with University sustainability initiatives. The Garden Project has also collaborated with the Sola Community Peace Center, an organization intended to develop peaceful education within the community. 

A student planted a cacti in the Peace Garden, which focuses on growing California native greenery to increase the area’s biodiversity. (Photo courtesy of Camille Dieterle)

Mel Ayala, a junior majoring in public policy, is a gardening and event programming intern working with the Peace Garden. Ayala began working with the project because of her interest in sustainability and prior experience working in a community garden.  

“I like watching everything grow,” Ayala said. “It is a nice experience seeing things progress over time.”

Ayala also enjoys working with the project’s garden cat, Sunshine.

“Sustainability is for everyone…we have a responsibility,” Ayala said. “If we want a future [on Earth], it is important to take the necessary steps.”

Olivia Heffernan, a senior majoring in environmental studies, is also a Peace Garden intern. Heffernan’s role involved assisting with redesigning the space for community use. 

“I hope everyone has their own personal experience when visiting [the University Park Peace Garden], whether that is to relax, learn or [attend] a workshop,” Heffernan said.

An area of focus for the project is promoting the use of California native greenery — which is dwindling in population. Dieterle said it is important to use greenery native to the area because it adds biodiversity and may assist in water conservation.

“Environmental sustainability and human wellness are connected,” Dieterle said. “I am excited to see where [the project] goes.”