From the grassroots to the East 40
Growing up in a small, farming community in western Pennsylvania left Kelly Allen with
two choices – go to college or join the military.
“Military didn’t make sense for me, so I went to college,” the East 40 Community
Garden Coordinator and professor says. “Turns out, [college] didn’t make sense for me either. It
took me eight years to get my bachelor’s degree. I failed out twice and I guess that’s one of the
risks of being the first person in my family to go to college. Eventually, I did graduate and did a
little soul-searching after that.”
After receiving his bachelor’s degree from Indiana University of Pennsylvania, Allen
attended West Chester University as an English major.
“While I was getting my master’s, I was studying composition and rhetoric, but also a lot
of gender and race theory,” he says. “But when you compile those things together with my
background of being exceptionally poor, it pushed me toward issues regarding critical pedagogy
and developmental education.”
Shortly after getting his master’s, he began working as an adjunct for higher education
students who needed remediation in writing. In 2008, he joined the NCC family after hearing
about the college’s cutting-edge reputation regarding its teaching and application to its
“When I was first introduced to the staff,” he says, “My then-dean, Elizabeth Bugaighis,
shared with everyone that my wife and I were homesteaders and told everyone, ‘Yeah, one of
these days, he hopes to get goats.’ That piqued the interest of a few of my colleagues who were
into environmental sustainability and local food.”
In 2010, a couple of these colleagues approached Allen and asked whether he would put
together a proposal for the future East 40 Community Garden. Taking advantage of his
background in small-scale agriculture and desire for building healthy, diverse communities, the
team put together a proposal that was accepted in eight months.
“I was just at the East 40 today and I was thinking about how he created that out of
nothing,” says Eileen Brumitt, an English professor and Learning Center writing coordinator.
“The fact that it’s always growing is an amazing thing.”
Allen, who worked as a writing tutor at both Indiana University of Pennsylvania and
West Chester University, requires his students to attend the Learning Center.
“When someone comes in to get tutoring, you don’t just say, ‘OK, this is wrong, write it
like this.’ You want them to figure out things for themselves and talk through the writing process
with you,” he says. “That way, they can do it themselves later on. That’s how growth as a writer
When I started teaching, I wanted to make sure my students had that experience in a
positive way as well. I say, ‘OK, you’re in the drafting stage. Go to a writing tutor,’ so it doesn’t
have these negative connotations. This way, they’re being proactive and know writing tutoring is
something that good students seek out.”
Allen also teaches a Nature of the Environment course on campus.
“We have a good symbiotic relationship,” Brumitt says. “I think his students get a lot out
of the tutoring. I worked with some of his students on an ongoing basis and it was a really good
way to talk about writing. We’re working with his Nature of the Environments class. I am talking
to this group that is talking about having goats. It’s been interesting to learn about all of these
In the future, Allen is working toward developing a food studies and food science
program. Some of the courses would include food history, study of food systems, and food
“Unfortunately, one of the things we’ll have to battle is when folks think of a food studies
program, [they think of] a strong political slant toward food activism and addressing food
deserts,” he says.
“Food studies is really about understanding culture through what people eat. If you talk to
somebody who is from Puerto Rico, they’re going to talk about rice, beans and fish. If you talk to
somebody from Pittsburgh, they’re going to talk about pierogis, sauerkraut and putting french
fries on fricking everything.
There’s a really rich connection between people and the foods that they eat. However,
those connections are becoming less and less obvious as our food systems become more global.
Food studies offers us a way to pause for a moment and take a closer and more critical look at
the lives that people live based on what they eat.”
Allen says that he hopes a course or two will be ready by fall 2018, but realistically
believes the program would be running by the fall of 2020.
Dan Stevens, a student in his Nature of the Environment class who has worked closely
with Allen, expresses gratitude for his professor.
“This year, I was awarded the Bethlehem Garden Club’s scholarship,” Stevens says. “At
the acceptance meeting, I was informed that while my academic achievements were great, what
made me stand out were the kind words of Kelly Allen. This is certainly not just a one-time
thing. He is an inspirational cat who cares about students as individuals and goes out of his way
to ensure the advancement of his students.”
Students can work with Allen in two service opportunities this fall in the East 40. On the
first Friday of every month, there is a “Friday build” where students can volunteer to build off a
storage unit. The plans include building a greenhouse with composting outhouse, solar shower
and four-season work space.
Students with more of a green thumb can work on “Friday gardening day” on the third
Friday of every month. A recent Friday garden included processing compost and planting
cabbage, onion, lettuce, spinach and garlic to be harvested next summer.
“Kelly is one of my favorite people on campus,” Deb Bohr, director of the Center for
Civic and Community Engagement says, “I don’t think there’s an area of campus that he hasn’t
impacted and that impact has been phenomenal in every way, shape and form. He’s just a fun
guy to know and work with.”