NWF gives stamp of approval to Elon Community Garden

The National Wildlife Federation has designated a vegetable garden near the Academic Village as a certified wildlife habitat.


Five years after it first started, the Elon Community Garden, a small patch of land near the Academic Village with rows of vegetables and herbs, has been designated by the National Wildlife Federation as a certified wildlife habitat.

The designation represents a culmination of efforts by Elon University students, faculty and staff to carve out a space where local wildlife can find food, water, shelter and a place to raise their young. A camera that can be moved around the quarter acre property has spotted raccoons, coyotes, foxes, woodchucks, squirrels and rabbits.

That doesn’t mean the local wildlife populations can have their run of the place. The garden acts as a source of fresh produce for area nonprofits that serve the hungry, from the Campus Kitchen at Elon University, to Allied Churches and Loaves & Fishes Christian Food Ministry in Burlington.

But it does signify the quickly growing role the garden plays for teaching, academic research and community service.

“It demonstrates the true spirit of agro-ecology, which is what the Department of Environmental Studies is trying to promote,” said Michael Strickland, an assistant professor in the English and Environmental Studies departments. “If somebody said ‘tear this place down, we’re going to put something else here,’ we will have left this place better than when it started.

“One of the things we’re trying to do is develop the education component of sustainability, and we’re trying to add another ‘hands-on’ component to a liberal arts education. One of the most rewarding parts of teaching out here is seeing students who have never really used tools quickly learning how to do things with their hands and gaining confidence in their abilities that will become a foundation for lifelong learning.”

The garden traces its origins to an environmental ethics class that included Bre Detwiler ’09, who later adopted the land as part of her Honors thesis project. The Department of Environmental Studies soon began using the space as a teaching tool, growing everything from cucumbers to okra to tomatoes to peppers.

In the garden’s earlier days, Strickland used it as a supplement to some of his courses and had students doing projects there. He said it was when the Department of Environmental Studies adopted the garden and started offering new courses fully focused on the garden such as Garden Studio and Sustainable Food Production that the garden began to blossom.

Students and alumni who tilled the garden soil this summer said they contribute to the project because of the rewards it can bring. “I’m learning something every single day and it’s an amazing opportunity to connect with different people,” said Becca Berube ’12, who graduated with a degree in international studies. ”One of the best parts of working in the garden is when people stop by and say, ‘I never knew this was here!’”

Bill Wollman ’13, an environmental science major from Raleigh, N.C., worked over the summer at the community garden and at the Loy Farm off West Front Street near South Campus.

“It’s being outside all day, which is better than working 9-5 in an office, and you feel like you’re doing some good,” he said of his motivation to prepare the new resource on South Campus for agricultural sustainability research and other university purposes.

Loy Farm will be a much larger version of the community garden with an added emphasis on research and large-scale production, said Steve Moore, a lecturer of environmental studies. The community garden will remain a demonstration site for faculty, staff, students and members of the local community, some of whom visit to rest and admire the surroundings.

Moore said it’s easy enough for students to say they’re “going organic” until they actually practice those methods in the garden – say, by trying to figure out how to keep insects off food supplies. Moore said that the difficulty of making such choices begins to emerge.

“Students need to learn that there are tough choices in the world,” he said, “and they need to face the reality of these tough choices.”

Students interested in working in the garden can register for the Garden Studio class or contact Strickland at strickl@elon.edu about the possibility of volunteering. Sudie Brown is the student manager for the garden this year and will coordinate volunteer workers.

Anyone wanting to donate tools or materials should contact Strickland or Moore (smoore24@elon.edu), and any cash or funds transfers can made through the Center for Environmental Studies, which helps manage the garden funding.