Elon Academy receives grant for sustainable gardening course

Funding will help Alamance County high school scholars learn more about healthy eating while engaging them in scientific pursuits.


The Burroughs Wellcome Fund, a private foundation located in North Carolina, has awarded the Elon Academy a three-year grant to fund a summer course and a year-round class for local high school scholars involved in the university’s college access and success program.

The grant strengthens existing partnerships between the Elon Academy, the Elon Community Garden managed by the university’s Department of Environmental Studies, the Campus Kitchen at Elon University food program and the nonprofit Urban Roots organization in Greensboro, N.C.

The $169,170 from the Burroughs Wellcome Fund Student Science Enrichment Program (SSEP) provides funding for Elon University students to work along side the high school students in the Elon Community Garden near the university’s Academic Village and Elon’s Campus Kitchen. In addition the grant will provide honorariums for consultants and guest lecturers; supplies, cameras, textbooks and transportation; money for Elon Academy scholars and Elon faculty to share their work at professional conferences.

Led by Professor Deborah Long, the Elon Academy piloted a summer garden course in 2011 for students to learn about sustainable gardening and nutrition. Titled “The Life of a Pizza,” scholars made site visits to local dairies, ground wheat, made their own tomato sauce using heirloom tomatoes, and grew vegetable toppings in the garden. Many teenagers today do not exhibit healthy eating habits and don’t know where their food comes from, Long said. The “Let’s Move Elon Academy” classes that the grant supports will assist scholars in making healthier lifestyle and dietary choices as well as teach them and their families about gardening in their own backyards.

“I have a long history of concern about how we feed our children,” Long said. “This has always been my soapbox! I just couldn’t figure out a way to address this issue in the Elon Academy until this year.”

The Burroughs Wellcome Fund grant allows the Elon Academy to bring parents and relatives into the course, Long said. She said she plans for Elon Academy students to write a book about their gardening experience to share with readers elsewhere about how it’s possible to grow healthy foods in small spaces to supplement a healthy and balanced diet.

Yet another benefit to be derived from the grant is the involvement of scholars in giving back to the community. The food that is produced in the garden will go to local food pantries. The Elon Community Garden is a source of fresh produce for Campus Kitchen at Elon University, a program run through the Kernodle Center for Service Learning and Community Engagement that takes unserved food from campus dining halls, packages it into boxed meals, and then works through local nonprofits to distribute the packages to people in need in Alamance County.

“The Burroughs Wellcome Fund grant is an outstanding opportunity to expand the impact of the Elon Community Garden into the Burlington community through our partnering with the Elon Academy,” said Assistant Professor Michael Strickland, who teaches in the environmental studies department and coordinates activities in the community garden. “Not only does the grant provide immediate funding for needed tools and materials, but also for the ongoing costs associated with any garden, such as seeds, plants, soil amendments, mulch and the ubiquitous-but-always-unexpected hardware issues, such as leaky hoses, broken sprinklers, or rusty gate hinges.

“When Deborah told us she was taking the lead on this grant opportunity I was pretty excited. As soon as I saw a first draft I knew we had an excellent shot, as this program fit all the parameters of the grant and more.”

Based in North Carolina’s Research Triangle Park, the Burroughs Wellcome Fund is a private foundation “dedicated to advancing the biomedical sciences by supporting research and other scientific and educational activities.” Its mission in part is to help scientists early in their careers develop as independent investigators and to advance fields in the basic biomedical sciences that are undervalued or in need of particular encouragement. The goals of “Let’s Move Elon Academy” are to increase students’ competence in science, increase their enthusiasm for science, and to expose them to possible careers in science.

Launched by Elon University in 2007, the Elon Academy is a college access and success program for academically promising high school students with a financial need and/or no family history of college. It combines a month-long residential program over three successive summers with follow-up experiences during the academic year.

Academy staff work with advocates from all six high public high schools and River Mill Public Charter School, as well as Alamance-Burlington School System staff to identify, select, and support bright, highly motivated students who dream of a college education. Support for students continues through their college graduation.