Sunshine and strawberries: Elon Community Garden buzzes with activity during annual festival

Hundreds turned out for the annual Strawberry Festival and Plant Sale, an annual event produced by the Garden Studio class taught by Michael Strickland, lecturer in environmental studies and English. 

​Hot temperatures made for quick-melting strawberry ice cream at the Elon Community Garden on Friday, as hundreds turned out for the annual Strawberry Festival and Heirloom Plant Sale. 

​The festival is possible through the work of the Garden Studio class taught by Michael Strickland, lecturer in environmental studies and English. Started more than a decade ago as a gathering of about a dozen people, the festival now attracts hundreds to enjoy the bounty of the Elon Community Garden along with live music, food and children’s activities. 

​Its popularity is rooted in the fact the festival is at the very least, “an excuse to eat strawberry ice cream on a pretty day,” Strickland said. 

​A lot of work goes into preparing for a lot of fun, though. Students in the class form teams to manage various aspects of preparing for and putting on the popular event. These student teams manage separate aspects of the festival, such as growing the plants and produce that are sold or eaten, marketing the event or managing the event. 

Those involved see the Community Garden, located at 410 E. College Avenue between the Sklut Hillel Center and Powell House, as a special place on campus, Strickland said. The garden was founded as a senior honors thesis by Bree Detwiler ’07 to foster education, community discussion, sustainability and spirituality through the study and practice of local food production. The Garden Studio class was introduced in 2010 and in 2012, the garden was recognized as a certified wildlife habitat by the National Wildlife Federation. 

“They all see it as a great way to participate and celebrate the whole community garden experience,” Strickland said of his students. 

Some alumni involved with the garden during their time on campus check back in on the garden, and a few even turned out for Friday’s festival, Strickland said. 

The festival, as it does each year, attracted a wide swath of people from around campus, as well as those in the broader community, with the garden buzzing with the sounds of music, laughter and conversation. Strawberry-themed treats and refreshments included ice cream from Homeland Creamery. 

The plant sale boasted tomato plants with names like Cherokee Purple, Mortgage Lifter, Berkeley Tie Dye and a new variety this year — Brad’s Atomic Grape. There were Shishito and Chinese Five Colors peppers, along with the super-spicy Indian Ghost Peppers and Carolina Reapers. Also offered was a Tucker Sweet Banana pepper, a variety Strickland traces back to his great-grandmother. 

Profits from the plant sale are plowed back into the garden and used to buy staples and replace equipment.

Partners for the event included the Department of Environmental Studies, the Elon Center for Environmental Studies, Kappa Alpha Omicron, the Office of Sustainability, Elon Hillel, The Sierra Club, the Community Garden Club, the Elon Peace Corps Preparation Program and faculty and staff in Powell House.