Virtual plant adoption supports Elon’s Community Garden

Students from Michael Strickland's Garden Studio Class held a virtual plant adoption for the rehoming of plants that would have been sold at the annual Strawberry Festival.

The annual Strawberry Festival hosted by the Garden Studio Class is a favorite among students, faculty, staff and community members. In anticipation of this spring’s celebration, the Garden Studio Class planted basil, tomato, peppers, flowers and other plants in January with plans to sell them at the festival on Friday, May 1.

When Elon community events were canceled or moved online in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, the Garden Studio Class was left with hundreds of homeless plants and no festival at which to sell them. But the class continued to grow and thrive, just like the plants, and decided to hold a Virtual Plant Adoption.

Assistant Professor of English Lina Kuhn visits Elon’s Community Garden to pick up the plants she bought through the plant adoption.

“I knew after all of the changes and cancellations due to the novel coronavirus 2019 that we should still have some sort of plant adoption because of all of the inventory in the greenhouse that I seeded during the winter,” Garden Manager and Garden Studio Teaching Assistant Robyn Lane ’20 said. “After brainstorming some ideas with the Garden Studio students, we came up with our plant adoption. The Festival Planning and PR and Outreach teams were super important in making this all happen.”

The class PR and Outreach team worked remotely with the Festival Planning team to create content advertising the adoption on the Elon Community Garden Instagram. Volunteers from the class who are still on campus claimed a day of the week to take care of the garden and the greenhouse to make sure all the plants were healthy and happy before adoption.

“My experience working in the Elon greenhouse and Community Garden has been surreal as I become increasingly aware that the natural world carries on as usual, with insects buzzing around and birds working busily to their nests, all while the world as I know it has generally come to a stop,” Greenhouse Manager Angie Stevenson said.

Stevenson has been on campus taking care of the plants several times per week during the stay-at-home order, taking precautions to ensure health and safety are priorities.

“No one has been handling the plants who has shown any symptoms of COVID-19 or who has come into contact with others who are known to have the virus. I was the only person to complete the just under 100 orders,” Lane said.

The plant adoption was extremely successful and has raised more funds to support the Community Garden than any Strawberry Festival has in the past.

“The new model of online plant adoption is going gangbusters,” said Michael Strickland, lecturer in environmental studies and English, and the course’s instructor. “This will likely be a hybrid form for the future. We won’t give up our festival and in-person plant adoption there, but the online option is so convenient for folks. Since the demand has been so great, we see it as having real potential for the future.”

Lane said managing the sale was sometimes challenging but ultimately the experience was fulfilling. “It’s been stressful at times to fill all of the orders and make this all happen,” Lane said. “But seeing people come and smile while picking up their plant orders has made my entire semester.”