Elon community celebrates annual Pumpkin Festival

The annual festival by the Elon University Garden Club and garden studio class was held Friday, Oct. 29, from 3 to 6 p.m. at the Elon Community Garden.

Despite cloudy skies on Friday morning, the sun came through to create the perfect fall scene for the annual Pumpkin Festival at the Elon Community Garden.

From 3 to 6 p.m., the Elon community gathered to enjoy live music from local artists, pumpkin carving, as well as autumn-based foods such as soup, hot cider and baked goods from Elon Dining/Harvest Table.

The studio garden class and Elon Community Garden Club have hosted this event since 2008. Last year, the festival was canceled due to COVID-19 restrictions, but the dozens of students in attendance and environmental studies lecturer Michael Strickland are excited to be out celebrating once again.

“It means everything,” Strickland said, who also teaches the garden studio class and advisor to the Elon Community Garden Club. “It’s not just a tradition, the students want to be outdoors and get people together.”

Each year, the students of the garden studio class have continued the tradition of the festival while adding new ideas and making their own for the next set of students. And that has continued all due to the “investment and ownership” of the students.

Strickland said that around this time every year, he’ll get an outpouring of emails for alumni asking when the Pumpkin Festival is happening. It’s a sense of being a part of something that students gravitate to when it comes to the event.

“Every year, I say to the students, ‘If you guys want to give this up, it’s OK with me. I’m getting too old for this mess.’” he said. “And they always say, ‘No, we’re not going to drop that tradition.’”

Sydney Steinberg ’22, president of the Elon Community Garden Club, said she’s especially proud that the Pumpkin Festival is the first sustainably-certified event on campus.

She realized that wanted to be involved in the garden club very early after attending the Pumpkin Festival her freshman year. Since then, she has stayed with the club and found its focus on community to be incredibly rewarding.

“We’re all about community, that’s the core of our club and class. So, it’s nice to have moments like these and see that come to fruition,” Steinberg said.

Continuing tradition, there was also the signature vegan Brunswick stew that was a staple for some attendees.

“My favorite part has been the Brunswick stew, which I haven’t had in a year,” said Victoria Colbeck ’23. “And then seeing it all come together from the planning process about a month ago to the final day.

“Those few hours building up to the event are very exhilarating. It’s kind of quiet at first, then people start coming. The energy that people bring is my favorite part.”

Colbeck took the garden studio class last year after selecting the course as one of her electives. One of her future goals is to one day have a garden of her own but couldn’t participate in the Pumpkin Festival due to it being canceled.

“It was a good outlet in the midst of the pandemic,” Colbeck said. “I think the garden is like a hidden oasis on campus. The more people that get to see it is beneficial,” Colbeck said.

Lilly Santiago ’22 said she came to the festival two years ago after hearing about it from a classmate. Now, as a senior and following the pandemic, she said she’s glad to be outdoors enjoying fellowship and friendship after being isolated.

“It’s different from other events on campus,” Santiago said. “You definitely appreciate that after all the times were there wasn’t anything going on.”

Strickland said that he’s surprised by the number of students that say they had no clue about the garden. The objective of the Pumpkin Festival, and the spring Strawberry Festival, are to highlight the community garden as a place to unwind and relax.

“Our primary goal is to get people to bond over the garden. It’s a little hidden gem on campus. People have said it’s the funkiest looking place on campus,” Strickland said. “Let people know that the garden is here and to get them accustomed to it as a cool space to go on campus to feel like you’re somewhere completely different.”