Sitting inside the greenhouse next to McMichael, Alyssa Adler flips though her textbook, doing homework and warming up from the cold February day outside. Looking around, she sees the kale, carrots and broccoli slowing reaching their peak.
Going to the greenhouse and Loy Farm is a daily occurrence for Adler, who spends much of her time watering, weeding and gathering produce. As garden manager, it is her job to make sure everything goes smoothly.
“It’s hard work, but it’s very rewarding,” Adler said. “Every day you learn something new.”
The garden never sleeps
As garden manager, Adler’s main role is to delegate the tasks to garden interns that need to be done at Loy Farm and the Community Garden. She decides what plants need to be bought, where they will be planted throughout the year, and performs general upkeep.
She begins each day at 10 a.m., heading to the greenhouse to check up on things, then going to Loy Farm to do the same thing.
“It’s a never ending job because the garden never sleeps,” Adler said. “You have to deal with different situations that come up and different questions that everyone has.”
With the help of interns and volunteers, Adler gets most of her tending done on workdays Friday noon – 3 p.m. and Sundays 1 – 4 p.m. Currently, the garden is in full swing with the beginning of the growing season and lettuce, onions and cucumbers are being planted.
The garden is also growing a few exotic plants that can’t be found locally, such as the Syrian Goat Horn Pepper and the Chinese Five Color Pepper — the hottest pepper in the world.
Loy Farm has a connection with Campus Kitchen and each week food is harvested, cooked and delivered to Allied Churches and to different families in the area. This gives Adler a greater sense of where food comes from.
“I would go there and help them cook it,” she said. “So I would grow the food and see where it went, which was the best part of it, too.”
Adler is also in charge of Elon’s two major gardening events in the Community Garden: the Pumpkin Festival in the fall and Strawberry Festival, which will be held the first Friday of May and is currently being planned.
The festival is more of a celebration of the end of the year and will feature free food, live music, face painting and an exotic plant sale.
Adler and her garden gang will go to Iseley Farm pick 10 to 20 pounds of strawberries to have the festival and bake strawberry themed baked goods. Additionally, the festival will mark the 10-year anniversary, so there will be a special birthday celebration.
Falling in love with the garden
Though both of Adler’s parents worked on a farm growing up, she originally thought she would end up doing business or law. But, after a class trip to a farm her sophomore year of high school, Adler fell in love.
“When everyone else was freaking out about the dirt, I was like, ‘This is what I want to do,’” Adler said.
After that moment, she realized she wanted to pursue a track in environmental science. Adler’s love of gardening reemerged when she took Lecturer in English and Environmental Science Michael Strickland’s Garden Studio class and immediately applied to be a gardening intern for her junior year.
While working in the garden, Adler looked up to Allison Hren, the previous garden manager. She watched as Hren guided the garden group and treated the role as much more than a job.
“She had so much fun with it and was so smart and knowledgable and I was like, ‘That’s what I want to be. I want to know everything she knows and have those experiences and connections.’ She really shaped my view.”
Little did Adler know she was being watched as well.
The garden manager role is a chosen position — passed down from the previous holder. Hren approached Adler at the end of last year, explaining that she saw Adler’s passion, loved the work she was doing and offered her a position.
Adler immediately accepted — not knowing what the job entailed, with the biggest requirement being staying over the summer to work the farm, for the most part by herself.
“It was a lot of work but it was amazing,” Adler said. “You’re the one who decides where everything is planted. You weed everything constantly. You hold workshops for kids from Elon Academy.”
Sometimes waking up at 6 a.m. to do more than five hours of work during the major growing season, Adler helped Steve Moore, lecturer in environmental science, and learned more about the farm and herself than she could have imagined.
Finding a connection to nature
Adler’s most important job is to bring awareness to the garden and the farm.
“I like to bring the community together — bring students who have never heard of it or never done it before,” Adler said. “It’s getting people from all different majors out there, I think that’s the best thing you can do.”
To recruit volunteers, Adler and her team created the Garden Club and received over 150 signatures at the Org Fair this past fall. Additionally, there is a Facebook group that alerts members of the workdays.
Most of the volunteers come from word of mouth.
“Just finding two or three people, they’re like, ‘Wow. I actually enjoyed that,’ so they’ll come each week and bring friends,” Adler said. “It’s just a cycle.”
Her greatest reward is seeing the looks on students' faces when they work on the garden for the first time.
“Just getting everyone to come together from different majors, it’s like a safe space a place from Elon to destress,” Adler said. “Its interesting to see everyone’s reaction — falling in love with the garden, falling in love with nature again.”
Photos by Nic Nelson.