Spring has sprung, and the Elon University Community Garden is oveflowing with the new season’s harvest. Cooking with local, fresh vegetables may seem unattainable, but the students in Professor Michael Strickland’s “Garden Studio” class share their tips and tricks on utilizing the garden this spring through their own healthy, simple recipes.
Senior Devon Johnson explained her meal prep plans as she harvested her mustard greens in the garden.
“At this point in the season, things in the brassica family are growing like broccoli, cauliflower, mustard greens and bok choy,” Johnson said. Her preferred meal with all of her fresh leafy greens is a quick and easy stir-fry.
Johnson uses her bok choy and kale from the garden as her base, while she adds other ingredients such as tofu, eggplant, chili paste, balsamic vinegar and turmeric powder to create her meal.
According to the Elon Community Garden website, this season brings in produce such as asparagus, peas, tomatoes, beans, cucumbers, peppers, strawberries and zucchini.
Along with this season’ s ample supply of green vegetables, Elon garden students are harvesting their personal plots filled with fruits and herbs.
Senior Emma Warman has been using the garden to make her signature drink: mint cold-brew coffee. Warman mixes her fresh mint with her favorite coffee beans to make a refreshing morning coffee in her French press.
Warman’s current cooking endeavor is homemade pizza dough using rosemary and three different types of basil from the garden.
You can even add your own toppings. Fresh basil, kale, broccoli, spinach and peppers from the garden are always a great addition.
Junior Blair Foreman said she likes to keep her garden cooking simple.
“I hope I can learn how to cook with what I am growing, but for now, I just bring my carrots to class and use them as a mid-day snack.” Although Foreman may not be cooking meals with her harvest, her breakfast go-to is a Kale and Strawberry smoothie.
“All of these ingredients can be put into a blender cup before you go to bed, and in the morning, blend it up and run to class,” said Foreman. “I am no chef, but these smoothies are good.”
All three of these Elon gardeners say their favorite garden-fresh lunch is salad, salad and salad.
“With all the leafy greens growing this time of year, it is easy to make that your base and throw in carrots, broccoli and radish,” Foreman said. “All of that is growing right here in our garden.”
Warman said when she is tired of eating salads so she makes lettuce wraps.
Students can get fresh lettuce from the garden and use it to wrap up their favorite ingredients. Warman said she normally wraps up tofu, hummus and other vegetables with a little bit of soy sauce.
Because of space constraints, Strickland says only students in the class and some club members have their own plots in the garden. Nevertheless, students can get involved by enrolling in his class, joining the club or coming to volunteer work sessions on Friday and Sunday.
Strickland’s favorite garden find is one that is available all year round: Kale.
“...It can survive the worst of winters, is prolific in spring and fall and will even survive the summers in North Carolina if in a shady spot,” he said.
Senior Caila Yates’ use of the garden goes beyond the community of Elon and into the surrounding communities of Alamance county. She got involved with the Elon Community Garden through her undergraduate research on the use of community gardens in low-income housing neighborhoods. Yates said cooking with fresh vegetables not only changes the nutrient level of the foods people eat, but also provides mental and physical support.
“Working in the garden can be a form of therapy to people,” Yates said. “It’s like a getaway from all other things in life, which can be an amazing tool for those in our surrounding communities.”
For physical health, Yates said that community gardens provide the area with inexpensive, fresh ingredients for their meals while also allowing community members to stay active and spend time outdoors. Yates has been using Elon’s Community Garden for the past two years, and plans to continue her research on its benefits after college.