Laura Hlusko

MARC Community Garden Coordinator Laura Hlusko tends to a pea plant in the garden on Wednesday evening.

What better place to celebrate the longest day of the year than the Community Garden at the Meadville Area Recreation Complex?

And what time to celebrate the Community Garden than dusk on the summer solstice?

The MARC’s Community Garden hosts its annual Summer Solstice Party from 7 to 10 p.m. Friday with live music, craft activities for kids, potluck snacks, games and more. The event is free and open to the public.

“It’s a fun time across the country — lots of different events go on just to celebrate it being the longest day,” said Laura Hlusko, garden coordinator, “and I guess to celebrate a day we don’t get rain — my fingers are really crossed on that one.”

With the garden’s hoop house available to house amplifiers and other electronic devices, according to Hlusko, the show will go on even if the near-constant rain of recent weeks continues, but organizers hope that the day’s longest year will culminate in some actual visible sunlight as participants let the sun go down on them in the garden’s natural setting.

“It’s an absolutely beautiful event — it’ll be a late night outside for everyone, which I think is something that doesn’t always happen around here,” said Lee Scandinaro, community coordinator for the MARC. “There’s stuff for kids and adults. It’s a nice time to just relax outside and hang out in a beautiful garden.”

The tradition began a few years ago, Scandinaro said, when the Community Garden first opened. Garden officials wanted to draw people into the new public space and noticed that while plenty of events were timed around other parts of the summer — Memorial Day, the Fourth of July, the annual Crawford County Fair — no one seemed to be marking the summer solstice.

Astronomically speaking, the summer solstice marks the day the sun appears at its northernmost point in the sky — usually June 21. The winter solstice marks the day the sun reaches its southernmost point as seen from earth. The variation is due to the tilt of earth’s axis and in Pennsylvania the summertime result is more than 15 hours of sunlight on the summer solstice. Whether that sunlight penetrates the rain clouds called for in the latest weather forecast is another question.

Visitors may come for the music or to let their children spend some time painting petals that will be attached to wooden flowers decorating the garden. Perhaps they’ll come to enjoy some games or just socialize around the bonfire. Whatever the reason, Hlusko hopes they’ll take away one thing in particular.

“They can always come down and visit,” she said. “I guess that’s the hope.”

When they visit, she continued, people will find 30 beds alongside one edge of the garden. The beds are available for rent at the beginning of each season for just $30, which includes access to the garden’s water supply, tools and compost. Opposite the rental beds, visitors will find shared community garden space that’s open to anyone.

At this time of summer, the garlic is close to harvesting, Hlusko said, and the distinctive vibrant red of the Swiss chard stems and leaf veins will catch the eye. Hlusko delivered five bundles of chard and 15 heads of lettuce from the garden to the Stone United Methodist Church soup kitchen on Wednesday.

Carrots are approaching harvest time as well, Hlusko said, and recently planted mammoth sunflowers, which should be 10 to 15 feet tall by summer’s end, have been struggling to make headway against all the rain.

Amidst the bountiful setting, local musician Doug Morris will ring in International Make Music Day, Scandinaro said, during an event that each year draws people from multiple walks of life.

“It’s a good opportunity to meet new people,” he said.

Mike Crowley can be reached at 724-6370 or by email at mcrowley@meadvilletribune.com.

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