Haddonfield green thumbs flock to the community gardens

The sun is shining, the snow is behind us (knock on wood), and Haddonfield gardeners are grabbing their shovels and staking a claim to the Crows Woods Community Gardens, as the public garden begins its third decade in the Haddonfield.

Mayor Tish Colombi, Gardeners’ Membership Chairman Paul Schmeck, and Gardeners’ President Kathi Stokes officially opened the season two weeks ago and cut the ribbon on the gardening complex, letting in more than 100 gardeners to the public gardens to begin tilling their soil and planting their crops.

Started in the ’80s (Crows Woods Garden officials believe this could be the 30th anniversary, though there is some dispute), the public garden expanded this year and now offers 75 plots that come in two sizes, either 10 by 10 feet or 20 by 20 feet.

The popularity of the gardens has grown so much in the past 10 years that there is now a rather long waiting list to reserve a plot, Stokes said.

However, there are still some original gardeners — including Stokes — who have had a plot every single year since the garden’s inception. People like Caroline Berger, Helen Peitz, Mary Previte and until this year, Joan Dunphey, are still gardening each year at Crows Woods.

“There are many reasons for the popularity of growing your own food. People are concerned about what goes in their food. When you grow it, you know and can be certain that it is truly organic. Vegetables are a lot cheaper to grow then buy in the store. A package of tomato seeds is a few dollars. If you only get a few tomatoes, you are ahead. Of course we all get enough to eat, freeze, and give away,” Stokes said.

The Crows Woods facility was the brainchild of Walter Saladik, a civil engineer and Haddonfield resident who died in 2002.

His widow, Jeanne Saladik, said her husband was a visionary and instigator who saw Haddonfield’s town dump and its adjoining swamp — and dreamed of turning it into a community recreation site.

She said Walter got the job done by persuading the borough to cover the dump and level it. He bartered with contractors repaving Kings Highway and convinced them to dump their old concrete in the landfill. In exchange for a free place to dump, the contractors brought their equipment and performed some of the labor.

Today, thanks to Walter’s efforts, people like Bob and Mary Metrione — Haddonfield residents of 45 years — can till their own 20 by 20-foot piece of farmland and harvest a bumper crop of vegetables for only $20 a year.

Mary, president of the Cherry Hill Garden Club, said this year the couple is trying out corn for the first time. It’s the second year they’ve owned a plot at the community gardens, she said, and the soil is perfect for root crops, lettuce, carrots, and tomatoes.

“We have a very small yard that gets almost no sunlight, so this is nice,” Mary said. “This is a great community garden.”

Interested in signing up for the waiting list? Check out the organization’s website at www.crowswoodsgardners.com.