Community garden in preparation for spring opening

The garden will offer 18 plots of soil to gardeners interested in producing their own vegetables, herbs or flowers.

The opportunity to plant homegrown produce, herbs or flowers is once again in bloom at the Washington Township Community Gardens in Washington Lake Park.

Community members are able to apply for a 10’x10’ plot to use throughout the season. There are 18 plots available located near the Greentree Road entrance to Washington Lake Park, however there is the potential to expand to 36 plots if there is enough interest.

The Environmental Commission and Open Space Committee are planning to hold a grand opening on April 1, once the gardens are primed for planting. The plots are being prepared for incoming gardeners this spring to grow plants, vegetables and flowers by the public works department, the Environmental Commission, the Open Space Committee and volunteers.

“A lot of people, especially children, assume vegetables come off the shelf in a grocery store,” said Leon Lakritz, Open Space Committee and Environmental Commission chairman. “This gives them the opportunity to start from the seed and produce an edible product — tomatoes, cucumber, squash, flowers, whatever you desire.”

New this year will be a free beginners course in gardening held by the master gardeners on March 20. The program will be open to the public in the Municipal Building and offer tips and techniques for gardening. Water lines will also be extended to the center of the garden, making it easier for gardeners to reach their plants without disturbing neighboring plots. Lakritz mentioned additional amenities, such as a bench in the shade to enjoy the gardens on the side.

Vicky Binetti, vice chair of the Environmental Committee, said there might be a fee in the upcoming season to fund expendables such as watering cans, wheelbarrows and other tools made available to gardeners. To charge participating community members, the township council must pass a resolution. If the resolution were to pass, Binetti expects the fees to be between $10 and $20 with incentives for early sign-up. Binetti said Councilman Nick Fazzio has been a benefactor of the community garden, donating his council salary for utilities such as fencing and a nearby shed, which have helped alleviate costs.

The community gardens opened for the first time last year, hosting 10 plots claimed by community gardeners. The garden was introduced with the help of students from Rowan and Rider universities and St. Augustine Preparatory School. The process began when Rowan University student Jimmy Perry emailed former mayor Barbara Wallace about considering a community garden for the township after studying the food industry and sustainable farming.

Perry joined Open Space Committee member Andrew Gerber and volunteers Ryan Waters and Sean Kennedy, researching other communities’ successful gardens and together developed a plan. Public works employees tilled the soil and prepared the area with fencing and signs.

“The community garden has been an asset that brings together members of our community. It has allowed residents, who lack a yard large enough, the opportunity to grow their own food,” said Councilman Sean Longfellow, liaison to the Environmental Commission. “Thankfully, we have a great group of people in the Environmental Commission who are always seeking to better our community.”

The guidelines for gardeners encourage eco-friendly practice, such as minimizing chemical fertilizers, pesticides and weed repellants, as well as proper treatment of fellow gardening neighbors and their crops.

“One of the things we like to encourage through all of our activities, but it’s especially a focus for our green team, is to eat locally produced food,” Binetti said. “We’re very fortunate to have a lot of farms in our area, but to actually grow one’s own food is a special benefit; it’s fresher, you know where it came from, you can control what you do or don’t do while it’s growing, so it is more nutritious. We also eliminate the cost of transporting food over distances.”

A section of the gardening area is reserved for park rangers and volunteers as they grow tomatoes each year to donate to Mother’s Cupboard, a local food bank that helps residents in need.

In June, Washington Township will be submitting for the bronze certification with Sustainable Jersey, the first level of recognition for sustainable efforts. To be certified with the non-profit organization that “supports community efforts to reduce waste, cut greenhouse gas emissions, and improve environmental equity, by empowering communities to build a better world for future generations,” the township must fulfill specific requirements. The community garden will help demonstrate the township’s dedication to a sustainable lifestyle.

“As a community, you get that certification if you do a number of actions, demonstrating through either programs, or ordinances, or specific activities that you really are trying to protect the environment, its people and the business community so it is sustained into the future,” Binetti said. “It’s a badge of honor; it’s recognition that you are seriously anticipating what you want your community to be in the future and you’re building toward that,” Binetti said.

For more information on the community garden or to submit an application, visit the township website, www.twp.washington.nj.us, or call (856) 589–0520, ext. 287.