A disability-friendly plot at the Williamstown Community Garden has been built through a grant awarded to Rowan University by the New Jersey Division of Disability Services.
“There has been a little bit of a refocus in the last few years about inclusion,” said Patrick McDevitt, chair of Sustainable Monroe Township. “Any organization, whether it is town hall or the community garden, should represent your community. So we want to diversify a little bit of our clientele, and this was a great opportunity to do that.”
The state grant allocates $250,000 for the construction of inclusive garden plots in community gardens across South Jersey. Each garden has a budget of around $6,000 to create elevated planters that are wheelchair accessible, as well as stone pavers and ramps for easy access.
The company Backyard Garden LLC created the designs and completed the construction in Williamstown on May 10. Although there are plans to construct multiple plots across South Jersey, the Williamstown site was the first to be completed.
“There are recommendations for different types of heights and certain physical disabilities, so we tried to match that as accurately as possible,” said Alex Seidel from Backyard Garden. “There is one you can roll under; the one in the back corner is a little less than 3 feet, so you don’t have to bend over. We just kept everything in the recommended range.”
Not only will the garden be handicap accessible, but the sustainability team has plans to put together education sessions for members of the garden on how to best welcome their newfound neighbors and communicate with them to create a positive experience for everyone.
The garden has already welcomed its first family: Charlotte, Nathan and Brenda Borgersen. The inclusive plots are free for interested members of the community. There are currently about five open plots left in the garden for purchase; applications for those spots are still being accepted.
“We are thrilled with it so far,” said McDevitt. “We would be happy to help anyone who is interested.”
The inclusive gardening plots are only one part of plans created by Rowan University to bring more opportunities to the community. Parts of the grant will also be used to build community gardens at group homes for people with disabilities, as well as cooking classes for their residents.
The cooking classes will be taught through a collaboration with Rowan University Dietetic Students and students from Stockton University who are studying occupational therapy.
The other inclusive gardens can be found in Glassboro, Camden and Atlantic City.