Growing a success

STEM of Moorestown holds spring cleanup at pollinator garden

Special to The Sun: The volunteer effort at Swede Run Fields’ pollinator garden will involve weeding the site and spreading mulch.

Save the Environment of Moorestown (STEM) is looking for volunteer help with its spring cleanup at the Swede Run Fields native pollinator garden next month.

“This will be the third growing season for the garden, and what we want to do is just kind of get it ready for spring,” said STEM President Mark Pensiero.

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The cleanup – scheduled for on Saturday, April 1, at 9 a.m. – will involve weeding the site and spreading mulch. Residents who volunteer are encouraged to bring their favorite gardening tools.

STEM was formed by a small group of Moorestown residents – Barbara Rich, Esther Yanai, Kay Smith and Renee Boulis – to raise awareness of local environmental issues through a community-based organization. Since its formation, STEM has preserved and protected more than 275 acres of land in the township, including South Valley Woods and Swede Run Fields.

STEM installed a 4,500-square-foot native pollinator garden adjacent to the township dog park in 2021. It is now home to more than 1,200 plants. The organization won a grant for the plants from the Xerces Society, a nonprofit that protects wildlife through the conservation of invertebrates and their habitats. 

Volunteers spent more than 100 hours designing, preparing and installing the garden, and Pensiero is proud of how it’s evolved.

“The first year was very maintenance intensive, particularly keeping it watered, because there were tiny little 1-inch or 2-inch plugs that we put in and now some of these plants are 6 feet tall,” he recalled. 

“It’s pretty incredible.”

Special to The Sun: “I think the garden has been a wonderful success, and a nice showpiece for what people can do with native plants to help out pollinators,” said Mark Pensiero, president of STEM.

Last year, STEM received an award for the garden from the ANJEC (Association of New Jersey Environmental Commissions) for outstanding environmental achievement.  According to its website, the nonprofit helps state environmental commissions, individuals and other stakeholders preserve natural resources and sustainable communities as it promotes local environmental efforts.

“I think the garden has been a wonderful success, and a nice showpiece for what people can do with native plants to help out pollinators,” Pensiero noted.

STEM volunteers care for their own sections of the pollinator garden, of which there are nine.

“Each of those sections has an owner, and that person is responsible for weeding, watering and mulching their garden,” Pensiero explained. “So, we’ll follow the same process.”

Along with the township and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, STEM also turned the 75-acre parcel across from the dog park into a meadow of native grasses and pollinator plants. Since its completion, Pensiero has seen grassland species such as Field Sparrow, Savannah Sparrow and Grasshopper Sparrow there.

“Many times in the big field I saw Northern Harrier, which is a threatened bird in the state of New Jersey, it’s not very common anymore,” he said. “ … It’s really neat to have those out there this year as well … 

“Those are all good signs that we’re having success with that field, to make it more valuable to different types of wildlife.”

Residents interested in volunteering for the cleanup at Swede Run Fields can sign up through a link on STEM’s official Facebook page.

“I think it helps build a sense of community,” Pensiero observed of seeing people come together to help with the garden. “That’s one of the blessings we have in this township … 

“Moorestown has this wonderful spirit of volunteerism that really makes the town come together and be such a wonderful place to live.”

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