July 9, 2009

 

Gloucester Township hatches plot for community gardens

By ADAM SMELTZ
Courier-Post Staff

The handful of tomato plants sprouting around the Hider Lane Senior Center here are a modest, healthy bunch, watered with plastic bottles turned upside down in dried-out mulch.

Fertilizer? That's the collection of eggshells piled around the roots.

Local seniors tend to the tomatoes, plus some pepper and basil plants, hoping to scare up a little extra food for themselves and their friends there. It's not much -- just enough to make a few salads.

But the elderly gardeners, along with other Gloucester Township residents, may soon have much more dirt to work with.

The township council is weighing a tentative plan to establish three community gardens -- one each at Leonard Dramesi Sr. Memorial Park in Blackwood, Moffa's Farm near Big Timber Creek and an open-space area adjacent to the Freeway Golf Course in Sicklerville.

While specifics, including plot size and potential pricing, have not taken formal shape yet, township leaders said Wednesday that they hope to have the gardens in place by spring and make plots available to residents, organizations, schools and perhaps food banks.

Councilwoman Crystal Evans said the township's Environmental Commission has been talking about the idea for about a year. She said the mission is multidimensional, aiming to restore public knowledge of New Jersey's agricultural roots, to help nourish the growing number of poor families and to educate students about harvests.

"People need help. They need food. They need something," Evans said. "It's time for us to do something new, something different."

Mayor Cindy Rau-Hatton said the township is looking into whether the council needs to pass a formal resolution to establish the gardens, which would be planned on public lands.

She said the township also needs to examine the legality of putting gardens on property preserved under the state Green Acres Program.

Already, as many as 70 residents have expressed interest in the community-garden idea, said Robert Klein, chairman of the Environmental Commission. The township sought to monitor public interest at Gloucester Township Day festivities last month.

"Once people get an understanding of what we're trying to do and get some information," he said, they tend to flock to the cause.

The idea loosely follows the successful community-gardening program in Cherry Hill, where residents pay a regular $20 fee for use of each plot. Evans said Gloucester Township hopes to win some state grants -- money that could allow the municipality to till and water the new garden plots without charging users any kind of fee.

"It's really putting the garden back in the Garden State, right in Gloucester Township," she said. "And that's what it's all about."

Reach Adam Smeltz at (856) 486-2919 or asmeltz@gannett.com

 

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