By John Burton
RED BANK – The rocky road to establishing a community garden has yielded a harvest of involvement and cooperation for the gardeners and community.
“I think this has truly become a community effort,” said Elizabeth Seydell, who chairs the community garden committee.
Located on Marion Street, just west of Eastside Park, the garden, which is in its first year, is a 30-by-80 foot plot of a 5,281 square-foot borough-owned property. The garden has 14 plots measuring an average of 4-by-16 feet, with room for two more – though that property is being held for a possible easement for the neighboring homeowner.
The plots were awarded on a first-come, first-served basis, with gardeners paying $25 for the season’s use. There is a waiting list for plots, Seydell said.
Among those tending their crops are families, some with young children, singles, seniors, and the local Girl Scout troop, all who relish the opportunity to plant and sow – even in such small patches, Seydell said.
“There is a great sense of community” there, said Cindy Burnham, who spearheaded the idea a couple of years ago. Burnham, who does not have a plot, said the gardeners are all working together, offering advice and help. “It really is people helping people.”
Discussions about establishing a community garden, going back about two years, became startlingly heated and controversial. The debate wasn’t so much about the garden itself – all parties insisted they wanted one – but instead about location.
Burnham and her allies had been advocating for using a borough-owned property at 94 West Front St., located next to the public library and overlooking the Navesink River.
Mayor Pasquale Menna and the Borough Council insisted that site was inappropriate for use as a garden for a number of reasons, including not being centrally located and lack of parking. Borough officials also had reservations about using the limited amount of borough-owned open space for a small number of residents. The library’s board of trustees also worried about how use of the property would impact their facility.
Proponents continued to push, quite vocally and pointedly, for the Front Street site, insisting no other borough-owned location was as good for this use.
Burnham, who is now on the Republican ticket for Borough Council, also continued to allege Menna and the council, all Democrats, were planning to ultimately sell the property, which they strenuously denied.
Years later the tract remains borough property.
Menna eventually convened the committee to look at potential garden sites and advise the council. The council finally decided the Marion Street site was the only workable one.
“Everything has been going beautifully” at the site, Burnham said last week.
Seydell noted that the contentious back and forth was “worth it in the end.”
A lifelong borough resident, Seydell said that as a child, she and her father, Bud Riegelman, would use Fair Haven’s community garden when space was available. She cherished those experiences. “I think a community garden is a wonderful experience for everybody,” she said.
Gardeners this season are growing tomatoes, lettuce, cucumbers, zucchini, eggplant, string beans and cabbage.
“We even got some corn growing,” Burnham said.
About a dozen members of Girl Scout Troop 1556 are growing vegetables and flowers, including sunflowers and colorful zalias, said Jenny Rossano, a troop leader.
“It’s really nice to see them out there” and enjoying the work, Rossano said. She also hopes the scouts take away a lesson. “I hope they appreciate where their food comes from,” she said.
“There is something about putting something in the ground and watching it grow and then it’s available to eat, or to give to someone that is so special,” Seydell said. “It’s an amazing learning experience.”
“We want this to be more than just a garden,” Burnham said. “We want it to be an educational aid.”
Garden committee meetings are held at the garden on the first Tuesday of the month.