By Michele J. Kuhn
SHREWSBURY – Ripe red tomatoes, green peppers, purple eggplant and bouquets of basil dot the Shrewsbury Community Garden only two months after the first plants went into the ground.
The garden, located in a fenced area behind Shrewsbury Borough Hall on Sycamore Avenue, is a community project that began as an idea less than a year ago, and is now a lush plot providing vegetables to residents and for Lunch Break, the Red Bank soup kitchen and food pantry.
Public meetings were held last November and December about the concept, the use of borough property and its assistance was approved by the borough in April, and on July 2 the first plants went into the ground.
“It’s really remarkable” how quickly it came together, said Maureen B. Collins, president of the Shrewsbury Garden Club, who is a member of the borough committee overseeing the project. “It moved forward at such an unbelievable pace… The borough has been so supportive.”
A formal ribbon-cutting for the garden has been scheduled for 10 a.m. Saturday, Sept. 15. Mayor Donald Burden, Council President Thomas Menapace and Greg Vermilyea, who is chair of the Shrewsbury Community Garden Committee, are expected to attend.
The event is being held “to show we did it,” said Menapace, who has a plot in the community garden.
“We are really proud of this,” he said. “I think the word ‘community’ says it all. Other than the obvious benefit of growing good, fresh produce for our tables, the garden has promoted a real sense of community. People see people they haven’t seen in years or they met people there with a common interest.
“People give each other tips and share information,” said Menapace, who is the council liaison to the garden committee. That sense of community “is really a nice byproduct,” Collins agrees.
“The value of gardening together has been a real plus for me,” she said. “I have learned so much by talking to everyone.”
Collins, who said she initially worked in the planning phase, and then partook in the planting and growing phase, is now in the “recipe phase” of gardening as she looks for a variety of ways to use her garden bounty.
Resident Pamela MacNeill was happy to get a garden plot. She had wanted to grow vegetables in her yard but was hampered by marauding deer, rabbits and other wildlife.
The 8-foot high wire and wood fence, which surrounds the community garden, has helped keep the site from becoming a salad bar for deer. The wire is dug about 2 feet into the earth and that has discouraged rabbits and groundhogs from burrowing under the fence into the garden, which is located on a site that has been known as “gopher field.”
The fence has a combination lock to help prevent the gate from accidently being left open and to dissuade people from helping themselves to the fruits – and vegetables – of others labors.
“I like growing things,” MacNeill said. “I love coming out here and seeing what I’m growing here.”
MacNeill and Della Benevides are among the people who help tend rows of vegetables grown for donation to Lunch Break. About a third of the produce grown in the garden has been donated.
This year’s garden has a fairly large area set aside for the soup kitchen because the garden wasn’t ready for planting until July. The 65 plots, measuring 4-by-15, were not all snapped up by residents so some of the land was dedicated this year to help the agency while others got more space than expected.
Many gardeners, particularly those who have double-sized plots, also have dedicated small parts of their tracts for the Plant a Row for Hunger program, sponsored by the national Garden Writers Association. The community garden has been supplying Lunch Break with lots of fresh vegetables to be used in the food they serve to clients.
“One of my duties is to keep this section watered and weeded and harvested… It’s been really special,” MacNeill said. “When you look at the garden now, it’s doing great and these vegetables go to Lunch Break.”
“I’ve really taken ownership for this,” Benevides said. “It’s my garden.”
When not working on the Lunch Break portion of the garden, Benevides has been growing tomatoes, basil and zucchini – much of which was hit gardenwide by a destructive squash vine borer. She is now planting vegetables that can withstand cooler weather, like broccoli.
“For me this has worked out really well,” said Benevides, who retired from Fort Monmouth after 37 years of working for the government and volunteered for the garden committee group that crafted the rules and regulations. “It’s a good way to meet people. I’ve lived in Shrewsbury only six years… Since the garden opened, I’ve met lots of new people.”
As the days get shorter and the nights cooler, some members of the community garden are thinking about next season. Organizers hope that, since the garden will be available for spring planting, more residents will ask for a plot.
“Everyone has begun thinking about next year,” Benevides said.