In 2016, the Freeholder Board provided matching grants for 19 garden projects in 10 municipalities, helping to jumpstart the community garden movement in Union County. The program was administered for Union County by the nonprofit organization Groundwork Elizabeth. The grants supported new gardens, garden expansions, fencing, irrigation, sheds, tools and other supplies, and educational programs.
The garden grants also covered pollinator plots intended to attract bees, butterflies and other valuable pollinators. In its first season, the Scotch Plains – Fanwood Community Garden provided a caterpillar habitat for the Eastern Black Swallowtail butterfly.
For more details about the Community Garden Grants program, or to get in touch with any of the 2016 awardees, contact the Union County Office of Public Information, 908-527-4346 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Elizabeth Coalition to House the Homeless, Bernice’s Place “Peace Garden”
118 Division Street, Elizabeth
Head gardeners at the Peace Garden believe that gardens increase a sense of community ownership in addition to teaching agriculture concept skills to youth and their families. Volunteers plan to grow tomatoes, spinach, peppers, broccoli, asparagus, strawberries, and melons in the garden.
The garden grant gives the Peace Garden the chance to expand and enhance their garden with the purchase of garden tools, compost bin, garden cart, lawnmower, and a storage container. The Peace Garden will surely provide opportunities for children and families to learn for years to come.
Jewish Family Service
655 Westfield Avenue, Elizabeth
For the last four years, the JFS Urban Community Garden has been a great source of fresh produce for residents of Union County. It educates the community on the benefits of gardening and encourages them to volunteer. The garden currently grows produce that require little to no preparation, including tomatoes, cucumbers, peppers, eggplants, and green beans.
With the grant money, the JFS Urban Community Garden plans to fix and expand their planting area specifically built for seniors. This area is 32 sq. ft. and the plans include expanding it to 48 sq. ft.
Elizabeth Public Library, Elmora Branch
740 West Grand Street, Elizabeth
Librarians believe the creation of a community garden will strengthen the community, build connections, and enrich lives.
Community garden volunteers will learn how to properly construct and manage a garden, irrigation, composting, and other urban food production methods. Garden volunteers will grow a wide variety of produce including cucumbers, sweet potatoes, basil, and pumpkins.
Josephine’s Place (Sisters of Charity of Saint Elizabeth)
622 Elizabeth Avenue, Elizabeth
Josephine’s Place plans to expand their garden as an incentive for neighbors to harvest and enjoy the produce. Volunteers from schools, churches, and more tend to the garden and learn how to care for the earth.
With the grant money, Josephine’s Place can expand their garden, purchase garden tools, and plant more produce for the community and volunteers to enjoy.
Hillside Victory Community Garden
242 Pennsylvania Avenue (at Long Avenue), Hillside
Since 2009, garden volunteers, including some from Kean University and Seton Hall University, have been using the garden to learn about nature and how to cultivate their own garden.
In addition to providing volunteer opportunities for the community, the Hillside Victory Community Garden Club engages the community every year with its Annual Harvestfest in October. This event has volunteer health providers for screenings, kids’ games, and Zumba exercises. The NJ Community Foodbank shares recipes and cooking demonstrations based on the produce grown in the garden.
Communities in Cooperation (Linden Community Center)
1025 John Street, Linden
Since its beginning five years ago, the mission of the CIC has always been to use gardening to facilitate social change and educational opportunities throughout the volunteers, families, and community. Volunteers come from the youth mentoring program, the juvenile justice program, and a few families from the Linden Family Success Center.
The garden is a great opportunity for residents to have access to fresh produce, which is especially important because the garden is located in the heart of Linden’s most impoverished area.
Currently, the CIC grows tomatoes, cucumbers, eggplant, cabbage, peppers, as well as other vegetables and herbs. The grant money allows the CIC to expand their garden to 320 sq. ft. and add two larger garden beds.
Dill Avenue (in public park), Linden
Sunny Gardens is a place where young and old come together to learn about planting and taking care of their own gardens. The garden is currently 50’x25’ and plans to expand, increasing the number of raised garden beds so that more residents can grow their own flowers and produce.
Sunny Gardens provides a therapeutic and stress relief benefits for garden volunteers. Various fruits and vegetables like cabbage, peppers, and strawberries are grown in the gardens; volunteers are encouraged to get creative and grow foods they never would be able to otherwise.
1378 Springfield Avenue (in Recreation Center, by tennis courts), New Providence
The garden is currently 6,300 sq. ft. and is planning to expand. With the expansion, New Providence Community Gardens hopes that more residents volunteer their time so they too can have access to fresh, pesticide-free produce.
Garden maintenance encourages exercise and outdoor recreation – two factors that the New Providence Community Gardens believe will help lessen the effects of Type 2 Diabetes. Access to healthy foods will also help lower the rate of the disease.
Grace Episcopal Church, Grace’s Community Garden
600 Cleveland Avenue, Plainfield
The church is home to Grace’s Kitchen, a volunteer-led effort to feed the hungry on the last five days of every month. The new garden will assist Grace’s Kitchen in feeding the hungry with meals using the fresh produce grown in the garden. Grace’s Community Garden also encourages neighbors, children of Sunday school, and children of after school programs to volunteer their time in the garden to grow their own vegetables.
Volunteers will grow vegetables like cucumbers, cabbage, peppers, tomatoes, carrots and herbs to use in their own meals.
Richmond Towers (residence for seniors and people with disabilities)
510-520 East Front Street, Plainfield
The Richmond Towers Resident’s Garden will have four 10’x10’ lots, a few raised garden beds, and a greenhouse.
The Richmond Towers Resident Association believes the garden will beautify the surrounding area and provide therapy, education, recreation, and exercise for volunteers. The Association plans to have volunteers grow tomatoes, bell peppers, cabbage, Brussel sprouts, hot peppers, lettuce, and other vegetables.
JFK Community Center (garden is located across the street from JFK Center)
796 East Hazelwood Avenue, Rahway
JFK Center Community Garden offers fresh produce and serves as a learning center through its education program lead by Master Garden Debra Stuart. The garden measures ¼ acre and allows Rahway residents –- most of who reside in “Food Desert” areas– to have access to freshly grown vegetables.
The education program teaches children as young as 3 years old more about gardening, nutrition and the environment, and also emphasizes civic pride through volunteer opportunities. Some of the fresh produce found in the garden includes tomatoes, collards, eggplant, kale, squash, and green beans. The garden volunteers are students, parents of the students, and other community members.
JFK Center is planning to expand from 10 currently existing beds to 40 beds and plans on having flowers to attract butterflies and bees that will pollinate fruits and vegetables in the area.
B.T & Diane Mathis Garden (Amalfe Community Center)
1268 Shaffer Avenue, Roselle
The BT Mathis and Diane Mathis Community Garden is more than just a place to grow food. The 1,800 sq. ft. garden is a place for volunteers to reconnect with nature.
The garden is very well used by residents who have been successful at producing strawberries and other fruits. It is a source of delicious, fresh, high quality produce to all residents. Some of the vegetables that grow in the garden include tomatoes, cucumbers, peas, squash, green beans, and even corn and much more.
Senior citizens and volunteers of all ages help tend the community garden. The volunteers and all residents who interact with the garden enjoy therapeutic and physical benefits such as stress relief. This garden is a safe haven for the youth as it provides personalized experience in gardening, nature, and community.
Roselle Park Community Garden (unique hay bale garden)
133-137 Valley Road
The Borough of Roselle Park Environmental Committee is planning to expand and enhance the Roselle Park Community Garden. The garden is in its second year and is 125’x100’ with 250 straw bales. Volunteers of the Roselle Park Community Garden believe the garden brings the community together and teaches volunteers about cultural traditions and responsibility.
The garden currently grows a variety of produce like basil, beefsteak tomatoes, eggplant, Brussel sprouts, turnips, strawberries, and more. The Roselle Park Community Garden also has fifteen straw bales designated to grow produce for the local food pantry.
Gateway Family YMCA
1564 Irving Street, Rahway
The Gateway Family of the Rahway Branch YMCA is expanding its Square Foot Garden. The garden began in 2008 and since then it has helped youth connect with nature and learn how to become better eaters.
By volunteering their time in the garden, children and their families are able to practice Environmental Stewardship, teamwork, responsibility, and respect. The garden currently grows a wide variety of fruits, vegetables, herbs, and flowers.
Scotch Plains-Fanwood Community Garden (site of Frazee House and former Terry Lou Zoo)
1451 Raritan Road, Scotch Plains
From a barren field… …to a thriving garden, in one season!
The Scotch Plains Fanwood Community Garden will be approximately 100’x80’ and include 30 raised garden beds.
Head gardeners believe a garden will encourage youth and adult residents to develop a sense of community as well as educating them on the environment. The garden will also provide therapeutic benefits with the inclusion of a meditation and reflection section.
The Scotch Plains Fanwood Community Garden plans to grow a variety of vegetables like corn, potatoes, beets, tomatoes, eggplant, garlic, with other fruits and herbs. The garden will also obtain garden tools, a compost bin, and fence that will all contribute to the garden’s success with residents.
Avital Abraham Community Garden (garden is located on property owned by HomeFirst Interfaith Housing & Family Service)
Scotch Plains’ Homefirst Interfaith Housing & Family Services is expanding their garden. The Avital Abraham Community Garden sits on 50’x75’ plot of land and has six garden beds and two raised garden beds.
The garden’s volunteers dedicate hours of their time to maintaining the garden and growing healthy vegetables to harvest. The Avital Abraham Community Garden educates the volunteers and their families on how to grow their own produce to use at the dinner table.
Thanks to the grant, the community garden is able to purchase a compost bin, Farm & Garden program, garden beds, and flowers. These materials will assist the Avital Abraham Community Garden in providing nutrition and education for the residents for years.
165 Hobart Avenue, Summit
The Reeves-Reed Arboretum in Summit is expanding and enhancing their garden. The garden is about 17’x40’ and includes about 10 raised garden beds.
The Reeves-Reed Arboretum is a non-profit garden and environmental center that educates volunteers and visitors on how to become stewards of the environment. Over 1000 residents volunteer at the arboretum, ranging from youth volunteers to corporate volunteers. There are also volunteers available year-round to assist with various garden upkeep. Programs at the arboretum like horticulture, environmental science, and education all enrich the minds of children in Union County.
Township of Union Community Garden
Eleanor R. Erickson Park, Union
In 2013, A group of members of the Union Garden Club were asked why Union did not have a community garden. That question inspired some of us to act. After months of finding the right location and our township’s help, we found a poison ivy covered tot lot in a public park. Our Dept. of Public Works converted the water fountain into a spigot, cleared the lot of trees and we removed the poison ivy.
We solicited for donations and even stood in front of Shop Rite shaking our cans. We received a donation from Home Depot and used it for a shed, a front gate and lumber. We quickly built 5 raised beds and our DPW donated soil.
The second year, as word got out about the garden, a close neighbor contacted us to ask if we needed lumber. His company delivered a truckload of lumber. We built 23 beds and also received a donation of soil from a local landscaping business. We continued with advertising and sold out all of our beds reserving 3 for donation purposes. We ended the growing season with 13 people on a waiting list for the 2017 season.
We have been able to turn our community garden into an environmental education platform. We have planted a butterfly garden, we are home to a vermi-composting bin, we acquired Mason bees and leaf-cutter bees, we have inoculated logs with mushroom spores, and we have built a compost bin.
The Union County Means Green grant opportunity came just in time. This extra cash allowed us to expand our space with a fence to include another 16 beds which enables more residents to enjoy their own oasis of nature in the middle of Union. Our new members will receive all the benefits of stimulating social interaction, encouraging self-reliance, beautifying neighborhoods, producing nutritious food, reducing family food budgets, conserving resources and creating opportunities for recreation, exercise, therapy and education.
We look forward to our next growing season to continue this much needed asset in our community.