Union County, NJ – A four-lane thoroughfare that threads through the heart of Union County is an unlikely spot for a miniature produce farm, and yet each year hundreds of pounds of fresh tomatoes, eggplants, peppers and other vegetables sprout up in a score of neatly spaced garden beds just a few feet away from bustling Westfield Avenue in Elizabeth.
The thriving garden is one of 18 gardens that received funding from the Union County Means Green Community Garden grant program this year. It rings the headquarters of the non-profit organization Jewish Family Service of Central New Jersey, which uses the home grown fresh produce to supplement its community nutrition programs.
“The JFS garden is an outstanding representative of the community garden movement in Union County,” said Freeholder Chairman Bruce H. Bergen. “Even a small piece of land can find new purpose as a source of fresh, locally grown produce, helping to improve nutrition and well-being in local neighborhoods.”
UC Means Green launched in 2016 as an initiative of Chairman Bergen, with the aim of bringing the community garden experience to neighborhoods throughout Union County. In all, more than two dozen gardens have received grants from the program.
“The Freeholder Board has supported a large community garden for many years — the Demonstration Garden in the Watchung Reservation, which is run by the volunteer Rutgers Master Gardeners of Union County,” explained Bergen. “It’s an invaluable community resource and we wanted to help local neighborhoods realize some of those benefits, too.”
Donating a portion of the harvest and engaging the public in recreation, education and social activities are main features of the Union County Means Green community garden grant program.
The JFS garden received a Union County Means Green grant in 2016 for the construction of special raised beds, which enable seniors to participate in garden activities without stooping or kneeling. In partnership with the non-profit organization Groundwork Elizabeth, the raised beds are used as a social activity for a group of seniors at risk of isolation.
“Community gardening is a holistic movement that links access to healthy food with civic service, environmental awareness and an opportunity to make new connections with family, friends and neighbors,” said JFS Director of Community Engagement Elie Bodner. “Our garden stretches all along the front of our building, creating a beautiful message of community strength for all to see.”
A Union County Means Green grant this year went to improve the garden’s drip irrigation system. The garden is expected to yield more than 1,600 pounds of produce this season, including apples from several trees donated by Williams Nursery of Westfield.
“Open space is a precious commodity in our area, so it’s been wonderful to see how our grant awardees bring new life to land that would otherwise go underused,” said Bergen.
Other examples among the grant awardees include the sprawling Scotch Plains – Fanwood Community Garden located on the former site of the Terry Lou Zoo, special raised beds occupying small parcels of unused ground adjacent to parking lots at the Richmond Terrace senior residence in Plainfield, and a youth garden behind the Elmora branch of the Elizabeth Public Library, which is tended by participants in the library’s teen program.
Groundwork Elizabeth is the grant administrator for UC Means Green and for Union County Kids Dig In, a new grant program for school gardens launched this year by Freeholder Vice Chairman Sergio Granados. Groundwork coordinates dozens of community gardens in Union County.
For more information about Union County Means Green contact the Union County Office of Public Information, 908-527-4346.
For quick links to all Union County environmental programs and activities visit The Green Connection, ucnj.org/green-connection.
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