This summer, the Scotch Plains Community Garden will feed as many as 250 local families and it all starts now. Today marks the first planting day at the Homefirst community garden at 1632 Mountain Avenue, Scotch Plains.
All are invited to enjoy the sunshine and plant the first seedlings that will grow into fresh produce for the homeless, disabled and seniors in need throughout Union County. This annual grand opening is open to all from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. on Sunday, May 20.
“We opened the first community garden outside our Family Success Center in Plainfield in 2009 because we recognized the growing need to provide fresh produce for the families we serve in Union County,” Homefirst Executing Director Ellen McGovern said. “Purchasing fresh vegetables is very expensive so we began to grow our own.”
McGovern, a social worker has been a part of Homefirst’s mission to offer permanent solutions for the homeless for more than five years. The nonprofit, Plainfield based location helps homeless families throughout Union County find transitional or affordable permanent housing while providing emergency services and prevention assistance.
Families who receive produce from the community garden also help out in the gardens and receive nutritional counseling and cooking education to provide long lasting solutions for healthy living.
“Our harvest goes to the Family Success Center and we have a chef who will be cooking and teaching our families creative ways to eat healthy,” Karen Berk said.
The Scotch Plains garden has developed many creative ways to maintain the garden. Rainwater is harvested in large barrels to water the garden. The garden also has its own composting plant. This season the garden will be growing a variety of spring greens, pumpkins, peppers, zucchini, turnips, radishes, tomatoes, eggplants, cucumber and other vegetables.
Berk, a horticultural therapist by trade also expressed the therapeutic benefits of working in the garden. This year, local volunteers built raised planters so that those who cannot bend over or are in wheel chairs can also enjoy the benefits of working in the garden.
McGovern expressed that the community gardens have helped volunteers to develop a direct bond with those they are helping.
“I find it thrilling to watch our youth volunteers gain a sense of awareness,” McGovern said. “They really come away with an understanding that whether you are poor, or homeless, or disabled, everybody is the same; we all have the need for food. We had a Girl Scout group from Scotch Plains work side by side with a Girl Scout group from Plainfield – they come from completely different worlds but in the garden they are all the same.”
The Scotch Plains Community Garden has inspired many from the community to take a more active role. A Scotch Plains Girl Scout will be working with the garden to achieve her Gold Award and a Bat Mitzvah student at Temple Shalom is raising funds to build a hot house that will allow the garden to continue providing fresh produce for families all year long instead of just in the spring and summer months.
With the Thursday morning dew still glistening on the freshly sprouted spinach and Swiss chard, a group of students from the Wardlaw Hartridge School in Edison was hard at work shoveling mulch and preparing the garden for Sunday’s opening.
“I chose to volunteer here on Senior Service Day because I have always loved to garden,” WHS Senior Aneesa Sonawalla said. “It is always important to give back to the community. I wish I could do it more.”
As she gave Patch a tour of the garden, pointing out tool donations and seedlings grown by local parishioners, Berk described one her most memorable moments at Homefirst.
“I was by myself at the Plainfield garden just a few weeks ago and one of the Homefirst residents there came out and spent an hour with me, talking and planting. It was truly remarkable for both of us,” Berk said. “It was time for us to connect and a teaching moment for her. That’s really what this is all about.”
All are invited to plant at the Scotch Plains Community Garden from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. today. The garden is located at 1632 Mountain Avenue, Scotch Plains. If you are interested in volunteering at any time during the summer, contact volunteer coordinator, Gregory Reese at Gregory@homefirst.org.