By: Anastasia Marchese
Mayor Ronald Francioli has high hopes for the town’s community garden that started three years ago. The garden has 144 individual garden plots and had nearly 80 gardeners sign up for spots in the year it opened. The first year the town hired a commercial firm to get the site ready and clear the land. In the second year, the town began to market the opportunity to local residents and rent plots out and now in the third season, Francioli says that the program has really taken hold.
Initially the idea came about because of the large number of people in Morris County who experience food insecurity. Over 5500 people utilize the services of the Interfaith Food Pantry during the course of the year. Many families are just one unexpected expense, like a car repair, away from needing food assistance to keep their families from hunger.
“We wanted to do something more to try to help people in need of food in our area,” said Mayor Francioli.
It was out of this determination that the idea to have a community garden in Hanover became a reality.
“We did not have a garden or farm for residents, so we took a couple of acres of land and made nearly 150 4ftx16ft plots where for a modest fee you can grow your own vegetables.”
Providing a space where people can have a garden of their own can be especially valuable for the many people who live in apartments and condominiums in the township and for whom having a garden of their own formally seemed impossible.
Francioli was not content to stop there but wanted to benefit the Interfaith Food Pantry by finding a way gardeners could donate their surplus or unneeded produce to the food bank. That is why there is a shed on the property with a refrigerator where member gardeners can deposit their produce which the township in turn delivers to the food pantry.
There are also a certain number of garden beds that are set apart for the middle schools. Here students can learn hands-on about agriculture and vegetable gardening. There is a certified Master Gardener that works with the township to run the community garden and also goes into the schools to teach middle schoolers some of the skills needed to be a successful gardener.
Plans are underway to build a gazebo on site in the near future that will have electricity so students can use their devices as part of the hands-on learning process. The gazebo is being funded with grants from local corporations who share the vision for Stoney Brook Community Garden as a place of learning.
There is a supply of common tools and sturdy industrial type wheelbarrows that are available for use by all the community garden members. There is a shed where all the tools are housed. The town also provides mulch, compost, top soil and wood chips on site for use in the garden. There are dozens of spigots and hoses so that all of the garden plots can be readily irrigated.
The entire garden is also secure and when members join, they get an access code for the lock. These precautions help keep the garden a place where residents feel comfortable and safe.
The garden rules prohibit the use of any conventional chemicals and members are required to only apply substances that have been approved for use in the community garden. There is a fact sheet linked to the website that provides ample information for garden members who are having a bug or plant disease issue.
Two garden managers and a certified Master Gardener work with the Parks and Recreation Department to help members understand the basics of organic gardening and how to implement it in their own garden plots. Someone is usually available to members by cell phone during garden hours.
A garden club is also starting up among some members to share gardening tips, successes, learning experiences, seeds and young plants. The garden club is just in its beginning stages but the township has always encouraged gardeners to communicate with one another and even ends the list of farm rules with this bit of advice, “Maintain communication with fellow Gardeners. A conversation about an issue often can lead to great ideas, suggestions, and a quick resolution.”
Most of the operating rules and regulations are just simple common sense and courtesy. Some things prospective gardeners might not know though, is that there is a list of prohibited plants that can be invasive and spread to other garden plots. That list is also found on the website.
Also, gardeners are required to commit one hour a month to help with the general maintenance of the garden as well as helping with pre-season preparation. These provisions keep the weeds down in the shared garden areas and keep the facility pleasant for everyone.
More and more communities are recognizing the need that exists for residents to have access to fresh air, soil and a place to grow something green and edible. Many people also benefit because community gardens provide access to fresh foods and vegetables that they could possibly not afford or would not otherwise have access to. Food banks often struggle to provide food that is perishable and many families need more fresh food in their diets.
While many people are struggling to eat healthy simply because convenience food is so much easier, many people struggle to eat healthy because of the cost of a well-rounded diet. That is one of the many reasons that Mayor Francioli wanted to provide this valuable asset to the community while also benefiting The Interfaith Food Pantry.
Hanover Residents who are interested in joining The Stoney Brook Community Garden and Farm can contact the Town Parks and Recreation Department for an application. There is a flat fee of $25.00 per garden plot. Plots can be retained from year to year if the membership is renewed. All the necessary information and rules can be found on www.hanovertownship.com/Facilities/Facility/Details/Stoney-Brook-Community-Farm-Garden-7 or by calling the Parks and Recreation Department directly.