BERKELEY HEIGHTS, NJ - The Berkeley Heights Community Learning Garden Initiative presented at last week's Township Council meeting asking for support to move forward with their grass roots effort to build a community garden. 

The idea of a Community Learning Garden came about through the Environmental Commission's certification process for Sustainable Jersey.  One of the components of Sustainable Jersey deals with "open space" and how the town deals with this open space.  

"The Sustainable Jersey vision is for a town to utilize an open space in the best way possible that benefits the residents of that town," said Christina Lewis, the lead organizer of the project.  It could be a giving garden or in Berkeley Heights, Lewis said  "a need and a desire has been found to be a garden, or to utilize some open space for the advantage for people to garden together."

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Lewis stated the mission of the Berkeley Heights Community Garden is to provide a local source of organically grown fruits and vegetables within the township and to cultivate a place for individual families and friends to learn about and to experience the rewards of gardening.  The goal of the garden is to foster community pride and unity, encourage environment stewardship, promote sustainability and environmental awareness, support the productions of healthy foods for the community, provide a catalyst for education and stimulating social interaction.  This will be accomplished by teaching organic gardening methods, preservation of open spaces, native habitat  for biodiversity encouraging sustainable living techniques and recycling.  All persons of diverse abilities ages and cultures are welcome.  

Lewis asked for the township's support to utilize resources of the engineering department and DPW to evaluate the sites and go forward with the project.  This support would allow them to apply for the grants.  

The Environmental Commission applied for the first round of Sustainable Jersey grants and did not get them.  Having the township's endorsement and support will help with obtaining grant money.  This money would be necessary to cover the initial cost of fencing and soil. 

Lewis advised the council that the produce would be used for personal consumption adding to food variety.  Having a community garden protects the yield and mitigates the cost associated with purchasing fresh produce.  The garden will have protection from animals with proper sunlight.  At the end of the harvest season, inventory will be donated to the local food banks.

Lewis and her committee has looked at three sites that could accommodate 60 plots.  Two of the sites had workability; Snyder Avenue Field and Littel Lord Farmstead.  Plots would be rewarded on a lottery basis at $50 per lot.  The average plot size would be 4 ft by 10 ft.  The yearly rentals could sustain the garden. 

The council stands behind the project and asked Lewis to work with the engineering department and Tom Barton from the Recreation Department to evaluate the feasibility of the two sites.