BERKELEY HEIGHTS, NJ – Plans for the Community Garden continue to evolve – now it is called the “Learning Community Garden,” with the focus on teaching organic farming methods, sustainable living techniques and preservation of harvest – how to can, freeze and dry vegetables, fruits, flowers and seeds.  

Chairman of the Environmental Commission Richard Leister spoke at the July 24 Township Council meeting at the beginning of the public hearing on the garden. The hearing was necessary because the purpose of about 0.14 acre of 14.24 acres of the farmstead from “Open Field” to a “Community Garden” has changed. Since the township used Green Acres money to acquire Littel-Lord Farmstead, which is listed on the National Registry of Historic Places, this type of change in use requires permission from the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection, Green Acres Program.

Leister said once built, the garden would have 30 raised beds, each of the 4-by-8 foot gardens would be built with approximately 2-by-6-inch boards. An 8- by 10-foot shed would also be included in the garden area, which would be surrounded by an 8-foot-tall steel-mesh fence with a gate. Water for the garden would come from one of the two houses on the site or, in a worst-case scenario, the street.

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The Environmental Commission will use its own money and grants to fund the garden. There is already enough money in the Commission’s account to pay for plumbing work, even in the worst-case scenario, and the garden itself is expected to be self-sustaining. Participants will pay an annual fee for renting their garden plot.

Leister said the details related to the rules that will govern the govern have not yet been set up but will follow the guidelines set up by the American Community Garden Association. Those guidelines include rules on when the garden is open to members, how long a garden can be left untended, what can’t be planted (nothing illegal), condition of the beds, etc.  

Because the garden will be on land that is part of the Green Acres program, any New Jersey resident may apply for a plot, he said.  Plans are to allow members of the garden to grow flowers and vegetables on their plots.

A number of years ago, the Berkeley Heights Historical Society helped a local garden club put in a small enclosed garden in which period-appropriate herbs and spices were grown. Leister said the commission hopes to be able to “rebuild a culinary herb garden and possibly keep bees.”

No parking lot would be built on the site, instead, people would be able to park on Horseshoe Road.

A neighbor questioned the safety of that and was reminded people already park on the street for fishing events and ball games.

There are no plans for sanitary facilities on site.

Public comment on this proposed change in purpose or use can be filed by August 7, 2018. Written comments on the proposed change in purpose or use may be directed to John Bussiculo, Township of Berkeley Heights, 29 Park Avenue, Berkeley Heights, NJ 07922 (telephone 908-464-2700, extension 2232). Send a copy of any comments submitted to the township, to the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection, Green Acres Program, Bureau of Legal Services and Stewardship, Mail Code 501-01, 501 East State St., P.O. Box 420, Trenton, NJ 08625-0420.

On or after August 7, 2018, the Township of Berkeley Heights may take formal action to approve the proposed change in purpose or use.

Councilwoman Susan Poage said, “I’m excited.”

Councilman Peter Bavoso called it a “great project.”

Council President Jeanne Kingsley thanked Leister and the Environmental Commission for their “heroic effort at getting this (proposal) through the State Historical society.”

Other than planning, no further action can be taken until after the commission and township received approval from Green Acres. Leister is hopeful it will be received in time for there to be an active Learning Community Garden next spring.