BERKELEY HEIGHTS, NJ – Dozens of people, young and old, showed up on Saturday for the official grand opening and ribbon cutting of the Berkeley Heights Learning Community Garden behind Little-Lord Farmstead on Horseshoe Road.

A total of 29 wooden garden beds are located behind very tall chain link fence behind the “Grandmother’s House” on the property. Residents rent the plots, except for one, which will be a “giving garden,” a true community garden farmed by volunteers to grow produce for donation to a food pantry.

Environmental Commission President Richard Leister spoke to the crowd before the ribbon cutting and provided some history behind the Berkeley Heights Learning Community Garden. He said, “The project started at least six years ago in 2013, when a couple of people said ‘Let’s get a community garden going.’” They did a survey, which got a good response, and that was the official start. Efforts continued for many years and last year things really came together.

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The first year, though, the residents created a mission statement for the garden which said the garden would “provide a source of organically grown fruits and vegetables, cultivate a place for people of all ages to experience the rewards of gardening, learn organic farming methods, sustainable living and preservation of the harvest, and promote community pride and unity, encourage environmental stewardship and awareness.”

Leister said when the volunteers came out to help build the garden, it “brought it home to me” that this really was a community garden.

He thanked the State of New Jersey, because the land is a Green Acres Site; the county because it gave them some grants for the garden and the township, because it provided legal advice and the Historical Society because the site is on the Historic Registry. He also thanked Sustainable Jersey which funded the project with a combination Sustainable Jersey and PSE&G grant, and ExxonMobil which provided funds in support of an employee who volunteered on the project. Local suppliers, including Halls, Berkeley Hardware, Dreyer’s which supplied lumber and all the gardeners “who are putting in a lot of hard work to bring the garden alive,” Leister said.

Freeholder Sergio Granados thanked all the volunteers and Mayor Angie Devanney who “pushed along the county when it comes to Union County Means Green,” which has given 42 grants to community gardens his year.

The mayor, who left her car and home and literally ran to the event, thanked the Environmental Commission, everyone who participated “and helped make this happen. This just demonstrates what happens when a community comes together, partner with the county and state of New Jersey. Look at what we can do Berkeley Heights. I am very proud of today and all of you.”

After the ribbon was cut, Len Berkowitz, a retired Exxon Mobil employee, pulled the names of plot holders out of a hat while Leister recorded the plot number.

The business taken care of, a truck from Hall’s arrived and dumped a lot of garden soil, which volunteers of all ages shoveled into wheelbarrows and other containers and transported back to the gardens, where more volunteers topped off the gardens.

It’s planting time, so it shouldn’t be too long before some veggies will be popping out of the beds.