ELIZABETH, NJ - Take a stroll on Westfield Avenue in Elizabeth and you will come upon an unusual, lush little farm brimming with tomatoes, peppers and eggplants. The garden, with its perfectly arranged beds, is thriving just feet away from the busy four-lane street.
The garden is one of 18 that are funded by the Union County Means Green Community Garden grant program. The garden helps fund the Jewish Family Service of Central New Jersey, a nonprofit organization that helps provide social services to families throughout the area, along with supplementing its community nutrition program. The garden surrounds JFS headquarters in Elizabeth.
“The Jewish Family Services garden is an outstanding representative of the community garden movement in Union County,” Freeholder Chairman Bruce Bergen said. “Even a small piece of land can find new purpose as a source of fresh, locally grown produce, helping to improve nutrition and well-being in local neighborhoods.”
Launched in 2016, UC Means Green-an initiative spearheaded by Bergen, has a goal of bringing community gardens to neighborhoods in Union County. Since 2016, more than 24 gardens have been funded by the program.
“The Freeholder Board has supported a large community garden for many years” Bergen explained. “It’s an invaluable community resource and we wanted to help local neighborhoods realize some of those benefits, too.”
The mission of the program is to foster education, create social engagement and to donate a portion of the harvest.
The garden at JFS received its grant in 2016 for the construction of specially raised beds, which helps seniors actively participate in gardening without the physical demands of kneeling or stooping.
In partnership with the nonprofit organization Groundwork Elizabeth, the raised beds are used as a social activity for a group of seniors at risk of isolation.
“Community gardening is a holistic movement that links access to healthy food with civic service, environmental awareness and an opportunity to make new connections with family, friends and neighbors,” JFS Director of Community Engagement Elie Bodner said. “Our garden stretches all along the front of our building, creating a beautiful message of community strength for all to see.”
This year’s grant was used to improve the garden’s irrigation system. This season, the garden is expected to produce more than 1,600 pounds of produce, with apple trees donated by Williams Nursery of Westfield.
“Open space is a precious commodity in our area, so it’s been wonderful to see how our grant awardees bring new life to land that would otherwise go underused,” Bergen said.
Groundwork Elizabeth, which administrates the program, now coordinates dozens of gardens in Union County.
A new grant program was launched this year by Freeholder Vice Chairman Sergio Granados for school gardens in Union County.