ELIZABETH, NJ - Assemblywoman Annette Quijano marveled at the site before her, row upon row of tomato, eggplant, and pepper plants growing in wooden planters under a bright, spring sun that makes up the St. Genevieve’s Parish Community Garden on Princeton Road.

“Fresh produce tastes so much better than processed,” she remarked. Community gardens are a favorite project for the Assemblywoman. Realizing that many of her constituents had no access to fresh, healthy food as she did growing up in Puerto Rico, she introduced the Come Grow With Me project in 2009 to encourage groups to start community gardens.

The garden is the Eagle Scout project of Ryan Agostinho. “Everyone else has done something for the county. I wanted to do something for the church. It is my way of giving back to the church for everything they have done.”

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Said Quijano, “It is wonderful that someone at his age is getting the message out about healthy food and how to take care of your neighbor. Most teen-agers don’t know where their vegetables come from, so this is a great opportunity to learn from the ground up.”

But the garden is truly a “community” project for the parish, bringing together a number of groups who didn’t normally connect. The original idea actually came from Leisure Group member Lois MacNamara who heard about community gardens from a speaker at one of the group’s meetings. “They talked about community gardens, and we thought it was a good idea.”

Long time Scout Master Dan Bernier thought the garden would be a valuable addition to the parish. “This is a great tie-in with what we do in scouting.”

When the application for a grant from the county was denied because of St. Genevieve’s  religious status, they decided to pay for the garden themselves, with many suppliers either donating or discounting supplies. Said Rev. George Gillen, “We felt it was a good idea to bring two organizations, youth and senior citizens, together on a project that is a very positive one for the community. It we are successful as farmers, we can get some produce to those in need. It is a teachable moment. Everyone is very excited about it.”   

For the Assemblywoman, her visit was a chance to see how her Come Grow With Me Initiative was sprouting roots in new places, and she pledged her support. She put a call out in her weekly newsletter for donations, explaining, “Although Ryan did this as cost-effectively as possible, it still cost $2500 when all was said and done. Please consider sponsoring this garden so that they can give even more back to the community. Contact Reverend Gillen at STGENS@OPTONLINE.NET if you or your company are interested in supporting this great work in the community.”