ELIZABETH, NJ – Georgia may have its peaches, but when it comes to tomatoes, it’s Jersey all the way.

The state’s signature vegetable was celebrated August 20 at the Tomato Tasting at Liberty Hall Farm in Union. The event included the dedication of Annette’s Garden, honoring 20th District Assemblywoman Annette Quijano, who urged and supported Groundwork Elizabeth to establish the Come Grow With Us! Community Gardening Program in 2009.

“When my grandfather came here looking for the American Dream, he picked tomatoes,” explained the Assemblywoman to the crowd before her. “We always had a tomato garden, so we would always know where we came from. He also wanted us to have respect for the land.”

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Come Grow With Us! is a system of food-producing gardens to give low-income, diverse populations access to fresh, healthy produce in urban centers. The program also aims to educate and to improve nutritional habits and to increase environmental awareness. So far, the program has 20 community gardens, some dedicated to a particular group like the senior citizens and the firefighters. One very visible garden is in the front yard of Jewish Families Services on Westfield Avenue. “We have a garden wherever there is ground,” said Assemblywoman Quijano.  

In June 2014, Kean University reached out to Groundwork Elizabeth to become the farm steward of the university’s historic Liberty Hall Farm. “Kean called looking for a farmer, and I jumped on it writing a 20-page grant with Jonathan Phillips (Groundwork’s executive director),” remembered Jackie Park Albaum, farm and garden director for Groundwork.

Since that time, the farm has grown from one acre to two and one-half with future plans to expand to five acres. Park Albaum also described plans to build a portable classroom that would be able to serve a larger portion of the public. Last year, the farm produced 1,000 pounds of food. The total for all the gardens was 6,000 pounds.

“We have been successful because of our partners coming together to help our neighbors. Thank you for allowing me to dream, and we did it!”

Among the speakers at the reception State Senator Raymond Lesniak, Assemblyman Jamel Holley, Elizabeth Mayor Christian Bollwage, Elizabeth City Council President Patricia Perkins-Auguste, Kean University President Dr. Dawaood Farahi, Jonathan Phillips, and Jackie Park Albaum.

Representing The Township of Union where the farm is located was Mayor Manuel Figueiredo who said, “We are happy to see something like this in our town and that it is being honored with our Assemblywoman’s name.

“Besides, who doesn’t love a Jersey tomato?”