SOUTH PLAINFIELD, NJ – Over the past month, residents throughout South Plainfield are turning to gardening in an effort to not only keep busy during the coronavirus pandemic but also in an effort to be more self-sufficient.
“It is a matter of reducing the pressure on the public food supply. Local stores and even places like Amazon Fresh don’t always have what you want or you can’t get a delivery,” said longtime resident Anne Troop who, along with her late husband maintained a large organic garden at the South Plainfield home built by her late aunt and uncle.
Although Troop, a current member of the South Plainfield Library Board of Trustees, has since reduced the size of the garden and nowadays opts for raised beds, she continues to grow such personal favorites as shelling peas, different types of squash and, this year, green beans. “If there’s a particular vegetable you like, it might be easier, especially now, to grow it yourself,” she said.
The effort to be self-sufficient and safeguard against food shortages is not a new one, but rather the resurgence of a movement that dates back to World War I. Through Victory Gardens, as they were referred to, Americans planted their own fruits, vegetables, and herbs and, in turn, lessened the demand on commercial vegetable supplies, making them more available to those serving in the Armed Forces.
Victory Gardens served to reduce demand on strategic materials used in food processing and canning, ease the burden on railroads, and preserve fruit and vegetables for future use when shortages might become worse. Additionally, the effort helped maintain the vitality and morale of Americans on the home front through a productive outdoor activity.
During war times, it is estimated that approximately 5.5 million Americans planted over 20 million garden plots in vacant lots, backyards and in city parks from coast to coast, sprouting some 10 million pounds – or more than 40-percent of the country’s fruit and vegetables – a year.
“Victory Gardens were a way for us to do our part…,” said Bruce Crawford, former director of Rutgers Gardens and program leader for public and home horticulture with the New Jersey Agricultural Experiment Station (NJAES). “Growing your own food also helps lessen the pressure on the food supply chains [and] reduces some of the congestion in grocery stores which, in turn, helps reduce the spread of the virus.”
“It’s like the Victory Gardens in the way that people want the security of having their own food available, but I think its more of the fact that they have something positive to think about and do,” Linda Rossi, who along with her husband, Robert, owns and operates Coppola’s Garden Center in South Plainfield, said of the current pandemic and interest in gardening “Besides actual physical work to keep busy, its also emotion and pride for them to see their work prosper!
“[Gardening] is a great thing for children to learn and do with their parents; food is fresh and has lost little to no nutrient value from the transportation time getting to the consumer; gives people a feeling of success and ‘control’ since the spread of COVID-19 has the opposite impact on families,” said Crawford. “It is also a great way for neighbors to meet and discuss different techniques on how they grow and prepare different vegetables.”
“Our emails and phone are going crazy with requests for gardening plants. We have had many, many people gardening for the first time, telling us that it is therapy for them. We have had people attempting to make a greenhouse, too,” said Rossi.
“Hopefully, this will be a growing trend that will continue long after the virus is no longer an immense issue,” added Crawford.
Local Options to Grow Your Garden
• Coppola’s, located at 1600 New Durham Road, has switched exclusively to an online platform and is open for curbside pickup only. Customers can visit the business website for a list of available items and email orders, including specific requests, to Coppolasgardens@aol.com. Payment can be made over the phone or via email and the customer will be notified when it is ready. Pickup is contact-less; orders are marked with the customer’s name and placed on a table in the parking lot. Visit http://www.coppolasgardencenter.com for information.
• Nischwitz Feed & Fuel, located at 223 Front Street, is open to customers Monday through Friday from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. and Saturdays from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. Those who do not wish to go into the store can call in their orders and pay with a credit card; small orders will be placed on the front porch while larger orders can be picked up at the back of the building. Call 908-756-0947 or visit https://nischwitzfeedandfuel.com for additional information.
• Rutgers Gardens is running its annual Spring Flower Fair completely online this year. From now through April 27, customers can browse an online catalog of vegetables, herbs, annuals, perennials for sale, and make purchases. Once an online order is submitted and paid for, someone from the Gardens will reach out to schedule a pickup date/time, beginning May 7. Proceeds from the fundraising effort, which typically takes place on the grounds over Mother’s Day weekend, enables the gardens to continue to grow and expand. Visit https://rutgersgardens.rutgers.edu/sff/onlineshop/.
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