Stafford Community Garden Keeps Growing and Fulfilling Needs
Almost every day of the June watering schedule was full. Rich and Judy watered the first three Mondays, while Berit and Barbara covered all the Tuesdays and Catherine, Vicki, Nancy, Amanda, Gina, Jane, Ann, Denise and Heidi managed the rest.
In July, it was much of the same at the Stafford Community Garden, except some showed up and helped water despite not being on the schedule.
“We’ve got some little angels who come by and water from time to time,” said Rebecca Gee, who heads up the Hunger Foundation of Southern Ocean’s Garden Committee, which in April took over the Community Garden from Stafford Township on a $1 lease.
“Every time I’m here, somebody tells me they watered something or pulled some weeds from one of the planters. Of course, we have a team of volunteers who regularly works the garden, but it’s nice to see the community’s support and willingness to get involved, even in the smallest way.”
What began in June 2015 as a grassroots community project to help battle against hunger in the area, the Stafford Community Garden has steadily grown during the past 14 months, with more crops planted this spring, more space dedicated to creating a homey feel and more help on board to keep it all moving.
With roughly 35 on Ellen Dondero’s volunteer list and a half-dozen or more not on that list on the watering calendar, it’s clear from the participation that the garden has developed into more than just a nice little spot to grow a few crops. It’s a passion for many.
“Mark Reynolds got a bug up his butt about hunger in the area a couple of years ago, and this garden is a testimony to what can be done to help fight that battle,” Gee said. “With a lot of hands and feet to help, we can all help grow things and solve problems together.
“This garden has put a public face to what we do and who we are at the hunger foundation. Before this garden was put here, a lot of people didn’t know the foundation existed. Now, people see it and stop by and learn about what this is all about, and more people are helping make a difference right here in our community.”
The Hunger Foundation of Southern Ocean is a nonprofit, volunteer-only organization that helps fund local food pantries, including the Barnegat Food Pantry and Greater Tuckerton Food Pantry, the Lacey Food Bank Program, and food assistance programs associated with Ken’s Kitchen at St. Mary’s Parish, King of Kings Church, Ocean Community Church, St. Francis Community Center and St. Stephen’s Episcopal Church.
This summer, the Stafford Community Garden’s crops have included corn, tomatoes, peppers, squash, kale, eggplant, strawberries, blueberries, melons and a variety of herbs. At the back of the property – situated between Rita’s Water Ice and the Manahawkin Lake spillway, along the Route 72 connector of West Bay Avenue – a variety of fruit trees, such as Bing cherry, Macintosh, Honeycrisp and Red Delicious apples, Bartlett pears and Elberta peaches, are starting to grow up and produce.
“Everything is growing nicely,” said Dondero, also on the Community Garden committee for the foundation. “We planted the corn this year and added in the fruit trees. We have a patio in the back now. Things are building here, and it’s great because the community is really behind it.”
Dondero said that without the backing of Mark and Peg Reynolds, the help of the Reynolds Landscaping crew and the tireless efforts of Stafford Township Recreation Director Betti Anne McVey, Children’s Recreation Programs Coordinator Jason Hazelton and Municipal Alliance Director Gail Bott, the community garden wouldn’t be doing so well.
“The township has been extremely supportive, from the administration to the public works department,” she said. “And Jason, Gail and Betti Anne all have been very involved from the start. This truly is a community effort.”
With more crops scheduled for the fall months, Gee said she’s looking forward to seeing how else the garden can benefit the community. Already with yoga classes being conducted on the lawn, and children’s story times – during which Sue Good and Pauline Barber read to eight to 15 youngsters each time – as part of the regular offerings, Gee still believes there’s more to come.
“We have the patio now, so that will help generate some new things,” she said. “But ultimately, we’d like to put up a shade structure of some kind, and we eventually want to put in a good irrigation system. Hopefully, we can start getting those things in place during the next couple of years.”
Of course, more volunteers to help care for the garden are always in high demand. Anybody interested in helping out with watering, contact the Municipal Alliance office at 609-597-1000, extension 8585. If you want to be part of the hunger foundation’s garden team, connect to the Stafford Community Garden page on Facebook or visit soccfoundation.org/community-garden.
And for those interested in helping out in a financial way, donations are always accepted.
“We really just don’t want to see anybody go hungry,” Dondero said. “And we’re always looking for people to help and donate something – whether it’s time to water crops, help with funding, whatever. So far, the garden’s been all we wanted it to be, but it’s only going to get better.”
— David Biggy