Sharing their green thumbs

The residents that plant together, grow together

There’s a new trend sweeping local municipalities, combining civic-mindedness, camaraderie, and an interest in good eating and good health: Community gardening.

Secaucus’ garden

In Secaucus, this form of kindred activity seems to be taking hold. The town’s newly created Community Garden is located at Fountain Park on Humboldt Street, by the former Keystone property, and is easily accessible to residents from neighborhoods all over town.
The garden uses sustainably harvested wood and organic soil with plants in raised beds, said Amanda Nesheiwat, the Secaucus environmental coordinator. It is maintained by community members that include the Senior Garden Club, environmental students at local grammar schools, the Secaucus Health and Environmental departments, and Wrap-For-A Smile, a local service organization. The groups’ members tend to the garden by watering it and ridding it of weeds, according to Judy Kennelly, township spokeswoman.

Concern over genetically altered food

“Community gardens are growing in popularity in suburban and urban areas,” said Nesheiwat. “The trendy pastime is sweeping across the nation for all ages, and transforming a green hobby into a new way of life.”
“As people become more mindful of preserving the environment, families are also striving to preserve good health,” Nesheiwat said. “People are becoming more aware of the issues with genetically modified organisms or genetically engineered fruits and vegetables, as well as meat products. People want to know where their food is coming from.”

“They interact with other people with the same interests to share ideas, exchange planting techniques, and know that the fresh produce would be put to good use.” – Catherine Carrabot
The experimental practice of genetically altering food is a rising concern among Americans overall, she said. But with groups coming together to plant and grow their own fare, they solve that problem while creating other positives as well.
“There are great health and environmental benefits to gardening and it is an easy and rewarding thing to do,” Nesheiwat said.

Other natural gardening techniques

The town is also exploring and implementing more natural techniques in its garden, according to resident Bob Knipe.
“Aquaponics combines aquaculture and hydroponics, which grows fish and plants together in one, soil-less system,” he said. “Aquaponics produces safe, fresh, organic fish and vegetables.” Knipe should know. He has installed two aquaponic beds at the community garden. He also has the sustainable system in his own backyard. Knipe and several of his neighbors have also started and are maintaining a “block garden” on Maple Street, something they will soon petition to have recognized.
“We are working with the State of New Jersey to certify the Maple Street Garden as an official Community Garden,” he said, and encourages others to do the same where possible.

A way to make friends

Catherine Carrabot said the community garden is not just an avenue to good health. Carrabot, a master gardener, said the venue also creates a comradeship for those who work in it together.
“[They] interact with other people with the same interests to share ideas, exchange planting techniques, and know that the fresh produce would be put to good use,” she said.
Carrabot, who teaches garden classes at the Senior Center twice a month, is pleased to see the community garden at Fountain Park come to fruition.
“When the idea of the community garden was proposed, the members of the club finally had the opportunity to plant outside in the fresh air with beautiful surroundings,” she said.

Development getting involved

Xchange at Laurel Hill has joined in on the burgeoning interest, installing more than 50 raised beds in its environs to rent.
Xchange resident Sarah McGinley-Ocasio enjoys spending time there with her family.
“Aside from the obvious benefits of having our own garden, the garden has been a great way for our family to spend quality time together,” she said, adding that the place gives her children a sense of responsibility, having to care for their own plants, and a great sense of pride and accomplishment, as their plants blossom virtually before their eyes.
“The community garden is such a wonderful, beneficial, new space in our community and has given my family a new, healthy hobby that we can enjoy together,” McGinley-Ocasio said.

Mayor behind effort

Mayor Michael Gonnelli sees the value of these undertakings and said that the time is perfect for starting a backyard garden or flower boxes.
“If you do not have space at home, come out and join friends and neighbors at the community garden,” he said.

Business helping too

The Home Depot on Paterson Plank Road has been a big help to the program, donating a couple hundred dollars worth of supplies and plants, Kennelly said, including cucumbers, peppers, tomatoes, and different types of herbs.

To learn more

Carrabot’s next classes at the Senior Center, 101 Center Ave., will be on Mondays, Aug. 12 and 26, from 10 to 11 a.m. In addition, the Garden Club formerly for seniors is opening up its membership to include the general public. For more information on the classes, the club, or on community gardening, contact Kennelly at (201) 330-2034.

Joseph Passantino may be reached at

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