IN SHREWSBURY, CULTIVATING COMMUNITY

Della Benevides stakes a tomato plant in one of the “Plant a Row” plots designated for the needy. Below, a hot chili pepper. (Photos by Danielle Tepper. Click to enlarge)

By DANIELLE TEPPER

Fair Haven’s had one for decades. Tinton Falls has had one since 2009, and Red Bank, after much baring of teeth, appears about to finally get one.

Community gardens have become widespread as places where neighbors can kneel side-by side in the dirt and cultivate homegrown veggies together. Now, Shrewsbury has joined  the trend with a month-old mini-farm that is already yielding eggplant, peppers and more.

“This was our whole point, that it improves the quality of life in the community,” said Maureen Collins, President of the Shrewsbury Garden Club.

Mayor Don Burden watering his plot, above. Below, Cathy San Filippo shows off an eggplant grown in little more than a month. (Photos by Trish Russoniello. Click to enlarge)

The idea for the garden was tossed around between the Shrewsbury Garden Club and the Environmental Commission earlier this year. Once Mayor Donald Burden got on board, it was smooth sailing.

“Shrewsbury’s roots are deeply embedded as a significant agricultural site,” said Burden. But his support was tinged with nostalgia. “Growing up in Connecticut’s Litchfield Hills, our family always had a large vegetable garden. Nothing compares with homegrown vegetables.”

With a $250 donation from the garden club, a smattering of grants and $21,000 of funding from the borough, the garden was tilled out of a patch of the ample grounds surrounding the municipal complex at Broad Street and Sycamore Avenue. A wildlife fence, with added protection against burrowers, was erected around the perimeter. Gardeners have reported seeing deer standing just outside the fence at night, perhaps longing for a taste of what’s inside.

All but a few of the 75 plots have been claimed. Burden has one, where he is growing almost a dozen tomato plants.

Planting began July 2, and the garden is already in full bloom. Tomatoes are the most popular planting in the garden, which is also home to eggplant, Swiss chard, and hot cherry peppers.

An early morning visitor will find gardeners tending their plants and sharing tips with each other. “We have a lot of amateurs starting out here,” said Burden. Added council president Tom Menapace, ““This is a community garden, with community in all caps.”

The space was much needed for Shrewsbury residents, according to Environmental Commission member and gardener Robin Blair, especially for those who don’t have the luxury of planting in their own backyards.

“I live over on Buttonwood, and there’s just too much shade,” she said. “Tomatoes need 6-8 hours of sunlight each day.”

There is also the issue of backyards already fully landscaped. Joked Menapace, “My wife planted very lovely flowers in our backyard. I didn’t want to risk a divorce by saying let’s rip these out and put vegetables in.”

The garden community plans to be generous – 35 percent of the area is designated for the Garden Writers Association’s “Plant a Row for the Hungry” program. All crops harvested from those plots will go directly to food banks such as Red Bank’s Lunch Break.

“We want to make sure this gets to folks that need it,” said Menapace. “So far, it’s been successful beyond our wildest imagination.”

September 15 is the official garden opening. It will be opened to the public for the dedication ceremony. At that time, Shrewsbury residents can apply for their own 15 x 4 plot for $25. Registration information can be found here.