Growing gardens . . . and community in Morristown

By Marcia Stornetta

Approximately 85 volunteers from the Morristown congregation of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints helped prepare The Urban Farm at Lafayette for an upcoming fundraiser for the farm’s parent organization, Grow It Green Morristown.

Members wearing the traditional “Mormon Helping Hands” yellow vests partnered with Grow It Green Morristown volunteers on July 21 to weed gardens, mulch walkways, build a lean-to storage area and repair fences damaged from the recent ravages of a very persistent groundhog.
Group photo of volunteers from Morristown congregation of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints at the Urban Farm at Lafayette in Morristown.. Photo courtesy of Marcia Stornetta.
Group photo of volunteers from Morristown congregation of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints at the Urban Farm at Lafayette in Morristown. Photo courtesy of Marcia Stornetta.

The joint project began when Bishop Mark McBride, the leader of the Morristown Ward,  met with Mayor Tim Dougherty looking for opportunities to contribute to the community.

“When Mayor Doughtery suggested Grow It Green Morristown, it seemed like a perfect fit,” Bishop McBride recalled. “The group’s mission is not just to grow vegetables, but to grow community. And that is just what the Latter-day Saints are trying to help Morristown do.”

The Urban Farm at Lafayette, located behind the Lafayette School in Morristown,  is the second project for the environmental group. When the group began looking for a second location, they  contacted the Morris School District and proposed making a small farm out of the underutilized land behind the school.

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Students from preschool to high school learn about planting, beekeeping, and organic farming from Shaun Ananko, affectionately known as “Farmer Shaun,” the full-time manager of the project.

“At the farm, students learn where their food comes from.  They are able to plant seeds in the spring and later harvest and eat the fruits of their labors,” Farmer Shaun notes. That is because the farm supplies the adjacent preschool with produce during the school year. When school is out, the farm donates produce to local food banks. Additionally, residents may stop by the farm on Thursday evenings and Saturdays to purchase the locally grown organic produce.

Three-year-old Jennie Williams, when asked to name her favorite part of the day quickly listed digging up potatoes and feeding the chickens. “It’s great to have an activity where all the family members from the youngest to the oldest can work together in serving the community,” noted Jennie’s father, Dave.

Multiple projects were held on Saturday throughout the tri-state area as part of the Latter-day Saint celebration of Pioneer Day. Pioneer Day activities are usually scheduled around July 24, the date in 1847 when the first Mormon pioneers entered the Salt Lake Valley in Utah. This celebration honors the faith, sacrifices, and lives of these early Latter-day Saints.

Each congregation chose a different local project. For example, the Morristown Spanish-speaking congregation spent the morning a few blocks away working at the Neighborhood House in Morristown laying tiles and painting walls.

“All in all, over two thousand people served their communities in the New York Metropolitan area,” according to Elder Jeffery E. Olson, a church leader for the Northeastern United States.

Alfresco in the Garden, Grow It Green Morristown’s upcoming fundraising event, features alfresco dining at the farm with pizzas prepared from a restored 1949 “pizza truck.” In addition to supporting its current projects, monies raised will help support Grow It Green Morristown’s soon-to-be developed community site.

Future community-building events planned by the Church of Jesus Christ include a Hawaiian luau in September and a community Christmas celebration, featuring creches from around the world and performances by local musical groups.


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