By Bailey McGuinn
A torrential downpour couldn’t dampen Saturday’s ribbon-cutting for the expanded Early Street Community Garden in Morristown.
Council- and school board members joined dozens who gathered for an annual plant sale, a release of ladybugs that delighted children, and tours of renovations to this former junkyard-turned-civic hub.
The number of garden plots has been doubled. Additions include a solar-powered pavilion; an apiary; an entrance park featuring a permanent bike pump, repair stand, and plexiglass portholes for observing the honeybees; and, of course, a rain garden.
“We need rain, the garden’s got to grow! It’s appropriate that it’s raining this morning for this re-opening of the wonderful, beautiful garden here in Morristown,” Mayor Tim Dougherty told a sea of umbrellas. “This all really comes down to Myra and Carolle and Sam.”
In the spring of 2009, Myra Bowie McCready, Carolle Huber and Samantha Rothman took the initiative to transform a littered lot into a community garden.
The next year, their nonprofit, Grow It Green Morristown, created the Urban Farm, on land owned by the Morris School District behind the Lafayette Learning Center.
“Myra came up to me when I first became mayor and said this is what our idea is, this is what we want to do, we think that this is a better idea for the community,” Dougherty said.
“They believed in open space, and that this community garden is healthy for our community, and hence we have this unbelievable gem in the middle of our 2.9- square-mile town.
“It’s been a wonderful journey to watch how this has grown and become a model for what communities can do, and I’m very proud of all the people that were involved in making this happen,” the Mayor said.
Slideshow photos by Bailey McGuinn, Carolle Huber and Kevin Coughlin
The Early Street garden started with 30 plots. Now there are 92. McCready said many people deserve thanks for this project. But she credits Huber with planting the seeds.
“Carolle had this plan in her head from day one, and I want to thank her for that. This is all Carolle, this was all in the original drawing,” McCready said.
“When we started this, we didn’t have specific goals,” Huber said with a laugh. “We just wanted a place where people could plant vegetables!”
The rain garden has been named for Huber, who was honored last month at Grow It Green’s annual Diamonds for Kale gala, which raised $47,000 for the nonprofit.
‘THE BEST JOB EVER’
Improvements unveiled Saturday were made possible by a capital drive that so far has raised about $140,000 of its $200,000 goal. (Contributions still are welcome, Huber said.)
Money from last month’s gala will support Grow It Green programs that include growing food for donation to local shelters and soup kitchens and running educational activities for area students, said new Executive Director Erica Colace.
“I’m only four months on the job, but it’s been kind of a whirlwind!” Colace said.
In addition to creating sustainable farms and gardens, the organization educates the community on healthy eating and how to respect the environment, and makes fresh, local food accessible to all.
Grow It Green programs reach more than 2,000 children every year.
“It’s the best job ever!” said Farm Educator Tina Miller, who teaches 2nd graders from the Morris School District about plant biology, healthy eating and nutrition.
“Every 2nd grader comes to the farm, plants something, and gets to kind of see where their food comes from. We’ll talk about the life cycle of a plant, what helps our plants grow, the soil and how to make it healthier, and compost.
“If there are vegetables in season from the farm, I’ll bring them to the classroom. It gives them the chance to try something they wouldn’t try normally at that age.
It’s important for them to know where their food comes from,” Miller said.
Shaun Ananko, known to many students as “Farmer Shaun,” has worked for eight years at Grow It Green’s Urban Farm, New Jersey’s largest urban educational farm.
“My days entail lots of field trips from students,” Ananko explained. “The majority of the produce we grow, we split up between the Interfaith Food Pantry, the Community Soup Kitchen, Table of Hope, and the cafeteria at the high school.”
Families that grow food at the Community Garden also donate it, or take it home to cook for themselves, Ananko said.
‘EVERYTHING HERE IS RECYCLED’
When the Community Garden started, Grow It Green was borrowing the Early Street property from its owner, Huber recounted.
“This was born because he was getting fined for having garbage along the sidewalk all the time, and he said he’d let us use it if we promised to keep it clean. He didn’t charge us, he just let us use the property for free, until it was going to be developed.
“But then the land was acquired by the town four years ago. When we expanded last year, we went to 98 boxes. And we still have 60 families on the waiting list,” Huber said.
Because tax dollars were involved in the acquisition, Huber said, part of the site must remain open to the public.
“We couldn’t fence it in like it used to be, so we pushed the fence back and we created this great little public park, which is really used. Just yesterday we finally opened the back to the public. Now people have access to the pavilion all the time,” she said.
What’s really cool, continued Huber, a landscape architect, is how sustainable this venture is.
Every plant is a native species. Stone around the rain garden was recycled from debris from sidewalk repairs up the street. Pathway slabs were leftovers donated by the Morris Brick and Stone Co.
Boulders that serve as sitting places came from the demolition of the Greystone Park State Psychiatric Hospital. Eastern Concrete donated footings for the pavilion, which was designed by Jayme Siegel and constructed by her husband Tim Harvey’s firm.
The pavilion’s rooftop solar panels will power lights for special events. Piping from the roof funnels rainwater into a giant cistern, to irrigate the plots. The rain garden will channel rainwater underground instead of into storm sewers; a second rain garden is contemplated near the street, to cleanse runoff before storm sewers carry it to the Whippany River.
“Everything here is recycled,” Huber said. Even the plastic benches in the parklet can be recycled when they wear out, she said. “This garden is really a great model for sustainable landscaping. ”
Upcoming Grow It Green events include farmstand sales on Thursdays and Saturdays from June to November, multiple ladybug releases this summer, and gardening classes. Visit the nonprofit’s website for more information.
MorristownGreen.com correspondent Bailey McGuinn is a senior at Morristown High School. She will study psychology, biology and Spanish this fall at the University of Virginia. Kevin Coughlin contributed to this report.