Verona Gets Ready For A Community Garden

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The community garden would be located behind Municipal Parking Lot #1 by H.B. Whitehorne Middle School.

Spring is in the air, and there may be no better way to celebrate the new season intertwined with the theme of community than through a town garden. Over recent years, the idea of a community garden in Verona has been discussed and the idea is now coming to action. The town is working on creating a garden that all residents can use on the grass next to H.B. Whitehorne Middle School behind the municipal parking lot. The first step: Steve Neale, Verona’s director of administration and economic development, has applied for a $10,000 grant for fencing to protect the space.

The community garden will benefit the town in many ways, Neale says. “We want the garden to become a community gathering place where neighbors can talk and meet, give access to people who may not have the gardening space at their homes or residents in apartment complexes, allowing a space for people to learn and educate themselves more on gardening techniques.” Each goal of this project has been expanded upon since the brainstorm stage of the garden, only bringing more positives to light each time.

A community garden in Verona has been imagined for more than 10 years, when then-Councilwoman Teena Schwartz initially brought up the idea. However, a solid location was never chosen, and the lack of environmentally sound measures to keep the garden alive, such as composting and fencing, was also never discussed.

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Now things are changing. Verona reached out to Sustainable Jersey for information about community gardens as well as demonstrations of proper soil care and garden tips. Representatives from Rutgers University came and performed soil testing at the Verona High School parking lot and the HBW site, and ultimately, HBW produced better results for soil growth. Additionally, being at the center of town, water availability, easy access from the school parking lot, and possibly marketing as an educational resource due to the close proximity to the middle school, made HBW the best location for the community garden.

Once the location was chosen, the Town Council gauged interest through a survey, receiving over 350 responses that all favored moving forward with the community garden. Next steps included developing layout plans for the garden, working with Michael DeCarlo, who serves as the township engineer, and specifying how to build the best garden for the town.

“It has been awesome to work with Neale and the others on the board to put this plan into action,” DeCarlo says. “Once the dimensions of the garden are specified, not only will it be great to envision the garden, but also easier to lay the groundwork for funding and future needs.”

The last six months have included lots of planning and preparation from council people and residents alike. In late February, Neale and others completed a six-week community garden workshop series, which provided instruction about proper garden care and tips on next steps. Getting the fencing grant is critical since that is the project’s largest initial cost.

Neale’s committee is also drafting the contract for all plot leases. In order to ensure that plot owners maintain the area well and are accountable for the garden, community members who wish to partake in planting must understand their commitment. He says that there will be a cost to lease a plot, but exactly what that will be has not been determined.

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Once these critical steps are accomplished, volunteers will be asked to help build planter beds and actually create the garden. Neale hopes to begin building the beds this summer, but says we likely won’t be planting in them this growing season. Neale mentions that the garden will need donations of tools and planting supplies, so anyone interested should wait to hear of how they can help soon.

Overall, Neale and the Town Council are eager to see how the garden turns out. With spring approaching, there is no better way to shine light on a healthy new initiative in town, as Neale sums up, “this is meant to be a community owned project so it needs to be community driven the whole way. We want this to be something everyone takes a lot of pride in and makes being part of the Verona community that much more special.”

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