Back in early March, spring’s presence began to grace Verona’s grounds with the idea of a community garden located near H.B. Whitehorne Middle School. While the idea had been in the works for a few years, Steve Neale, Verona’s director of Administration and Economic Development, had just applied for a $10,000 grant for fencing to protect the space to get the ball officially rolling. On Thursday, May 14, Sustainable Jersey awarded Neale the PSE&G Foundation grant during a virtual award ceremony.
Neale proudly accepted the grant on behalf of the Township of Verona and Sustainable Verona, the town’s “green” team. While the garden will not be ready for planting this spring and summer, Neale anticipates preparing the site this summer.
“This was the result of a lot of time and planting between the township, the schools, and a team of dedicated volunteers,” Neale says, “together, we accomplished a monumental goal that will benefit the community in a variety of ways. I sincerely thank PSE&G and everyone who made this possible.”
Accepting the grant allows the official blueprint layouts and space planning to begin. The grant will assist in setting up the fencing surrounding the garden-to-be space, as well as delivering water to the site. Neale stresses that those two pivotal pieces will allow the space to be secured and begin fostering a strong cultivation site. Volunteers from the community and Eagle Scouts will also begin building the raised-bed planters.
The plan is to have more detailed information available to the public and open applications this fall so that the community can use the garden in the 2021 planting season. Neale says that, with the pandemic, this timeline is fluid, but he remains hopeful that these steps can occur while abiding current social distance guidelines.
Visions for the garden include being handicap-accessible, providing residents with the opportunity to learn about growing plants and food, become physically active, more involved in the township, and a social opportunity. Additionally, plots may be available for local restaurants to try farm-to-table gardening. The community garden will also benefit various food pantries, school cafeterias, seniors, non-profit groups, and residents from surrounding towns.
Neale is eager to begin his work and believes that accepting this grant is a major step in uniting the community. “During this difficult time dealing with COVID-19, we are overjoyed to accept such good news and think that this is a great idea for the town to look forward to and come together.”