TRFHSC Nutritious Food Connections Community Gardens

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by: Gemma Brennan

One of the goals of the Nutritious Food Connections Committee of the Toms River Family Healthy and Support Coalition is to develop community gardens. As a result of recent studies, the impact of a community garden is three-fold:

  • Vegetable intake for a healthier diet
  • Food security
  • Family and/or community relationships

The first garden that was established in Toms River through the NJHI grant is on the property of St. Luke’s Parish Church on Old Freehold Road. We chose St. Luke’s because they have an established food pantry that helps to support the nutrition of 170 or more families each month. There is also sufficient space for a large garden and support from the pastor. In addition, the members of the St. Vincent de Paul Society of St. Luke’s Parish volunteered to be the caretakers of the garden which would make the project sustainable.

There are approximately 24-30 volunteers involved in the planning and maintaining of the garden along with the guidance and support of Jess Sinkhorn, Garden Director, from Fulfill Food Bank of Monmouth and Ocean Counties. The committee meets several times a year and Jess has taught the garden’s caregivers how to plant and maintain the garden. Fulfill donated many plants for the first growing season of 2018 and has made the commitment to continue in 2019. This year, there will be two plantings – one in the spring and the second in the summer.

The vegetables will include peppers, kale, eggplant, spinach, snap peas, tomatoes, basil, lettuce, zucchini, parsley and cucumbers. Last year, with having just one season, the harvest yield was 640 pounds of food that was shared with those who visited the food pantry. Due to the variety of the vegetables being planted, visitors to the food pantry will receive recipes that use the vegetables from the garden along with cooking lessons!

The second garden has been started at Walnut Street Elementary School. The principal of the school, Mr. Richard Fastnacht, is fully supportive of the garden along with teacher Robin Marra, who will oversee the garden. There is presently a garden club that will be increasingly involved once the garden is established. The students from Ocean Academy and their principal, Scott Corbett, have given a full day of volunteering so far, clearing the garden area and repairing the green house.  As the warmer weather arrives, we will all be back to the school to continue the work needed to make our next garden a reality, Once some of the larger tree stumps are removed, we will be able to move forward with great energy and enthusiasm. Jess Sinkhorn will once again be involved in the designing and first planting. Jess has also offered to teach classes on nutrition to the students at the school!

Both gardens are truly the result of a devoted community of people with the goal of making Toms River a healthier place to live.