By Ron Leir
During the First and Second World Wars, countries on both sides of the fighting lines promoted “victory gardens” – a grow-your-own agrarian movement as a patriotic and pragmatic way to keep the home veggies sprouting.
While there’s no overt skirmishing on this home front, Kearny is looking to revive the practice of turning your own soil through a “Kearny Community Garden.”
Wilson Ave. residents Jenny and David Mach – the couple who created the butterfly garden in Riverside Park – along with a supporting cast that includes Erin Donnelly, Laurence and Susan Mach, Peg and Ed Bixler, and Cecilia Lindenfelser – are pitching the concept.
Jenny Mach, a 32-yearold middle school science teacher in Tenafly, outlined the proposal to the Kearny governing body last Tuesday with a 15-minute power point presentation and Mayor Alberto Santos, for one, said he liked what he heard.
While she doesn’t claim to be an expert agronomist, Mach has had “field” experience: Her first job during high school days was working on a farm in Cinnaminson and, in college, she did a year-long work-study project assisting a Rutgers biology professor in strawberry research.
She and her husband do organic gardening at home in their front yard, growing a variety of vegetables and flowers.
The garden hopes to accomplish;
• “Beautify the Kearny community, Educate the community about sustainable organic gardening and good nutrition,
• Promote a sense of community and cooperation for all Kearny residents, and
• Providing nourishing organic food for garden members, Kearny citizens and others.”
Sounding like the science teacher that she is, Mach said the garden would be a plus for “improving the urban environment by recycling organic waste, filtering rain water, releasing oxygen [and] reducing pollution, increasing biodiversity and reducing fossil fuel consumption from food transport.”
Mach credited her mother as the springboard for the garden concept. “My mom – as moms will do – sent me a [newspaper] clipping on a straw bale garden in the south Jersey area and David and I and our in-laws, the Bixlers, all thought it was a great idea.”
Kearny’s garden, according to Mach, would be modeled on the three-year-old Rutherford Community Garden which, she said, is maintained by community volunteers and has grown from six to 25 plant beds cultivated by disabled gardeners, the Woman’s Club and other groups, with some reserved for the town’s food pantry.
And, Mach said, the Rutherford Green Team has offered to assist Kearny in “seed swapping, resource sharing and ordering materials in bulk.”
The Kearny contingent, like Rutherford, figures to “start small” in its initial season, with local Girl Scout troops enlisted to start growing vegetable seeds behind the scout building by next month month or April.
Then, when it’s warm enough, the seedlings would be transported for planting at the garden site where its “core group” members will maintain them. Any surplus would donated to Kearny residents or local food pantries, Mach said.
Pumpkins, basil, tomatoes, squash, carrots, lettuce, broccoli, and cabbage are some of the anticipated products.
“In subsequent years,” Mach said, “we plan to expand by opening the garden to local businesses, schools, organizations and Kearny residents. Separate plots will be available and we hope to provide – or allow others to provide – educational activities for both children and adults.” While the garden is envisioned as a non-profit operation, Mach said the group “is considering charging a nominal annual deposit, refundable at the end of the growing season to ensure that beds are properly maintained.”
Ultimately, Mach said, the hope is to see community gardens pop up “throughout the town, maintained by other motivated individuals, but cooperatively working together. This is part of our vision to make Kearny a beautiful and attractive place for visitors, businesses and all residents.”
The plan is to use straw bales – instead of wooden raised beds – as planting beds because they’re less costly – “about $3 per bale,” according to Mach – as well as easily maneuverable, provide “warmth and nutrients as they decompose,” attract fewer critters, are more adaptable to children and those in wheelchairs, and can be used as mulch or compost for next year’s crop.
The bales would be arranged in circular or rectangular forms with topsoil in the center and a drip irrigation system on top.
Where will the garden best grow? Mach and her team favor a section of Riverside Park off Passaic Ave. north of Skinner Brothers Automotive and south of the future dog park site and butterfly garden. A small parking lot is nearby and water could be drawn from a street hydrant. As a backup location, the team has suggested a grassy area next to the American Legion Post off Belgrove Drive.
Here are proposed rules for using the facility:
• Organic gardening only: no chemical pesticides, herbicides or fertilizer permitted.
• Each gardener is responsible for his/her own plot.
• Excess produce will be provided to Kearny residents on a designated day of the week at no charge or will be donated to a local pantry.
Mach said the team would look to the town to finance acquisition of garden supplies such as straw bales, galvanized wire netting, potting soil, peat moss and compost, drip irrigation system and water hookup, seeds and plants, compost area, low picket fence with chicken wire around bottom, a picnic table and waterproof bulletin board. “If the mayor and council grant us permission to start the garden,” Mach said, “we are certain that it will be a success for all the people of Kearny.”