The Kearny Community Garden is getting flush with green … cash, that is. On March 12, the citizen volunteer-town endorsed effort became one of 34 such ventures from around the state to be awarded $2,000 Sustainable Jersey Capacity-Building grants by the Public Service Electric & Gas Foundation. Since 2009, Sustainable Jersey has given out more than $1.3 million in grants to municipalities in the Garden State to help make their communities more environmentally friendly.
Mayor Alberto Santos said: “Year 2 for Kearny’s Community Garden is off to a great start. Last year our green team members worked very hard learning to cultivate our organic, straw bale garden. I am pleased to say that this year, the organizers’ plan is to expand the project and invite more residents to become urban gardeners growing their own vegetables and flowers in our straw bales. We have already had 45 new families sig up to participate this coming year. Thanks to this grant, we will be able to continue the team’s mission of beautifying, educating and nourishing the community.”
David Mach, a co-founder of the garden, located next to the butterfly garden, in Riverbank Park on Passaic Ave., just south of Midland Ave., said: “There was so much interest … that we had to expand to meet all of the demand.”
And that demand, said co-founder and spouse Jenny Mach, meant that, “All of the 250 spaces in this year’s garden sold out in only four days.” Among this year’s new entries, which include “all different ages, including the local Cub Scouts, professions and ethnic groups,” said David, adding: “We anticipate about 200 people working in the garden this coming season. Last year, the group began with a 10-member hard core unit and it was joined by another 10 down the road.
In an effort to accommodate the growing numbers, Jenny said the organizers are “compiling a waiting list for those interested in case space opens up.”
David Mach said the grant money would help offset the cost of acquiring “more straw bales, potting soils and organic fertilizer than we needed our first season” and “will ensure this growing season is even more prosperous.”
Additionally, some of the money will be used “for advertising” to help promote the garden, said Davis. The hope is that the grant can be stretched to get two years’ use out of it, he added.
How does the Kearny garden grow? Under the rules, “Every family or group that signs up gets at least five bales for $20 to grow what they want,” said David, so long as they agree to use “no chemical fertilizers or pesticides.” A big group like the scouts may get additional bales, he said.
To help keep the garden self-sustaining, without it becoming a drain on local government resources, David said, “We plan to have one or two cash crops. We’ve been thinking of Indian beans, for example, or pumpkins.”
One new wrinkle planned for this growing season is the placement of landscape fabric mats under the straw bales to prevent the spread of plant roots, David said.
So far, about 400 municipalities spread among the state’s 21 counties have registered to become Sustainable Jersey grant recipients.
“The impact that these projects will make in New Jersey is incredible,” said Pam Mount, who chairs Sustainable Jersey’s board of trustees. “Aiding towns and Green Teams to achieve their sustainability goals by funding green initiatives will have a ripple effect that will benefit us all.”
Kearny residents interested in learning more about the garden or who want to join the waiting list are invited to contact the organizing committee at KearnyCommunityGarden@ gmail.com and/or “like’’ the enterprise by visiting www. facebook.com/KearnyCommunityGarden.
– Ron Leir