In Shrewsbury, A Harvest Feast at the Community Garden

October 14, 2017
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Those who spent their summer growing in the Shrewsbury Community Garden shared their
bounty at the annual garden Harvest Festival, held on Sunday, Oct. 1.

By John Burton |

SHREWSBURY — The air is cooling and the summer gardening has been bountiful and now harvested. Let’s get together and celebrate!

And that’s what those who have been sharing the joy of gardening at the borough’s community garden did on Sunday, Oct. 1.

As has become the tradition since the garden was established five years ago, those borough residents and others who have spent some of their summer in the dirt in the garden held their annual harvest festival on the borough grounds, in the vicinity of the garden.

“People are bringing something to share, bringing in dishes,” for the celebration, often made with ingredients grown in their own plots, said Pam MacNeill, who chairs the Community Garden Committee.

MacNeill, who has been active with the garden since it was first established, planting a variety of vegetables every year, said she enjoys this get-together. “You get to meet everybody,” getting together like this, she said. “It really is nice to get to meet some of the gardeners.”

The community garden and the dinner, “really says a lot about the kind of community Shrewsbury is,” offered Mayor Donald Burden. Burden, too, is a gardener, having retired from his career in publishing a few years ago.

The garden consists of 81 60-foot-by-60-foot plots, used mostly by residents, but open to others, with about 18 nonresidents using available plots, MacNeill pointed out. “There’s a waiting list, actually,” for available plots, said Burden.

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Along with the summer crops, some have planted and are awaiting their fall vegetables, such as squash, lettuces and broccoli, the gardeners said.

Along with the 81 spaces, there are two additional ones, where volunteers offer their time to grow produce to be donated to Lunch Break, the Red Bank soup kitchen and food pantry. The garden group also contributes portions of its harvest to Lunch Break, too, with this summer’s collection amounting to about 400 pounds of produce, according to Della Benevides, one of the gardeners. Benevides is a garden committee member and with the Rutgers University Master Gardener program. “It’s great,” she said. “People are generous.”

The garden activity is more than just about growing vegetables or flowers, as some do, MacNeill said. “For me it’s meditative, especially anytime I have stress in my life,” she said, explaining how therapeutic it is to work the soil. On some occasions, she said she comes with a cup of coffee just sitting in the shade, chatting and catching up with other gardeners. “It was a wonderful way for me to get back in touch with people I knew when my kids were in school,” she said.

udy and Hans Zweerink display Judy’s contribution to the Shrewsbury Community Garden Harvest Festival.

“There’s an old saying,” Benevides said. “Gardening is cheaper than therapy,” echoing MacNeill’s thoughts.

“You get a chance to meet people you might not get to know,” offered Judy Kramer, another gardener.

Burden noted the friendships that can develop, with some offering to look after each other’s plots when on vacation or unavailable.

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Tom Menapace, who lays claim to being a “founding father” for the community garden, said his joy is pretty simple. “As a kid, it was always fun to play in the dirt,” he said. “And it still is.”

He took the lead from his father, an avid gardener. “I’m proud to say my father was an organic gardener before the term was used,” he said, with his father refusing to use chemical pesticides or fertilizers.

As a borough councilman, Menapace supported the plan and then served as the liaison to the garden committee. Officials used already available open space funds to cover the approximately $18,000 cost. Most of the cost was for the 8-foot fence, that goes 2 feet below the ground, keeping out deer and other animals, he explained. Since leaving the council Menapace has served on the committee.

The committee has also compiled its own recipe collection, with its first edition in 2016, 87 pages featuring favorites for appetizers to desserts to drinks submitted by those who plant and share their crop.

“It has become a wonderful tradition,” he said of the activity. “It really is.”

This article was first published in the Oct.5-12, 2017 print edition of The Two River Times.

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