Build it and they will come. That sort of visioning worked for baseball in Iowa in the film “Field of Dreams.” Could it produce a community garden behind a hardware store in Vineland?
That’s what John Ruga wondered as he surveyed the empty field behind his store and envisioned Vineland residents planting, growing and harvesting fresh produce. Ruga, owner and operator of UR Hardware & General Store, knew that fresh vegetables were often hard to come by in the City of Vineland, and those that were available were expensive. He wanted to expand the garden section of his store, offer garden plots to residents and then watch those gardens grow.
He shared his vision with Kim Tomlin a healthy living activist and community garden organizer, and it took off from there. Within a week Tomlin and Ruga put together a plan for establishing a community garden. They reached out to David Calderetti, New Jersey Partnership for Healthy Kids-Vineland Project Manager and Harry Behrens of Impact Harvest, a faith-based organization with a mission to bring fresh produce into the community. Produce from Impact Harvest’s farm fed 160 families last year.
UR Hardware cleared 30 five-by-10-foot garden plots and offered several ways for the community to benefit. Residents could “lease” a plot for $30 and receive a $25 gift card from the store for seeds, plants and garden tools. Non-profit organizations could claim a plot at no cost as long as they committed to planting and tending the garden. Also, UR Hardware created “public” plots for people who wanted to learn about gardening and try their hand but couldn’t make a summer-long commitment to nurturing the plants along. The bounty from the public plots will go to Impact Harvest for distribution to Vineland residents.
“Our aim is to make gardening fun, educational and entertaining,” Tomlin said. “We want to offer the gardening experience and show that these community gardens are growing good food that benefits your health and saves you money. It’s a shared responsibility and social activity.”
The May 14 public kick-off was a great success and underscored the fun of gardening. With the help of Impact Harvest and the Cumberland Cape Atlantic YMCA, children learned how to plant vegetables. Everyone enjoyed barbecue, and all the garden plots were claimed.
“This is the perfect intersection of commerce, community organizations and residents working together to make Vineland a healthy place to work, live and play,” said Calderetti.
Meanwhile, the visioning continues. “We will begin experimenting with vertical gardens and learning gardens,” Tomlin said. We want to introduce people to a different way of life, with fun for everyone coupled with a level of commitment to see the garden through its season.
Link to community news article—The Grapevine. NOTE—you have to scroll down to “It Takes a Community”: http://grapevinenewspaper.com/2016/03/SHARE: