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Community garden established at Oakley farmstead

By Clare Marie Celano

FREEHOLD TOWNSHIP – Land that was farmed for many years will once again become a source of fresh produce.

The new Freehold Township Community Garden at the Oakley farmstead, Wemrock Road, will host a ribbon cutting ceremony on April 9 for gardeners, according to Ronnie Leibowitz, Rutgers Master Gardener and member of the Freehold Township Heritage Society.

Leibowitz, of Manalapan, came up with the idea of starting a community garden at the historic Oakley farmstead and is working with Rutgers Master Gardener Erin Beuka, and committee members and master gardeners Marsha Montgomery, Pat Halligan, Joan Carroll and Jeanne Patterson.

A meeting and orientation day will take place at the garden on April 16 at 9 a.m. Leibowitz said the participants who will cultivate plots in the garden will meet the master gardeners who will provide assistance as needed.

She said Township Administrator Peter Valesi helped to put the idea for the garden in motion and the Township Committee approved funds for fencing and water.

Mayor Barbara McMorrow said the community garden offers “a return to simpler times when many homes had vegetable and flower gardens, and neighbors shared not only their friendships, but also their bounty with each other. With a salute to our agrarian history, the community garden offers our residents a wonderful opportunity to cultivate more than a garden at our beautiful historic site. This is an adventure for all generations to enjoy.”

Volunteers will care for a Plant a Row for the Hungry plot and the produce from that plot will be donated to area food banks. Other vegetables will be sold at a farmers market with proceeds going to the Freehold Heritage Society, organizers said.

“Community gardening raises awareness that anybody can be involved in gardening,” Leibowitz said. “You do not have to have a big piece of property. We are very fortunate to have a nice piece of property for this community garden. … We are trying to keep the things we eat under our control. … When we grow it ourselves, we are in control. It is as fresh as it can get. It’s a win-win for everyone.”

Beuka said the garden will have 20 4- x 10-foot plots and 20 4- x 20-foot plots. There will be six 4- x 10-foot raised beds to accommodate individuals who have difficulty kneeling or bending.

Residents and non-residents may sign up on a  first-come first-serve basis. Applications are being accepted now through May 31. Applications may be downloaded at http://twp.freehold.nj.us/community_garden. Signups for the garden can be made in person from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. March 12-13 at the Oakley farmstead community garden.

Beuka thanked Cheryl Cook, who is Freehold Township’s historian, the founder of the Freehold Township Heritage Society and vice chair of the municipality’s Historic Preservation Commission, for her assistance.

“The Historic Preservation Commission and the Freehold Township Heritage Society are very excited about the community garden on the grounds of the Oakley farm,” Cook said. “It is something we have talked about for quite a while and thanks to Freehold Township we are now able to see it come to fruition. It will be a win-win for residents and for the farm to help repopulate birds and bees back to the area. … The Monmouth County Master Gardener program is very adept at developing community gardens and we are excited to be able to give them the space to work with.”

Beuka said she is hoping to develop a group of gardeners who will have a connection to the community, the soil and one another.

“The community garden will continue the Oakley farming legacy in a very real, although small way. If the members of the Oakley family are looking down, I would like them to see we are continuing that tradition in Monmouth County,” she said.



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