One of the goals of the Nutritious Food Connections Committee of the Toms River Family Healthy and Support Coalition is to develop community gardens. Studies have shown the impact of a community garden is three-fold:
- Increased vegetable intake for a healthier diet
- Improved food security
- Stronger family and/or community relationships
The first garden we established in Toms River through our NJHI grant is on the property of St. Luke’s Parish Church on Old Freehold Road. We chose St. Luke’s because they have an established food pantry that supports the nutritional needs of 170 or more families each month. There is also sufficient space for a large garden and support from the pastor. In addition, the members of the St. Vincent de Paul Society of St. Luke’s Parish volunteered to be the caretakers of the garden which would make the project sustainable.
Approximately 24-30 volunteers were involved in planting and maintaining the garden. Jess Sinkhorn, the Garden Director from Fulfill (formerly the Food Bank of Monmouth and Ocean Counties), provides guidance and support to these volunteers. The committee meets several times a year and Jess has taught the garden’s caregivers how to plant and tend the garden. Fulfill donated a number of plants for the inaugural growing season in 2018 and committed its support for the 2019 growing season. This year, there were two plantings – one in the spring and the second in the summer.
The vegetables included peppers, kale, eggplant, spinach, snap peas, tomatoes, basil, lettuce, zucchini, parsley and cucumbers. Last year, with just one season, the harvest yield was 640 pounds of food that we shared with those who visited the food pantry. Due to the variety of the vegetables planted, visitors to the food pantry received recipes that featured the garden vegetables along with cooking lessons!
We started the second garden at Walnut Street Elementary School. School principal Richard Fastnacht is fully supportive of the garden in addition to teacher Robin Marra, who managed the garden. Once the garden was established, a local gardening club joined the effort. Ocean Academy students and their principal, Scott Corbett, volunteered to clear the garden beds and repair the greenhouse. As the warmer weather arrived, we returned to the school to continue the work needed to make this second garden a reality. Once some of the larger tree stumps were removed, we were able to move forward with great energy and enthusiasm. Jess Sinkhorn rejoined us for designing this garden and its first planting. She also offered to teach nutrition classes to the students at the school!
Both gardens are truly the result of a devoted community of people with the goal of making Toms River a healthier place to live.