Five Seeds of Wisdom from the Rutherford Community Teaching Garden

May 16, 2012

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When the Rutherford Green Team dreamed up the radical plan to create a community garden in the overgrown, littered vacant lot along the railroad tracks, most people thought it was crazy. The neighbors feared the garden would attract loiterers and thieves.

After over two years of hard work, that’s exactly what happened. Almost every day, people are loitering in the garden: members of the Scouts, the Garden Club, the Woman’s Club, the Green Team, the Shade Tree Committee and several sports teams are taking care of the garden. And as for thieves, the beautiful dahlia garden is too tempting, and a beautiful flower will sometimes go missing.

Rutherford Green Team

Sustainable Jersey Small Grants Now Available

On May 3, Sustainable Jersey joined officials from the public and private sector and local residents to celebrate the Rutherford Community Teaching Garden and to highlight new grant money available for similar municipal sustainability projects. With $200,000 from the PSEG Foundation, Sustainable Jersey will provide municipalities with grants for thirty-two projects that will help towns make communities more livable, environmentally friendly and prosperous.

Learn more about the 2012 Sustainable Jersey grants program and download an application here.

Rutherford was awarded a 2010 Sustainable Jersey Small Grant in the amount of $25,000 that allowed the town to complete Phase Two of its Community Teaching Garden Project. The garden provides the Rutherford Green Team and Sustainable Jersey with an impressive, functional and beautiful example of sustainable living in the Bergen County area as well as a multitude of sustainable growth and education opportunities for older adults, those with special needs and all of its residents.

Rutherford Community Garden

5 Tips from the Rutherford Community Garden

1. Ask and Deliver What the Community Wants

In the planning stages, the Rutherford Green Team took the time to ask the community what they wanted in a community garden. Older adults asked for accessible raised planting tables to allow sit-down gardening. The Green Team used volunteers to build four dedicated raised garden beds using treecycled (wood from fallen trees) and purchased wood. The garden now supports a program of horticultural therapy that the older adults have embraced.

2. Collaborate

The Green Team collaborated with the Shade Tree Committee in the early planning stages. This resulted in the Shade Tree Committee planting a shade tree nursery adjacent to the garden. Over two hundred shade trees are in the ground and will be ready for Rutherford’s streets in a few years. Also, a ten session lecture and demonstration series on Sustainable Gardening Practices was done in the outdoor classroom in cooperation with the Bergen County Gardeners.

3. Dare to Be Innovative

Using the Sustainable Jersey grant, the Green Team installed ADA compliant recycled rubber sidewalks along the 140 foot length of the garden to allow wheelchair access to the entire site as well as to the four special raised garden beds dedicated for use by older adults and others with special needs. The municipality now provides transportation to the garden from the Senior Activity Center. The interlocking modular sidewalk paving system is a showcase for residential and municipal use of the recycled alternative paving material. It is tree friendly because it rises with tree roots, allowing for maintenance and care of the tree under the sidewalk. Due to the garden, Rutherford modified its construction code to allow the use of this new sidewalk product.

4. Demonstrate Sustainable Practices Like Water Conservation

A battery operated drip irrigation system was installed by volunteers. The drip irrigation, along with rain garden style planting and thick layers of treecycled mulch help to demonstrate methods of water conservation in a sustainable garden. The drip irrigation also sustains the shade tree nursery through dry weather periods.

5. Engage Volunteers and Don’t Waste their Time.

Since its beginning, the garden has enjoyed the good efforts of fifteen to twenty-five volunteers almost every Saturday. The garden has united several different community groups and organizations. The Scouts, the Garden Club, the Woman’s Club, the Green Team, Shade Tree Committee and several sports teams have all contributed. Rutherford has created a community center where people now gather to learn about gardening and composting and residents stop by on Saturdays with garden questions. Garden leaders try to give everyone who comes by an important job to do. The Green Team has learned that it is very important never to waste a volunteer’s time. Rutherford’s use of volunteer labor from the community multiplied the value of the Sustainable Jersey Small Grant, allowing the majority of funds to be expended on materials as most of the installations were completed by volunteers.

Rutherford Green Team Community Garden

John Hughes, the Vice Chair of the Rutherford Green Team, is a founder and tireless champion of the garden. He said, “The Green Team began the Erie Street garden project as a way to make a difference in the lives of our residents. We wanted to demonstrate how volunteers, working together, can create a lovely new space that adds value to the community and enriches our lives.” Mission accomplished.

To date, $595,000 has been awarded through the 2009-2011 Sustainable Jersey Small Grants program. Eighty grants have been given to New Jersey municipalities representing 20 counties for sustainability projects. Rutherford is a shining example of the positive change that these grants can inspire across New Jersey.

Applications for the 2012 Sustainable Jersey Small Grants are due July 15, 2012.

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