BERKELEY – The Wrangle Brook Community Garden may not look like much in late March. But wait a few months, when the tomatoes, peppers and other vegetables are in full bloom. It won’t look like the same place.
“It’s very upliftting to be a part of it,” said founder Bonney Parker, on a recent chilly, windy day at the garden, which is off a dirt path off Southhampton Road in the Silver Ridge Park section of the township.
Parker and her sister share one plot each summer. Ironically, her sister is the gardener, not Parker.
“I wish I could say I was a gardener,” she joked. “I’m an organizer.”
The one-acre lot has been home to 40 private plots, space for spices, and land for local food pantries for the past three years. A Cub Scout Troop also grows vegetables. The garden is sponsored by the area Unitarian Universalist Congregation at Murray Grove in Lanoka Harbor.
The garden also supplies vegetables to the People’s Pantry in Toms River, St. Joseph Roman Catholic Church and other area food panties that have refrigeration, Parker said.
“If they don’t have refrigeration, we are hesitant to bring it,” she said.
The four-by-nine foot plots are open to anyone in Ocean County, for a dollar a year for a five-year lease. But the garden is so popular, as of this week there is only one plot left for this year, said Parker, who lives in Toms River.
When Parker and other church members noticed that the township-owned property was not being used, they approached Berkeley Mayor Carmen F. Amato Jr. and Township Council members about using the lot for a garden several years ago. They said yes.
“The community garden will help those less fortunate who don’t have the opportunity to grow fresh vegetables, and do so at a reasonable price,” the mayor said.
Water for the gardens comes from well water on the site. Ocean County provides as much compost and wood chips as needed for the patrons.
Karen Kennedy, a Berkeley Township resident who leases a plot with her fiance, grows tomatoes, kale, peppers, herbs and flowers that would be normally eaten by the deer in her yard.
“That is the reason we initially joined, but the garden is so much more,” she said. “The garden is a community of people who care about the environment, and helping others by providing fresh organic vegetables to local pantries. The Toms River Elks, which I belong to, have been a supporter by making significant annual donations.”
Kennedy, who is an officer with the Captain Joshua Huddy Chapter of the National Society of the Daughters of the American Revolution, has nominated Parker for a conservation award from the society.
For more information about the church, go to uuocc.org/. For more information about the garden, go to its Facebook page.