Community Gardeners Upset As Mayor Throws Shade On Their Plans

Vegetables are available twice a week at a stand maintained by the Stafford Community Garden. (Photo courtesy Connie Toth)

  SOUTHERN OCEAN COUNTY – A seed of an idea dismissed by Barnegat Light Mayor Kirk O. Larson has sprouted some deep-rooted concerns with gardening enthusiasts on the mainland side of the bridge.

  It all began when a couple of full-time residents approached local officials at their last borough meeting. Kevin Phillips and Michelle DiAntonio hoped authorities would allocate some public land to be used for a community garden. They also asked for a reliable water supply and spelled out the extent of their plans – including their aspirations to donate produce surplus to those in need.

  However, the mayor questioned past successes of similar projects.

  Larson seemed to doubt the proposal could work – suggesting he didn’t see community gardens blossoming in Manahawkin.

  Three community gardens have plots throughout Stafford – with at least one growing some resentment towards the Barnegat Light mayor’s comments.

  Connie Toth said that 20-30 people participate in the Stafford Community Garden with Dr. Deborah McCabe leading the efforts as a master gardener. McCabe also works with local scout troops to earn badges.

  “We are fairly self-sustaining,” said Toth. “The township provides us with water, space, and does some maintenance – like removing a tree that went down in a windstorm.”

Photo courtesy Connie Toth

  This particular set of gardeners aren’t just growing vegetables; they’re cultivating a culture of sustainability. From crafting lantern fly traps to protect their eggplants to meticulously managing soil calcium levels for optimal growth, their dedication extends beyond the garden plot.

  Their commitment to environmental responsibility shines through their participation in Earth Day cleanups and local festivities. They even share their knowledge with the community through informative talks at monthly meetings, inspiring residents to get their hands dirty.

A Year-Round Labor Of Love

  Stafford Community Garden members volunteer their time, adapting their activities with the changing seasons. From winter pruning to the rush of planting, fertilizing, and tilling come spring and summer, their commitment is unwavering – except for a break in December and January.

Photo courtesy Connie Toth

  This year, the Stafford gardeners constructed a protective net frame for their pear trees and built new compost bins, primarily from donated materials. One industrious member even revamped the existing compost bins and rehung a convenient collection bucket at the garden’s entrance.

  A produce stand open on Saturday mornings and Thursday afternoons operates on a donation basis. The stand helps sustain the garden’s needs, from purchasing tents to essential fertilizers.

  At the start of the Memorial Day weekend rush, locals and tourists had the opportunity to select from a bounty of fresh herbs and vegetables. Radishes, broccoli, lettuce, asparagus, spinach, and kale were all ripe for consumption.

Photo courtesy Connie Toth

  “We have some people who come to our stand twice a week on a regular basis,” Toth added. “Sometimes we share recipes with people who come and they sometimes bring us a sample of things they have made with our produce.”

  The stand also supports the Little Pantry in Stafford and the Veterans Food Bank. Any remaining produce finds a warm welcome at a local church, ensuring nothing goes to waste.

  Larson did not respond to a request for comment on his remarks by the time this article went to press. Whether a community garden takes root in the borough soil remains to be seen.

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Stephanie A. Faughnan is an award-winning journalist associated with Micromedia Publications/Jersey Shore Online and the director of Writefully Inspired. Recognized with two Excellence in Journalism awards by the New Jersey Society of Professional Journalists, Stephanie's passion lies in using the power of words to effect positive change. Her achievements include a first-place award in the Best News Series Print category for the impactful piece, "The Plight Of Residents Displaced By Government Land Purchase," and a second-place honor for the Best Arts and Entertainment Coverage category, specifically for "Albert Music Hall Delivers Exciting Line-Up For 25th Anniversary Show." Stephanie can be contacted by email at