Prior to a ribbon-cutting ceremony for the township’s first community garden, Edison Mayor Sam Joshi astutely noted the three dozen planting beds for fruits and vegetables will nourish so much more than hungry residents.
“In a world that at times feels disconnected, it’s spaces like this where we can build unity, compassion and understanding,” Joshi said during a press conference on Tuesday, noting the community garden at Thomas Swales Park off Germantown Avenue will also be an important space for gathering.
Dozens of volunteers, spearheaded by the nonprofit Beautiful Edison and the Edison Community Garden Initiative, joined the township’s Department of Public Works, which built three dozen cedar wood garden beds, in blossoming an idea that was seeded more than a decade ago.
“This was one of my administration’s first initiatives when we came into office, and it is absolutely wonderful to see it come to fruition,” said Joshi, who was sworn in as mayor Jan. 1.
“This group had the dream of being able to grow fresh fruits and vegetables in one of our parks for 10 years, and my administration was happy to partner with them and make this happen.”
The community garden is located across the street from Hands of Hope for the Community. A nonprofit committed to providing an efficient and centralized system for distributing food in Middlesex County to combat hunger, Hands of Hope for the Community will benefit from Edison’s endeavor.
“We have four gardens dedicated to our food pantry,” said Hands of Hope for the Community President Charles Tomaro, noting the number of food-insecure families the pantry, located in the basement of St. James Episcopal Church, serves is on the rise.
“With the increase in prices of food and gas and everything, there’s more people in need. They may be working a job now because unemployment is so low, but they still don’t have enough money to put food on the table, so they are looking for that food pantry and we try to help as many people as we can.”
Senator Patrick J. Diegnan Jr. and Assemblyman Robert Karabinchak, who represent New Jersey’s 18th Legislative District, which includes Edison, were among the dignitaries who attended Tuesday’s press conference and ribbon-cutting ceremony.
“I cannot be prouder to represent this township, to have the ability to be around your mayor and council, who really get it,” Diegnan said. “This is what community, this is what inclusion, this is what opportunity, this is what America is all about. We need more of this.”
Karabinchak praised all involved in the project, noting the community garden will not only feed the hungry and bring people together, but will also benefit the environment.
“Something else this garden produces beyond the vegetation and crops that are going to be coming up every single year, this actually helps climate,” Karabinchak said. “This helps so many different things. This is what (community) is all about. Giving back.”
Geetika Kaul, a student from John P. Stevens High School and an Edison Community Garden volunteer, said the garden “will grow to be more than just raised beds and seeds,” noting it will become a space “to foster community building.”
Sally Yabra, a member of the township’s Environmental Commission who played an integral role in the community garden’s development, said four master gardeners and other volunteers will provide on-site workshops for children and adults.
Native plants, courtesy of the Rutgers Cooperative Extension, have been planted around the perimeter of the garden, which is also encircled by a walking trail and features a shed for residents to store supplies.
“This is a green spot,” Yabra said. “This is what we want in every community. It’s nice to see people parking their vehicles (along Germantown Avenue) just to admire the garden. This is going to be a landscape garden where people can come and have a moment.”
More than a place to plant flowers, fruits, vegetables and herbs, the Edison Community Garden is a place where township residents can grow closer together and maybe help a neighbor in need.