The Community Garden in Mt. Olive is growing, not only vegetables and flowers, but in volunteers, organic crops, a native forest and a future walking trail.
A representative from The Land Conservancy of New Jersey presented a year end report at the May 6 Mt. Olive Township Council meeting to update the public on progress that has been made at South Branch Preserve. The parcel is 400 acres, located off Wolfe Rd. near Route 46 east.
In just a year’s time since the Community Garden at South Branch Preserve in Mt. Olive opened in July 2013, the South Branch Preserve has doubled in size, established an active committee, and even a new sign to identify its location. It has grown from not only as source of gardening, but also an area for walking and hiking.
“There’s not enough good things to say about the community garden,” says Barbara Davis of Randolph, vice president of programs for the Land Conservancy of New Jersey. “We are very pleased.” Davis gave her update to township officials at the May council meeting regarding the 400 acres that is being preserved by The Land Conservancy and its partners, which includes Mt. Olive Twp.
This land was identified and then purchased by the Conservancy’s Board of Trustees, explains Davis, to protect the headwaters of the South Branch of the Raritan River, a drinking water supply source for more than 1.5 million NJ residents.
The South Branch Preserve is now separated into two areas, north and south. The south section was recently identified with 200 acres off of Shop Lane, just half a mile down the road from the Community Garden. The land had been previously sited for 16 houses but the project was discontinued when the landowner started construction without having proper permits, says Davis.
The Land Conservancy took ownership of this land, received several grants, and approval to open up a restoration site for
the public, plant trees and shrubs and put in a trail. Davis says several thousand trees and shrubs have already been planted.
“Streams are all flowing, bursting with wildflowers,” says Davis. “We restored it.”
With a grant received from the Department of Environmental Protection, the conservancy recently removed a house that was partially constructed in 2010 with its foundation, as well as seven bridges and two detention basins.
Davis described the site as a “sensitive site,” so they have been replanting. Not open for active use yet, the area will eventually be slated for walking and hiking trails as well as information kiosks. The trail will be about a one-mile loop, says Davis.
The boy scouts plan to build a kiosk and wild-life bird blind at the site, she adds.
The DEP has provided a $9,750 to cover the costs for planting and the trail. Davis says the goal is to have the trail open this summer for the public for “low impact activities; it is an active restoration site.”
The other section of South Branch Preserve is the northern section which includes 200 acres, with three projects: the Community Garden; Organic Gardening; and Native Forests.
The Community Garden, which is a one-quarter acre, opened in July 2013 and has grown to 145 plots, with only eight plots left for purchase.
“We had planned for 69 plots but that sold out in one year,” says Davis, so they expanded to 145 plots.
The garden has become a great source for growing flowers and vegetables by residents throughout the community. Whether a private homeowner who may have deer or shade restraints or a resident who lives in an apartment complex without outdoor space for a garden, the Community Garden has been very resourceful.
The garden has also served as an outlet for gardeners “to share expertise,” says Barbara McCloskey of Rockaway, member and outreach manager of The Land Conservancy of NJ. “They’re really helping each other with the garden.”
Davis agrees, “There’s been an explosion of interest in the garden. It’s become a social arena for people. The garden is a great place to meet people.”
Extra plots were even purchased to donate to farmers and soup kitchens, says Davis.
A committee for the garden, Community Garden Committee, was formed to plan events like pot luck dinners, swap recipes, answer questions or concerns that other gardeners may have and act as liaison with the gardeners and The Land Conservancy Garden manager. Currently there are 12 members.
An open house and seedling/recipe exchange was recently held on May 31; campers from the Innovation Station Mt. Olive Stem Camp will be visiting the garden this summer.
A fence has been installed around the garden to prevent deer and other rodents from eating the produce.
The Community Garden, which operates from frost to frost, is seasonal from April 1 to Nov. 15. Cost for a plot per season is $30 for Mt. Olive residents and members of the Land Conservancy of NJ; $40 for non-residents; and a $30 irrigation fee for all members.
Across the street from the Community Garden is land made up of 12 agricultural fields farmed for corn. The Conservancy received a grant to till the corn under and plant with native oats and grasses.
Out of those 12 fields, the Conservancy has transferred eight of those fields into Organic Farming. A farmer is using these fields to plant oats, without pesticides, to grow grains.
This area must follow organic methods since it has been identified as sensitive water conservancy by the NJ Water Supply Authority, explains Davis.
The other four fields will be used as restoration fields for a Native Forest.
“The native forest restoration site, the four fields by the South Branch of the Raritan River, will be left as a natural area,” says Davis. “The trail will go through the native forest restoration site and we will monitor the use to make sure it is compatible with the sensiti
vity of the newly planted trees.”
Founded in 1981, The Land Conservancy of NJ is a non-profit land trust dedicated to preserving and protecting land and water resources. Its purpose is to inspire and empower individuals and communities to take action to preserve land and protect the environment in NJ.
The Conservancy has preserved more than 19,550 acres of land and helped towns secure $229 million in county, state, and federal grants for their land conservation projects. It has worked in 89 municipalities in 13 counties benefiting millions of people who live, work, or visit the state.
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