Once a barren maintenance area, a section of Fairfield Park in Newark is lush with veggies, herbs and camaraderie.
Last year, in its inaugural season, 46 gardeners tended 10-by-4-foot raised-bed plots in the community garden. The initiative is a collaboration between the city and a community garden committee.
“Now we have 54 gardens, with a waiting list,” says Joe Spadafino, superintendent of the Newark Parks and Recreation Department. “It’s been a great success.”
The site inside the seven-acre park on Stamford Drive was selected because it already had a water hookup, convenient parking and a fence to protect the garden. Urban farmers also have access to a shed that stores tools and wheelbarrows.
Some gardeners signed up because they live in apartments and don’t have access to ground where they can grow plants. Others live in houses where the yard is too shady to grow much. The Fairfield Park site gets at least eight hours of sun each day.
Members of the community work in the garden.
Others were simply seeking the companionship of kindred spirits with green thumbs. Gardeners range in age from 20 to 70-somethings and share seeds, insights and expertise.
“People often exchange vegetables: tomatoes, cucumbers, watermelon and more,” Spadafino says. “That way everyone gets a little bit of everything.”
Last year, many gardeners couldn’t keep up with the bounty produced at the height of the season. This year, the group will work with the Food Bank and other local charities to distribute excess veggies.
“We are using mushroom soil from growers in Pennsylvania and the soil is amazing,” Spadafino says. “It’s like gold for gardeners.”