By DON STINE
Community involvement and living a healthier lifestyle in Neptune’s Midtown area will get a boost under a proposal to expand a community garden in the area.
“The garden has proven to be successful and now we have a chance to expand it and get more people involved,” First Pentecostal Church Sr. Pastor Paul L. Brown said.
In 2011, the Township Committee granted the First Pentecostal Church, 144 Oxonia Ave. and Midtown Urban Renaissance Corporation use of a 50- by 100-foot section Liberty Park on Monroe Avenue for a community garden. Church and MURC officials are now requesting permission to expand the park to 100 feet by 150 feet.
The Township Committee introduced an ordinance at its last meeting that would create an agreement to expand the community garden. The ordinance will have a public hearing on March 14.
The ordinance stipulates that vegetables grown at the community garden will not be sold to the public but will supplement the church’s food pantry. The 10-year lease, for $1 a year, will automatically renew every decade unless either party terminates the lease.
MURC President Dianna Harris said the community garden is in its fourth years and that it keeps getting bigger and better every year.
“These gardens are for the entire neighborhood- seniors, kids and parents. It is good for everybody,” Harris said.
A fund-raising breakfast to help cover costs of the garden will be held Saturday, March 26 from 8:30 a.m. to noon at on VFW O’Brien Major VFW Post 2639 located at 1515 Corlies Ave. (Route 33). Tickets are $10; $12 at the door; and $7 for children. For advance tickets call Harris at 732-988-4400.
Harris said costs associated with the garden include buying plants, organic soil, and mulch.
“Our goal is to add five additional beds that cost about $100 each. But we should be ready for planting by spring,” she said.
A park clean-up will also be held Sat., April 9 from 10 a.m.to 2 p.m.
“It will be called A Better Block Party and we are hoping to get youth volunteers- to introduce them to not only gardening but also to healthy eating habits and a better way of life,” she said.
First Pentecostal Church Sr. Pastor Paul L. Brown said his church has looked after the park and cleaned it up for many years and a decision was made, in association with MURC, to create a community garden on some parkland that needed to be cleared.
“The garden creates more community involvement and prevents drug and gang activities, which was on the rise here. We changed the activity of the park by putting in the garden and gang activity has dropped significantly. I believe the garden puts a positive spin on what was there before,” he said.
Brown said that parents are now encouraged to bring their children to the park and that adults, both men and women, get involved.
Vegetables grown in the garden are taken home by people involved in the garden and the excess goes to the church’s food pantry.
Brown said some children in the Midtown area are unable to get to summer recreation programs in the township and the community garden offers a good opportunity to reach out and offer recreational opportunities for these children.
He said he hopes the program is expanded to other Neptune parks. Participants from the Rutgers University Master Gardeners program come down to the park every year to help with the project.