There were a lot of gardeners who put effort into the Somerset Hills YMCA's Giving Garden.
Several of those who made the garden possible gathered on Tuesday morning for an official ribbon-cutting at the fenced plot on the side property at the YMCA's main facility off Mount Airy Road, even though the seeds first had been planted last June.
It's now harvest time at the garden, where such produce as peppers and tomatoes, squash and eggplant are coming ripe. And those fresh items from the garden, grown organically, will go to some of the families that the YMCA already supports through its programs, said Fred Wasiak, chief operating officer for the YMCA, who was at Tuesday's ribbon-cutting.
This initiative is in partnership with the Rotary Club of Bernardsville and is a testament to the shared goals of both organizations – to promote healthy living, inspire education and serve the community, particularly, families in need, according to information from the YMCA.
The Rotary Club, which also includes members from Basking Ridge, funded the project as well as providing volunteer help to help get the garden established, Wasiak said.
Deloitte's New Jersey offices, which provided employees who volunteered to help out with such efforts as constructing garden boxes, also had a representative at the ribbon cutting.
Wanda Knapik, owner of My Local Garden in Bernardsville, has also been involved with the project and is working on domes to protect the lower garden boxes so the plants can continue growing through winter months.
The garden also delivers on a promise to provide education and activities for people of all ages and abilities, as well as to provide nourishing food for nearby residents. As a result, the project is being considered as a model for Rotaries and YMCAs across the U.S., according to the YMCA.
The Y’s Giving Garden encompasses 800 square feet with soil, irrigation, drainage, fencing and soil compost and includes raised beds and decking to facilitate the participation of individuals with limited mobility and children. Knapik, who also is a certified permaculture designer and educator, has helped to bring the garden to fruition through her guidance in the planning, design and educational programs being offered in the new garden.
Lauren Hirtes, director of special services at the Y, said some of the garden boxes are constructed at a sufficient height to be reachable for someone sitting in a wheelchair.
Throughout the summer months, the garden has provided a wide range of opportunities for volunteers of all ages and abilities. Rotarians, seniors, and Y staff assisted with planting during the initial phase. Children in the Y’s summer camp were afforded an opportunity to learn about sustainable gardening as part of the science curriculum. The campers helped to plant seeds for various vegetables and were taught to care for the plants as they grew. Additionally, participants in the Y’s SNAP program (Special Needs Adult Program) helped to nurture the garden during the growing phase by watering the plants and harvesting the food.
According to the YMCA, statistics on poor nutrition and obesity have been a driving force in the development of the Y’s Giving Garden. According to a Johns Hopkins 2007 study, only 28 percent of Americans are consuming two or more servings of fruit and only 32 percent are consuming three or more servings of vegetables per day. A main goal of the Y’s Giving Garden initiative is to share the produce with those who may not be receiving these healthy foods otherwise.
With the help of the Y’s Giving Garden partner, the Rotary Club of Bernardsville, volunteers gathered last week to harvest crops so they could be shared with local families who have limited access to nutritious foods. The Rotary Club distributed the produce to the families, one of whom is a recipient of the Y's Strong Kids financial assistance program.
Wasiak commented, "I feel privileged to have been able to deliver two bags brimming with fresh produce to one of the families in Bernardsville. I'll never forget the joy that I witnessed on this single mom's face when she saw all those vegetables. And this is just the start; we will harvest on a regular basis right through the fall."
The Giving Garden shared initiative, between the Rotary Club of Bernardsville and the Somerset Hills YMCA, brings to life the missions common to both organizations; promoting healthy living, inspiring education and developing community. The Rotary Foundation is currently considering the concept for an additional grant.