It is safe to say this has been a tough year for everyone. Cut off from our families, friends, and our normal routines, many have decided to take on new challenges during this time. Many are turning to what I refer to as “analog hobbies;” meaning things we can do that do not involve technology. Maybe it is because we now spend all day in solitude working from home, staring at out laptops. Maybe it is because we have so much time on our hands, we need something new.
I am a huge fan of analog hobbies. While I spend most of my time working in the digital space, I have found over the years analog hobbies provide both enjoyment and challenges. I crochet, spin yarn, tie flies, fly fishing, do yoga, and over the last few years, garden.
When we moved into our new community two years ago, I discovered the town had a community garden. For a small annual fee, you can rent a plot in a space set aside for garden enthusiasts. I hadn’t had a garden in over a decade and was eager to begin again. In the last two years, I have tried out planting items I never cultivated before, met some wonderful people from my new community, and learned new gardening skills. Since New Jersey is known as the “Garden State,” I think it is a perfect hobby.
Whether it was Victory Gardens during World War II or gardening now during the COVID-19 pandemic, many are looking to gardening to help alleviate stress, as well as cultivate and control their own food sources. Published in the Journal of Advanced Nursing, “Therapeutic horticulture in clinical depression: a prospective study of active components” found gardening therapy to be effective in reducing the symptoms of depression. Individuals participated in a 12-week “therapeutic horticulture program” at four farms near Oslo, Norway. It is safe to say gardening has helped many cope with the stress, anxiety, and depression many have experienced due to the lack of social interaction.
Additionally, many community gardens provide fresh fruits and vegetables to local social service organizations for those who are at risk of food insecurity. As the COVID-19 pandemic wears on and many lose their sources of income, the fresh produce provided to these organizations by community gardens has become increasingly important. Last year the community garden I belong to donated several hundred pounds of fresh produce to our local food pantry. This effort is duplicated in community gardens throughout New Jersey.
Earlier this year, a Newark couple spearheaded a plan to turn a vacant lot on Grafton Avenue into a beautiful community garden. It took an eyesore of space that was regularly littered with trash and needles and turned it into a vibrant space for the community to grow their own vegetables and show off the pride of their area. This has been a huge undertaking and I look forward to visiting their garden when we are able to travel more freely. This is a project to truly be celebrated!
There are locations, however, where space for community gardens have come under attack. The town of Denville in Morris County is looking to cut space of their community garden for – you guessed it – a parking lot.
Every time I hear about a project like this, I am reminded of the lyrics of Big Yellow Taxi by Joni Mitchell…
“They paved paradise to put up a parking lot.”
While New Jersey is officially known as the Garden State, it is often referred to as the Mall State. What was once great farming lands have often been reduced to strip malls and parking lots. As more blacktop is put down, weather like rain and snow has nowhere to go. It won’t be absorbed into the once fertile soil. Instead it will create run-off that will lead to more flooding and pollution.
This parking lot is part of a $2.7 million dollar library expansion project in Denville.
I am a huge fan of public libraries and have often written about their continued importance for their communities. However, this is not about a library. This is about eliminating a sizable amount of green garden space for a parking lot.
Here is a video which shows how much of the garden space will be lost.
It is shocking that the Mayor and town government would support such a plan.
As the video shares, the members of the community garden donate much of their bounty to a local orphanage, as well as local food pantries and churches to help their neighbors avoid food insecurity.
I implore Mayor Thomas Andes and the Town Council to rethink this decision. Now, more than ever, we need more open public space, not less And that open space should include community gardens.