2011-05-26 / Front Page

Growing community, sowing peace

Three faith communities care for the Earth and for others

Volunteers from Temple Shalom and Temple Beth Ahm, both Aberdeen, and Matawan United Methodist Church work together in the community garden, whose bounty will be donated to the UMC food pantry. Volunteers from Temple Shalom and Temple Beth Ahm, both Aberdeen, and Matawan United Methodist Church work together in the community garden, whose bounty will be donated to the UMC food pantry. A lthough it sits on the property of Temple Shalom in Aberdeen, Gan Tikvah — “Garden of Hope”— extends its message well beyond Ayrmont Lane.

The participating congregations call it a “community garden,” a collaborative effort between Temple Shalom and nearby Temple Beth Ahm and Matawan United Methodist Church. Members of all three houses of worship provide tools, supplies andman-hours to turn the land into an asset for the Aberdeen-Matawan community.

“It really started off with our Social Action Committee. With this economy, there’s a lot of people out of work, and so many of them need help,” said Lenore Robinson, chairwoman of the committee at Temple Shalom. She has overseen the operation of the garden, from planning and planting to harvesting and distribution. The garden is entering its second season, exactly a year after ground was originally broken. Most of last year’s vegetables were harvested in the fall, just in time for Robinson to begin planning for this season.

The garden is “a ton of tomatoes,” Robinson said, in addition to cucumbers, peppers, eggplants and string beans. All of the vegetables are donated to the food pantry at Matawan United Methodist Church, where they are given directly to the hungry families it helps every week.

“They feed a lot of people, and the people are very happy,” Robinson said.

Gan Tikvah was able to donate almost 400 pounds of vegetables to the food pantry last year, establishing itself as a viable source of produce for the busy food bank.

Robinson isn’t surprised when she learns some of the volunteers are the eventual beneficiaries of the produce, the very people the garden is feeding.

“They get the benefits and they feel responsible to be a part of it,” she said.

It’s a community garden in every sense.

Robinson was inspired by Monmouth Reform Temple’s Gan Mazon, the Tinton Falls congregation’s Garden of Plenty, which began in 2009. She immediately recognized the abundance of land available on Temple Shalom property and the role a community garden could play in temple life.

Temple Shalom’s efforts were honored by the Union for Reform Judaism, which bestowed it with an honorable mention for the Irving J. Fain Award for Outstanding Synagogue Social Action Programming, which recognizes congregations that “put Jewish values to work in the world by promoting social and economic justice; fostering peace and constructive human relations; relieving the suffering of the persecuted and downtrodden; mobilizing to serve people in times of emergency; and defending civil rights and civil liberties.”

Gan Tikvah pulls directly from the teachings of the temple. Giving back to the community is a vital aspect of Judaism, and protecting the Earth builds an even deeper connection to the Torah.

“We’re commanded to feed the hungry, and we’re commanded to care for the Earth,” said Margo Wolfson, head of Temple Shalom’s Green Team, which focuses on working with the environment. “We’re supposed to make peace among our neighbors, and here we are reaching across the aisle to people of different faiths and at different synagogues within the Jewish faith.”

Robinson said the relationship between the three congregations brings the number of volunteers none of them would be able to gather on their own.

“It’s a good opportunity for us to work together with the other congregation and the Methodist church,” she said. “We’re very close, distance-wise, and we have the chance to work together to build up the community.”

Gan Tikvah relies solely on donations and the work of devoted volunteers. Master gardeners of Monmouth County — such as Howard Bodner, who oversaw the construction and maintenance of Gan Mazon — devoted time to planning and starting up the garden.

“It’s worked out very well for everyone involved,” Robinson said. “I just have to hope my volunteers keep coming in.”

Donors, such as Dearborn Farms of Holmdel, give seedlings and plants to the garden, and monetary donations are used to purchase tools and supplies. Congregants with pickup trucks and SUVs transport an immense amount of material to and from the garden, including mulch donated by Aberdeen Township and soil from private donors.

Gardeners also try to remain aware of larger environmental concerns. The soil was developed from a compost combination, and a compost bin was installed last year to provide fertilizer for this year’s soil.

“True sustainability is all about closing the loop, and that’s what we’re doing in the garden by thinking creatively about what we use to grow our food, and what we do with the food we don’t eat,” Wolfson wrote in a blog post for Reform Judaism site RJ.org.

And other volunteers just donate hours of hard labor to plant, harvest and maintain the garden.

“Everything is done by volunteers. We’re nothing without them,” Robinson said. “Some are really good gardeners, and others — like me — know nothing. But the people who knowwhat they’re doing just show us what to do. We’re all working together.”

Last summer the work was made all the harder thanks to the interference of a particularly hungry groundhog. It ate through much of the garden’s crop of cucumbers before the fencing was reinforced.

That hasn’t diminished Robinson’s expectations for Gan Tikvah’s second season. The site was expanded an extra 6 feet, which made room for lettuce, a new addition to the garden. As long as volunteers keep coming, Robinson knows they will be able to feed even more families this year.

“We try to do as much as we can with as much as we have,” she said. “That’s social action.”

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