CALL US NOW (609) 397-0194
Donate Now

Fisherman’s Mark turns weedy spot into organic garden

By: Jodi Spiegel Arthur
Published August 31, 2017 in the Bucks County Herald 

Under the hot summer sun inside a small fenced yard, Matt Noonan and Roni Todd-Marino walk along mulch-covered paths leading from one raised garden
bed to another, checking on the health of vegetables and herbs and pulling out an occasional weed.

What Todd-Marino said was once a “weedy spot out back” has become a garden behind social services agency Fisherman’s Mark’s new home in the Hibernia Firehouse in Lambertville, N.J. Todd-Marino is the social services director of Fisherman’s Mark, and Noonan is owner of Natural Approach Landscaping, based in Hamilton, N.J.

The Common Unity Garden was created earlier this year “to highlight the ease of urban gardening, to show that it’s not difficult to grow your own food, and actually powerful, especially for kids,” Todd-Marino said.

The garden fits in with the agency’s programs on wellness and encourages people to garden for themselves, and to donate any surplus they might have, she said. It also raises awareness that hunger is real, and that it exists in Lambertville.

Since 18 percent of Fisherman’s Mark’s clients are Latino, Marino said, the organic garden includes some vegetables and herbs that are traditionally used in Mexican kitchens but might not otherwise be available at the Fisherman’s Mark Food Pantry, or even local grocery stores.

They include jicama, epasote, tomatillos and cilantro. The garden is also home to items including tomatoes, cucumbers, herbs, squash, pumpkins, green beans and cucuzza, an Italian gourd.

Some of the produce is faring better than others, with some being eaten by deer, Todd-Marino said. “We’re about feeding the community. Sometimes that has to be deer, right,” she said with a laugh.

The approximately 30- by 40- foot garden was designed by Noonan, who served as lead volunteer and oversaw the installation. “This is very much educational and demonstration focused and not necessarily production focused,” he said, referring to the wide paths to facilitate both group and handicap access.

Noonan was aided by volunteers from numerous organizations, including: Future Farmers of America – South Hunterdon Regional High School chapter, which helped with garden installation and grant funding; Hunterdon County Partnership for Health, which contributed grant funding; T&T Tree Service, which donated mulch; Rutgers Master Gardeners, which donated seeds; Niece Lumber, which donated fencing; Buckingham Friends School, which provided a teacher work day; Trenton Psychiatric Hospital “New Leaf Gardeners” program, which started plants in its greenhouse and planted the garden; Rutgers Landscape and Nursery, which donated soil; Rolling Harvest, which provided plant donations; and Thompson Memorial Church Sunday School and Lambertville Academy campers, who painted “U” Rock garden rocks.

Funding for the garden came from grants of $800 from the Hunterdon County Partnership for Health and $600 from Future Farmers of America, and $200 raised by Fisherman’s Mark, for a total of $1,600.

Noonan said he conquered the weeds behind Fisherman’s Mark by smothering them with a layer of cardboard, which came from the waste stream, followed by a layer of mulch. He and his volunteers then planted in raised beds of varying sizes and shapes.

“Some people call it lasagna gardening because you create layers,” Noonan said.

Some of the raised beds were created by placing hay bales in position and filling the center with dirt. The bales hold moisture and retain heat, Noonan said. The volunteers also planted a vertical wall garden called a palate garden, a trellised garden and a small amount of in-ground items.

“Everything has been a community effort,” Todd-Marino said.

No pesticides have been used in the garden, and there was no erosion, since there was no tilling of the soil. Noonan said he makes his own weed killer out of white vinegar, salt and a dash of natural liquid soap. In addition to being better for the environment, and for people and animals, he said, “It’s cheaper by leaps and and
bounds.”