Community garden sprouts at Temple Emanu-El

By AMY ROSEN Staff Writer

EDISON — In an effort to provide fresh produce for their food pantry and the public, congregants of Temple Emanu-El recently broke ground on a community garden at the temple.

“Social action is very important to us and our congregation,” said Dara Winston, the temple’s office manager.

She explained that members of the congregation of 250 families traveled to New Orleans to help victims of Hurricane Katrina and reached out to New Jerseyans affected by superstorm Sandy.

Congregation members keep the food pantry well-stocked through donations, she added.

“Because we have the food pantry, it seemed like a natural progression for us to supply those in need with fresh produce that they don’t get through our pantry items,” Winston said.

Temple representatives recently completed a two-year environmental-certification program through an organization called GreenFaith.

“They looked at how we deal with the environment in terms of the function of the building, and made suggestions to support sustainability,” Winston said.

The idea of a sustainable garden grew out of that effort. Future plans include fertilizing the garden through composting.

“What we’ve seen is that a lot of people in our society today are faced with tremendous demands in terms of what they have to provide for their families to eat, and they have very little income with which to do it,” said Colin Hogan, chairman of the congregation’s social action committee. “We want to make sure that when people come to our synagogue, they are receiving not just food, but food that is healthy as well.”

Hogan said they plan to plant tomatoes, cucumbers and other items within the next three weeks, and hope to harvest the bounty some time in August.

The small community garden’s harvest will be given to anyone who needs it, not just temple members.

The public is welcome to volunteer to work on the garden as well.

“We also believe that through this project, we will be able to get even more of our congregational community and the larger community involved, because people are always looking for opportunities to do more than just give money. People are looking for hands-on projects to help people who need things,” Hogan said.

“We are hoping this project will bring a lot of groups together and provide healthy options for people in need.”

Being across the street from JFK Medical Center, the pantry gets many visitors stopping in for emergency food on their way home from the hospital.

The temple welcomes other organizations to collaborate on the project. New Jersey’s Lesbian & Gay Havurah (NJLGH) is currently lending their time and efforts to the garden.

The operation of the food pantry at Temple Emanu-El is shared with the Metuchen-Edison Interfaith Clergy Association, through which members of different faiths work together to benefit the community.

In addition to providing the public with produce, the community garden will provide its yield for Sabbath dinners, along with being integrated into the different arms of the temple, such as teaching religious school students about environmental issues, social action and feeding the hungry.

Winston noted that Judaism has agricultural traditions at its roots. In fact, the groundbreaking for the garden was held May 5 — just before Shavuot, the agricultural holiday, was to begin.

“It was very fitting for us to start it then,” Winston said. “That was when we plotted the garden, staked and roped it. Now we are turning the soil and putting up a fence.”

A grant from the Jewish Federation of Greater Middlesex County was presented to the temple to pay for half of the community garden program.

“Part of what we were looking to establish as part of our new funding program is to search for collaborative programs that represent different community groups working together on a project,” said Laura Safran, director of planning and allocation for the Jewish Federation of Greater Middlesex County. “[This project] is in a public sphere, incorporates social action and represents a collaborative action between two or more groups. We are very excited about the program, and are also funding a similar community garden in Israel.”

Anyone who needs food or would like to be involved with the community garden is welcome to visit Temple Emanu-El at 100 James St., Edison, or call 732-549- 4442.

Calling the food pantry in advance is advisable, so volunteers can prepare needed items. While the pantry does not have specific hours of operation, Winston said the best times to visit are between 9:30 a.m. and 2:30 p.m. on Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday.