Orange Township: Evans Farm community garden seen as way to cultivate friendships

Jim Fischer
ThisWeek
Representatives from People In Need Inc., Orange Township and urban gardeners kneel together at the new community garden in the Evans Farm development. Pictured are (front row, from left) Kathy Hoff, executive director of People In Need; Diane Norcia, Srini Gunda, Ketch Dandangi, 7; Jim Lewis, past board president of People In Need; (second row) Gary Norcia; John Muirhead-Gould; Jamie Stabl; Rushil Dandangi, 13; Mark Morrisson; Kalyan Dandangi; (back row) Orange Township trustee Ben Grumbles; Silas Bowers, the township's director of operations; Aaron James, roads and parks manager; and David Gilson, roads worker.

On the outskirts of the mixed-use Evans Farm development off Lewis Center Road, Orange Township’s community garden is taking root.

Demand is far outpacing available space in the first year of the project, township trustee Ben Grumbles said, with all 50 plots rented, as well as a waiting list in case additional space becomes available.

Township residents were offered the 15-by-15-foot plots for $20 for the season. The township is providing installation, compost and water supply.

Township resident Jamie Stabl said the concept is a great way to expand on the small garden he keeps at his home, which is restricted by homeowners association rules.

“Plus gardening is just a great way to be outside and to get to meet new residents from different parts of the township,” Stabl said.  

“It’s bringing the community together while growing our own organic vegetables,” resident Srini Gunda said as he fondly recalled his family’s commercial farm in his native India.

John Muirhead-Gould joked that his 12-year-old son, Evan, is looking forward to having “Evan’s farm in Evans Farm.”

Grumbles said the idea was to leverage in-process development land in the township for the benefit of its residents. A lot of times, he said, dormant periods occur as property is developed, to which a township-developer partnership like a community garden could offer added value.

“It becomes an asset,” he said.

Evans Farm was the first to agree to dedicate space for gardens, Grumbles said. And although it’s possible the garden will have to find a new home in 2022, he said, he envisions more of an ongoing community program that could partner with a variety of spaces.

“And who knows? If Evans Farm offered to dedicate this land permanently, we wouldn’t say no,” he said.

Township roads and parks manager Aaron James oversaw the transformation of the acreage from a weeded fringe lot in a development to a 50-plot garden. The process took about three weeks “while fighting Mother Nature all the way,” he said.

Grumbles and township maintenance worker David Gilson were instrumental in bringing the project to its current stage of completion, James said.

The gardens are framed by repurposed wood, originally milled from trees on the property by the developers for a fence that since has been dismantled. The township partnered with Delaware County business Price Farms Organics to provide the mulch and compost. Township workers installed a solar-powered pump to bring water to the site from a nearby retention pond, which the township also is offering to gardeners free of charge.

“It’s nice to be able to use repurposed and organic materials,” James said, calling the garden project “long overdue” in the township.

Grumbles said the intent also is to offer programs at the garden site. Planned workshop topics include cooking, organic gardening basics and cedar planter construction.

A section of the garden has been designated as growing space to benefit People In Need Inc., the food-and-services agency in Delaware County. Grumbles said volunteers, including local churches and scout groups, as well as individual gardeners, will maintain the space, the entire harvest of which will be donated to PIN.

“When they contacted us, I said yes right away,” PIN executive director Kathy Hoff said. “We serve up to 400 households a week, and we’ve made an effort to be able to provide healthy choices. Fresh produce is in high demand, but it’s also expensive.”

Grumbles said the cooperative gardeners, with support from the township, also will plant sweetcorn and pumpkins.

Also planned are flowers and other landscape plants – a sort of garden-sharing beautification program that will allow township residents to bring one or take one of plants needed to split or share from their home gardens. This also will attract pollinators, Grumbles said, supporting the growing vegetables and fruits.

Grumbles said he also sees the effort as a way to highlight the increasing cultural diversity of Orange Township, as gardeners not only meet a variety of neighbors but also learn the particular herbs and vegetables fellow gardeners are growing.

For more information, go to orangetwp.org/478/Community-Gardens.

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