Just in time for spring, Port Jefferson’s community garden is planned and ready to get started.
On March 15, the Village Board of Trustees voted an overwhelming “yes” to the new pilot community garden program.
The idea behind it, Trustee Rebecca Kassay — who “planted the seed” on the project — said it would be able to give residents an opportunity to grow local, organic food and enjoy outdoor recreation together, while creating learning opportunities for its villagers. The garden would be dedicated to maintaining parkland and be a staple to the community.
And she felt that this quaint area could benefit from its own garden.
“I’ve been around vegetable gardens since I was born,” she said. “My father kept — and still keeps — an impressive half-acre in St. James.”
After completing a degree in Environmental Studies, she moved to Harlem where she found a tense neighborhood being gentrified had one common ground — Jenny Benitez’s community garden in Riverside Park.
“It was in my time volunteering there that I most clearly saw how this simple human tradition humbles, delights and invites unity between people from all ages and backgrounds,” she said.
Since November 2020, a group of 11 residents volunteered their time to become part of the Community Garden Committee, hoping to launch the garden on an abandoned, vacant plot of land on Beach Street.
Village gardener Caran Markson said that a long time ago, the land was once a playground with broken-down equipment. Since it was removed, it has been bare, looking for a new purpose.
“The property has been empty for as long as I can remember,” she said. “It was very underutilized.”
For months, the group researched, planned and eventually implemented a design for the village’s first community garden.
According to Kassay, the garden will initially consist of 16 raised beds, with some being double-high beds for residents with different abilities. The garden will be accessible to all.
“Beach Street is a great little spot for Port Jefferson Village’s first community garden,” she said. “It is a flat piece of underutilized village parkland with plenty of sun for residents to grow some organic veggies.”
But the best part is, the Beach Street plantings are set to begin this summer, and if the pilot garden project is successful, the committee expects to expand at the Beach Street site in 2022, and in subsequent years, create a second garden site at the Highlands parkland uptown.
Kassay added the group is also looking to pilot Port Jefferson’s first composting program at Beach Street, after some research of area-appropriate methods, pending community response.
“This large effort is anticipated between 2023 and 2024,” she said.
Markson said the 16 beds will be planted with vegetables.
“Outside of the raised beds, we’re going to hopefully a whole bunch of berries, maybe grapes, and we can plant native flowers just to beautify this village,” she added. “It’s going to pull the community together.”
On March 15, Mayor Margot Garant and the village board contributed $4,000 of village beautification funds toward the project, specifically to irrigation and raised bed materials.
Committee members have already begun collecting in-kind and monetary donations from community members to meet the project’s $8,600 2021 budget and will be circulating donation material mid-April.
“No contribution is too small,” she said. “You can find a committee member for more information and/or to give a donation at the weekly Village Farmer’s Market starting May 2.”
Once established, the garden committee will raise money throughout the year with suggested-donation programming and fundraisers.
Kassay said they are looking to break ground on the project May 1, with a ribbon cutting July 10.
“I’m really looking forward to giving fellow residents the ability to grow their own produce,” Kassay said. “Whether it’s a fun family project, a way to cut down on grocery bills, a way to meet new people, part of a journey to better health … I’ve been fortunate to have access to gardens throughout my life, and now I’m grateful for the opportunity to share this with my community.”