Union County Master Gardeners Have A Lot To Celebrate

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By Master Gardener T.J. Karns, Chair of Grants and Publicity, Rutgers Master Gardeners of Union County

Downpour no deterrent to this celebration. Cutting the ribbon to open The Master Gardeners' 24th Annual Spring Fair and Plant Sale last month for were (l-r) Roy Torrigiani, Kitchen and Bath Designer at HOME DEPOT-GARWOOD; Carol Walczuk (partly hidden), President, UC Master Gardeners; Cheryl Good, Manager of Community Relations & Consumer Affairs, KINGS FOOD MARKETS; Union County FREEHOLDERS Bruce Bergen and Bette Jane Kowalski; Master Gardener T.J. Karns, Chair of Grants and Publicity; Dr. Karen Ensle, Department Head, RUTGERS COOPERATIVE EXTENSION; and Master Gardener Althea Llewellyn, Publicity Committee. A grant from Kings, plus a donation of labor and materials from Home Depot-Garwood enabled installation of a new wall kitchen and island in the building where the Master Gardeners prep and weigh the produce they grow and donate to local soup kitchens and food pantries in Union County -- nearly 20,000 lbs. since 2002. In 2013, the MGs are also celebrating their 25th year of providing gardening, land stewardship and horticultural therapy services to Union County residents. Photo by Master Gardener Pat Paul.

Cutting the ribbon to open The Master Gardeners’ 24th Annual Spring Fair and Plant Sale in May were (l-r) Roy Torrigiani, Kitchen and Bath Designer at HOME DEPOT-GARWOOD; Carol Walczuk (partly hidden), President, UC Master Gardeners; Cheryl Good, Manager of Community Relations & Consumer Affairs, KINGS FOOD MARKETS; Union County FREEHOLDERS Bruce Bergen and Bette Jane Kowalski; Master Gardener T.J. Karns, Chair of Grants and Publicity; Dr. Karen Ensle, Department Head, RUTGERS COOPERATIVE EXTENSION; and Master Gardener Althea Llewellyn, Publicity Committee. A grant from Kings, plus a donation of labor and materials from Home Depot-Garwood enabled installation of a new wall kitchen and island in the building where the Master Gardeners prep and weigh the produce they grow and donate to local soup kitchens and food pantries in Union County — nearly 20,000 lbs. since 2002. In 2013, the MGs are also celebrating their 25th year of providing gardening, land stewardship and horticultural therapy services to Union County residents. Photo by Master Gardener Pat Paul.

Launching their 24th Annual Spring Fair & Plant Sale this past May (rain or shine, mostly rain), the Union County Master Gardeners were also celebrating the installation of a new kitchen in their “Barn,” the building where they weigh and prepare the produce that they grow and donate to local food pantries and soup kitchens in Union County.

Yet another cause for celebration on that rainy day was the fact that, sometime in 2013, the MGs will hit a milestone of having donated 20,000 lbs. of hardy vegetables, fruit and herbs to help feed the hungry in Union County. A new Barn kitchen allows the donation process to run more efficiently.

Cabinets, sink and faucet for the new kitchen, which replaced an older, dilapidated facility, were made possible by a grant from Kings Food Markets via their Act Against Hunger initiative. Home Depot-Garwood donated the kitchen island, painted the Barn’s interior walls, and installed everything — a task that took the HDG team more than three days to complete.

The installation team was comprised of HDG’s Tom Wolfe (Store Manager), Roy Torrigiani (Kitchen/Bath Design Consultant), Robert Hurewitz (Dept. Supervisor-Plumbing), Edwin Alberts (Paint Associate), and Alex Devine (Pack Out Dept.).

The project was launched in May of 2012, when Master Gardener and Grants Committee Chair T.J. Karns brainstormed the need for a new Barn kitchen with colleague Joanne Krueger, who manages the MGs’ Demonstration Gardens located at Trailside in the Watchung Reservation (Mountainside). When later apprised that Kings Food Markets gives grants to local volunteer groups who help feed the hungry, Karns discussed the need for a new kitchen with Cheryl Good, Manager of Community Affairs and Consumer Relations at Kings. Ms. Good liked the idea and asked for a proposal, which Karns prepared as Project New Sink and submitted in late May 2012.

“Kings really liked the proposal,” says Karns. “They liked it so much that they opted to award a $25,000 grant, to be shared by the MG programs in the six NJ counties where Kings Food Markets are located. On August 2, 2012, Kings chose our Demo Gardens to present the $25,000 check to Rutgers University (our fiduciary agent), a portion of which was allocated for our new Barn kitchen, as well as for garden plants and supplies.”

As it turned out, however, there were not enough grant dollars to cover all kitchen materials and installation, so Karns called on Home Depot in Garwood for additional help. When she described Project New Sink to Store Manager Tom Wolfe, Karns says his first response was “How can we help?” Thus, the project was launched and completed in time for the MGs 24th Annual Plant Sale and Fair.

A big “thank-you” to Kings and HDG was, of course, in order, so Karns made certain that facilitators Good, Wolfe and Torrigiani were invited to the Fair’s ribbon-cutting ceremony on May 19th.

“Likewise,” advises Karns, “the UC Freeholders are always invited because they are very supportive of our volunteer program. This year, despite the downpour, Freeholders Kowalski and Bergen had a fine time meeting Good, Torrigiani and our own Dr. Karen Ensle, who spearheads local and federal nutrition programs in Union County as department head of Rutgers Cooperative Extension.”

Karns praises the ribbon-cutting event as “a true meeting of minds and lots of fun despite the downpour. We simply do not know how to thank everyone for their generosity!”

The Rutgers Master Gardeners of Union County are trained community service volunteers who are celebrating their 25th year as providers of gardening, land stewardship and horticultural therapy services in Union County.

RMGUC is headquartered as part of the Rutgers Cooperative Extension in the County building located at 300 North Ave. East in Westfield. Their Demonstration Gardens in the Watchung Reservation include various theme gardens, two Flower Cutting gardens, the Berry Patch, Herb and Harry Potter Gardens, and their flagship Community Sharing Garden and Annex, where up to 29 varieties of vegetables are cultivated for donation.

For more information on the Master Gardener program, call Judi LaGanga at 908-654-9854 or visit mastergardeners-uc.org.


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