While fall officially began last week, the growing season isn’t over for Gan Mazon at Monmouth Reform Temple (MRT) in Tinton Falls.
“By this time, we’re often clearing everything out and composting, but it looks like we’ll be able to harvest kale, collards, and lettuce for a while with good weather,” said David Levinsky, the chairman of MRT’s Garden Committee.
That’s good news for clients of First Step Food Pantry in Asbury Park, recipient of thousands of pounds of fresh produce every year from Gan Mazon. First Step is a project of Jewish Family & Children’s Service of Monmouth County (JFCS). Its executive director, Paul B. Freedman of Lawrenceville, gives MRT and its vegetable garden a sincere thank you for the healthy food and cost-saving benefit.
“The produce we get during the growing season from MRT and its garden saves us and our pantry thousands of dollars a year,” he said. “I know, because I see how much we have to pay for the same vegetables during the winter. What we also are pleased about is this is good food for our clients, helping to provide a balanced diet for 40 families a week. We ask MRT for something and we get it almost immediately.”
Master Gardener Levinsky, a key operative with the synagogue’s 3,000-square-foot Gan Mazon (Garden of Plenty), takes pride in the many crops that are grown and donated. “We donate 100 percent of our produce to non-sectarian parties located in Monmouth County,” he said. Freehold Area Open Door food pantry is another recipient of the garden’s bountiful harvest.
The Master Gardeners program is affiliated with Rutgers University; it provides certification as gardening experts through in-depth training in horticulture from the school’s faculty and professional staff. Master Gardeners perform hours of community service and assist the public in all aspects of planting and cultivation.
Levinsky, 74, oversees the garden with fellow congregant Gloria Gross — MRT has about a half-dozen Master Gardeners among its ranks.
“This year, so far, we donated about 2,500 pounds of produce, 2,200 for our JFCS,” Levinsky said. “There was a need for tomatoes, and we grew 10 varieties, including beefsteak.”
The Garden of Plenty has tripled in size from 1,000 to 3,000 square feet since it began as an Eagle Scout project in 2009.
Rabbi Marc Kline, spiritual leader of MRT, said he appreciates the garden as an asset to the synagogue and community.
“Gan Mazon began as an Eagle Scout project and it grew from another Eagle Scout project,” Kline told NJJN. “We learn from our children. They see and understand this world through a fresh and innocently critical lens. Where there is a need, they respond without judgement. We took this sacred message to heart and continued growing our garden and growing the impact it has in feeding those in need.”
The increase in the garden’s planting space has allowed MRT to donate a greater volume of produce over the years.
“We were given more and more space to work with, with the garden now 110 feet by 27 feet, and it really helped our productivity and ability to donate,” said Levinsky. The garden is protected from critters and thieves by an 8-foot-high fence.
In addition to the tomatoes, this growing season Gan Mazon has produced five varieties of peppers, three varieties of squash, two varieties of cucumbers, beets, tomatillos, rhubarb, and more.
Freedman said his staff looks forward to receiving the produce each week.
“We really get excited when MRT’s people bring in the produce we will use on Fridays in our pantry,” he said. “It looks like they brought a whole produce stand to us. Our staff and volunteers assure each family is given two bags of food, including a variety of produce, which usually provides meals for most of the week. MRT’s donations have really helped us in our goals to feed the needy and hungry.”