Plus You Get Tomatoes!

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“Gardening is cheaper than therapy, plus you get tomatoes!”

I have always loved this quote, from an unknown author.  There is just something about a bit of gardening to make me feel healthier, both mentally and physically.

Health experts agree and have been touting the benefits of gardening for years.   Home gardening has been linked to lowered blood pressure, lowered cholesterol, and even lowered levels of stress!  Kind of makes you want to grab a spade and some seeds, and get a bit dirty, right?

But what if you can’t garden at home?  What if you live in an apartment with no backyard? Or what if you have a yard that is  perpetually shaded by hundred year old trees or have inferior soil, ridden with clay or marl?

Well, if your lucky, you might live in a town with a community garden!

Community gardening is a concept where prospective gardeners get simple plots of land, offered for a nominal fee or sometimes for free, and where they will find fertile soil, an available water source, and lots of support and advice.

Community gardens are valuable assets in both city landscapes and in the suburbs.  They can be carved out of vacant lots, fields, and just about any undeveloped areas and residents witness a neglected or unattractive space transformed into lush Edens, overflowing with flowers and vegetables.  Most community gardens encourage or require organic growing techniques and gardeners learn a lesson in sustainability by growing their own food.  And as a bonus, an environment of fellowship and support usually develops, putting the community into the community garden.

Recently, I met with Amélie Harris-McGeehan, the founder of the Woodbury Community Garden, a small plot of land wedged between the YMCA and a patch of woods on Red Bank Avenue.

Ten years ago, Amélie was driven to bring a community garden to Woodbury.  She had endured a battle with breast cancer, an experience that she says “shakes your core”  and she had completed a program in master gardening.   Motivated to take her newly acquired skills and knowledge and pay it forward, she worked hard to convince the local government that this venture would be beneficial to our small town.

But when she was awarded with a plot of land, butted right against a small sewage treatment facility, she was uncertain at first .  Could this be the right space?

But taking in the area today, it is hard to imagine this land any other way!   Garden plots in raised beds showcase varied produce and flowers.  Robust zucchini, cucumber, beans, melon, and tomatoes are surrounded by flowers and herbs. There are healthy berry plants, carefully netted to keep out hungry birds, and corn stalks reaching toward the sky. There are benches for sitting and taking in the landscape and the  place gives off a vibe of peace and contentment and is simply beautiful.

Amélie says that while she was designing this space, that she was inspired by memories of her own mother, who maintained a home where the door was always open to friends, family, and neighbors and where guests were welcomed with open arms and unconditional love and support.  More than anything, Amélie wanted the Woodbury Community Garden to convey this same feeling, both to gardeners and to visitors.

“Gardening gives us so much,” she tells me, when I asked why someone would choose to join her gardening comrades here at the Community Garden.

“Community gardening is about developing an appreciation of the natural world, and about the power of growing your own food.”

“In the garden, we learn patience.  And we quickly learn that we don’t and can’t know everything, in gardening and in life.   We learn that it is okay to lean on others for knowledge and support and we share the knowledge we do have and work together to solve problems.”

“Here, we especially share each other’s excitement,”  Amélie went on.  “When someone picks their first tomato, it is an exciting moment.  And how wonderful to be able to share that excitement with others!”

As Amélie continued on about the benefits of community gardening, I thought of my own home gardening experiences and challenges.  Many times, I have left the vegetable garden to consult with the internet, looking for answers.  Finding gigantic and bright caterpillars basking on my potato plants, finding baby rabbits in a hole under my lettuce plants, and discovering white mold on my cucumber leaves all required the support and knowledge of others.  Wouldn’t it have been wonderful if the community to advise and help me was right there with me in the garden?

The cost of renting gardening space at the Woodbury Community Garden is extremely affordable, at just 40 cents a square foot.  Information on becoming a member is provided in the link below.

Alongside the garden, Amélie and her husband have also carved out a series of walking trails in the woods, making the location an ideal place to enjoy the outdoors.

Leaving the garden that evening, I paused and thought of all that the Woodbury Community Garden offers its users;  nature, beauty, sustainability, support, and friendship.

Plus, they get tomatoes!

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Amélie Harris-McGeehan and the City of Woodbury have created something truly special with the Woodbury Community Garden. Check it out!

To learn more:

http://www.woodbury.nj.us/recreation/community-garden/

http://woodburycommunitygarden.com/about-us

https://www.facebook.com/woodburycommunitygardens

Or call: (856) 845-0371

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Old Time Rock and Roll

“Yo!  Stones!!!”  The teenage boy with the long curly hair was yelling in our direction, but I wasn’t sure who he was addressing.

“Stones, my man!”  The boy was now walking toward us, and the subject of his intent was clear.

I turned and looked at my son, who was 13 years old at the time.  “Please tell me that they don’t actually call you Stones,” I said under my breath.  “Why in the world would they call you that?”

“Chill, Mom. It’s just a nickname.”

We were the the World Cafe Live in Philadelphia, the venue for Jake’s Rock University concert.  And without explanation, Jake walked off with the long haired boy to get ready for the show.

But I didn’t need an explanation.  I already knew why the young people in the music program might choose a nickname for Jake that brings to mind an image of Tommy Chong.

Jake is a drummer.  But before his involvement with Rock University, public performance was something he avoided whenever possible.  If he was absolutely required to play or speak in front of a large group, he had his own technique for stress reduction.  Instead of using the tried and true and picturing his audience in their underwear, Jake’s anxiety reduction technique involved blatantly ignoring his audience.

So Jake immersed himself in his drum kit,  eyes lowered and  mostly closed. From a distance, he looked…….a little bit baked.

But for Jake, this technique got him through what he saw as a frightening experience.  But Joe and I knew that he needed to work on his anxiety over public performance and we talked to his drum instructor about what might help.

Rock University, a program through Old Towne Music, opened Jake’s eyes, literally.

Once a week, Jake got together with a group of teenagers and rehearsed rock songs in a professional practice studio.  The instructor was driven, but super hip and fun, and the kids respected and loved him.  Some of the kids, like Jake, were in it for fun and self-esteem.  Other kids, though, were on a fast train to rock and roll fame.  The program was part music rehearsal and part social time and Jake absolutely loved it.  The social element kept him coming back each session and Jake made good friends there.

But at the end of each four month long session, Jake had to face the music and also the audience.

Performances were in professional theaters, at outdoor festivals, and at area bars.  The venues were always packed. Jake has performed at the World Cafe and the Auction House and he even performed under a giant banner that read 30 Cent Coors on Wednesday Nights at the HiNella Inn.

Beers for only 30 cents?  Really?  But alas, Jake’s concert was not on a Wednesday, so Joe and I had to pay full price for our beverages!

Jake Rock U (2)

Each time Jake played with his Rock U cohorts, he got a little more relaxed and his eyes got a little bit wider. Nowadays, Jake is comfortable in front of a crowd, although he still isn’t exactly happy.

So Rock University taught Jake that the stage doesn’t have to be a frightening place. Rock University is great at motivating kids to become better players and the kids who go through the program gain confidence, learn to perform as a group, learn stage presence, and have a ton of fun.

Old Towne Music also offers regular private music lessons, a pre-school program for the tots, and a summer camp.

I couldn’t be happier with Old Towne and Rock U and all  they have imparted on Jake.

Well except for one thing.   Three years later, the kids still call him Stones.


If you go:

Old Towne Music has several locations, including West Deptford, Turnersville, Swedesboro, and Glassboro.

Check out their website below for locations and contact information, and for details on music lessons, Rock University, and other cool music education programs.  John and all of his staff and instructors are awesome at all locations!

http://www.oldtownemusic.com/

But do encourage your child to keep his or her eyes open!  That will stave off any cringe-worthy nicknames!

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Quakers and Hessians and Tories, Oh My!

The American Revolution was about fighting for essential human rights and preserving individual freedom.  Men and women risked their lives to combat injustice.

But Woodbury and the surrounding area was also the home to many families who religiously refused to take sides…..literally.

Woodbury, NJ was settled by pacifist Quakers in the late 1600s, around the same time that Quaker William Penn was laying out plans and developing nearby Philadelphia.

The Society of Friends, nicknamed Quakers, had fled England to look for religious freedom and as a group, they sought social reform and support of human rights.  But they were also vehemently opposed violence in any form and their religious views opposed military action and essentially dictated that they not get involved.  Many Quakers were accused of having Loyalist pro-England, or Tory sympathies because they refused to take up arms.

So when the Revolutionary War  came to Woodbury, our small and predominantly Quaker settlement had some major adjustments to face.

Woodbury’s Quaker Meetinghouse was occupied by troops almost continuously during the Revolution, first by American militia officers and soldiers, and then later by the British forces.  While the Quakers insisted on maintaining the ability to use their house of worship for their once weekly meetings, the building and property were otherwise commandeered as a camp for soldiers and a hospital.

Up the road at the Whitall farm in National Park, Quakers John and Ann Whitall also faced eminent domain when the American forces claimed their fields and orchard to set up a military fort, Fort Mercer.  When the Battle of Red Bank broke out in 1977, Ann Whitall refused to leave her home and local legend says that when a cannon ball actually broke through the wall of the very room where she sat spinning, she simply took her spinning wheel to the basement and continued her work.

In the spirit of Quakerism, Ann Whitall provided medical care and shelter to wounded soldiers from both sides of the battle and the Quakers over at the Meetinghouse continued to tolerate the intrusion on their land with dignity.  Prior to the Battle of Red Bank, a group of prominent Quakers did write a letter to General Varnum, who headed up the American forces, registering their complaints about the seizure of their property.  But while those upstanding Quakers probably thought their tone was coming off a little bit snarky, when you read excerpts of that letter now, they actually come off as downright polite.

But some Woodbury Quakers did actually get peeved off enough during the War  to take a stance. Prominent Quaker and politician John Cooper, who happened to be the brother of Ann Whitall, had spoken out frequently and forcefully against the British position.

According to a booklet entitled Historic Woodbury, which commemorated New Jersey’s 300th anniversary,  Cooper’s strong Patriotic views drew enough criticism from his fellow Friends that he was actually read out of the Meeting.  In Quaker speak, reading someone out of Meeting is akin to excommunication.  You could say that it is a bit like a Quaker  slap in the face,  but a figurative slap, of course, since the Quakers have zero tolerance for violence.

Ironically, when British General Cornwallis brought his army to Woodbury and sought a location to set up his headquarters, he selected the very home of Patriot John Cooper, forcing him to evacuate his family immediately.  The fact that Cooper didn’t throw any real slaps is a testament to his Quaker values!

The stories of the Battle of Red Bank and the Whitalls, plus the challenges of the folks from the Quaker Meeting are compelling history.

And their footprints are everywhere in Woodbury…..right here in my hometown.

Rather than sharing their narratives here, I encourage you to visit their stomping grounds firsthand.  There is so much more historical detail to take in than this short blog could even attempt to share.

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The Red Bank Battlefield is open daily from dawn until dusk and features great views of the Delaware River and Philadelphia.

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While the setting is beautiful and peaceful, the evidence that this was once a battlefield is everywhere.battlefield monument 2

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When I was a kid, we ran in and out of the trenches with no regard. Modern conservation methods advocate an intelligent use of our historical sites and signs are posted, asking us to stay out of the trenches, helping preserve them.

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The Whitall House is opened seasonally, from April to October, on Thursdays through Sundays from 1pm to 4pm.  Off-season, the house is open by appointment.

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The kitchen garden includes food crops and medicinal plants.

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The Woodbury Quaker Meeting House was built in 1715.

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The Meeting House cemetery has many familiar names of local founding families.  In addition to the graves of our local Friends, the cemetery contains graves that were relocated in the 1950s from the Wood Burial Ground, at the Woodbury Creek.

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If you go:
RED BANK BATTLEFIELD
100 HESSIAN AVENUE
NATIONAL PARK, NJ 08063
856-853-5120
As a bonus, the battlefield site is undergoing archaeological excavation this very summer!  Check it out!
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Woodbury Society of Friends Meeting House
24 N Broad St
Woodbury, NJ 08096-1720
(856) 845-5080
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