TRENTON — It won’t be long before the first crop of vegetables and herbs begins to sprout in the Chestnut Avenue community garden.
Yesterday, groups of fourth- and fifth-graders from Village Charter and International Charter schools looked on as farmers prepared the soil for spring planting — not by hoes and shovels, but by real horsepower.
In an annual tradition to kick off the gardening season, two horses and a plow from the Howell Living History Farm turned the soil.
The farm horses have been coming since 1989.
“It’s a mix of delight and astonishment,” Isles urban agriculture manager Jim Simon said of the day.
The garden sprung up in the 1970s as an extension of a resident’s backyard, but in 1982, the nonprofit development group Isles helped to expand, clean and fence in the site.
At three-quarters of an acre, it is the largest and oldest garden in the Isles Garden Support Network, Simon said.
It is among a handful of Isles gardens that are preserved through the state Green Acres program, he said.
“There were already local gardeners that had been working that ground by hand and tillers,” said Pete Watson, director of the farm.
“We work with horses and animals that many of these gardeners were familiar with. … It quickly became a fun connection.”
The early 20th-century farming practices can still prove successful, he said.
“The way of life and practices associated with farming very often hold really important lessons for us about soil conservation and about preserving knowledge and skills that can still be applied today,” Watson said.
The students took turns clutching the handles of the plow, helping the gardeners turn a furrow.
“The gardeners talk with them about what plants they’re growing, how they’re going to use them and the importance of taking care of soil,” Watson said. “It’s just a wonderful day.”
The children rotated through different stations: plowing, composting and corn shelling, where they removed kernels from cobs that will be ground up for animal feed. They also visited a discovery station and scoured the earth for glass fragments, pottery shards and leftover seeds and plants from a prior season.
“It’s a chance to be outside and connect with how our food is actually grown,” Simon said. “It comes from soil; it doesn’t come from a package via a truck.”
As the season progresses, passers-by will see the garden transform from bare earth to a productive lot full of vegetables, he said.
Isles has helped start and support more than 50 community gardens, which allow residents to enjoy organically grown fruits and vegetables, beautify the neighborhoods and enable the community to come together, Simon said.
“If a property is abandoned or underutilized, it’s easy to see gardening potential in it,” he said.
Isles stays out of the day-to-day management of the gardens, but provides the gardeners with seeds, technical expertise and workshops to help them succeed.
Contact Cristina Rojas at (609) 989-5688 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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