Rutgers Gardens seeks to expand, educate
Far from concrete and tucked away on Cook campus, Rutgers Gardens looks to educate the public about plants while also overseeing the Rutgers Farmers Market.
The market invites New Jersey-based vendors to sell organic fruits and vegetables, wines, pickles, honey, bread, coffee and meat, said Bruce Crawford, director of Rutgers Gardens.
“We don’t produce anything here only because it’s a bit of a disadvantage to the vendors … because we don’t pay taxes obviously because we’re a state university,” he said. “It’s what they call unfair competition.”
He said the products change from season to season, starting with asparagus and strawberries and eventually making way for corn and blueberries.
“Apples and produce [are] typically $2 to $3, whereas some of the beef products go up to $8 to $16,” he said.
Crawford said during the fall season, there are more products such as squash, apples and broccoli, while an item like sweet corn will die out during the first frost, he said.
Although the market is available to the public, the University Dining Services does not purchase produce there, he said.
“It has been considered, but it’s just literally to bring in the amount of food necessary to feed the students [and] would be totally different quantities than what we have here at the market,” Crawford said.
Rutgers Farmers Market vendors pay Rutgers Gardens for their spot, with funds going toward promoting the market and taking care of the gardens.
Matthew Jamicky, superintendent of Rutgers Gardens, said his staff maintains about 50 to 60 acres of the 160-acre year-round, an area that encompasses many woods and paths.
“We do a lot of trimming, a lot of mowing, [and] we do a lot of fertilizing,” he said. “We try as hard as possible to not use pesticides.”
Jamicky said students in the Rutgers Gardens summer internship program help with the maintenance process.
Maintenance is busiest in summer because there is more planting and watering to be done while simultaneously educating and training interns about the gardens, he said.
“The primary problem, at least over the summer, was the water,” Jamicky said. “This summer we didn’t get a whole lot of rain. We watered as much as possible, and we still lost plants.”
Rutgers Gardens features water fountains, a rain garden and plants, Crawford said.
“It’s park-like, but it’s educational,” he said.
The rain garden allows water to soak deep into the ground, which helps recycle water soaked up by storm water-sensitive landscape materials, Crawford said.
Crawford said Rutgers Gardens plans to add a new visitor center within the next five to 10 years.
“The visitor center will be about educating the public and the students about plants and environment and ecology and so forth,” he said.
Crawford said he does not know exactly how the project will be funded, because it is still in the early stages of planning.
Rutgers Gardens is beginning to focus more on providing signs to educate the visitors about its plants.
“Right now, there are a few signs by plants that are labeled, and that’s something which hasn’t been focused on,” he said. “The rain garden has its own educational sign, [but] that’s something that we’re developing.”
CarolAnn Sudia, a 2012 Rutgers Gardens intern, said via email correspondence that she tended the vegetable garden and learned how to plant, remove weeds, harvest crops and organically keep weeds from growing.
Sudia, a School of Environmental and Biological Sciences senior, also worked with the children’s program at the gardens, where she gave tours to local schools and camp groups that visited.
“The Rutgers Gardens’ children’s program is wonderful but could improve if we were able to reach out to more local schools,” she said. “It would be great if we could go into the classroom and teach kids how to grow gardens at their school.”