Doug Sell and his family live near Extension Park off Cinnaminson Avenue in the township. Only when their daughter was born in 2006 did they start to frequent the park and meet their neighbors.
“Up to that point,” Sell said, “we really didn’t know any people in our neighborhood.”
Going to the park was Sell’s “first introduction to the community,” he said. He was noticing the township’s efforts to beautify the parks, but he wanted to take it a step further.
So, he spoke with his neighbors and decided to start a community garden—a piece of land gardened by several members of the neighborhood and beyond.
The idea carried over from where he works—Haddonfield. That town is home to a few gardens.
“I’m working hard in the community where I work, but I’m not working hard in the community where I live,” Sell said. “I started to get that hunger to do something in town here.”
So, last fall, Sell started researching community gardens, even reaching out to rotary clubs around the country for tips. Earlier this month, Sell made a presentation to the township’s parks and recreation department to obtain a permit to start the garden.
The purpose of the garden is easy: to not only beautify the area, but to give residents the opportunity to grow their own food.
“Individual plots will be rented out to people within the community and they are free to do whatever they want with it,” he said.
But, a lot needs to be done before the first plant can go into the ground.
Sell is forming a nonprofit committee to apply for special grants used to help fund the project. The plots need to be measured out; Sell wants a picnic and bench area, a bulletin board near the garden, irrigation and more.
“We are creating a menu of what needs to be done,” Sell said. “From there, we’ll springboard to organizations and individuals within the town.”
Over the years, the township’s seven parks have been getting new equipment or improvements. Deputy Mayor Donald Brauckmann, also the director of parks and recreation, said the parks are one of Cinnaminson’s biggest assets. Memorial Park is the next one to be renovated.
“Even our seniors utilize our parks,” Brauckmann said recently. “It’s very important for any township.”
He’s also said lighting and clearing brush are basic crime prevention measures. Adequate lighting and keeping parks safe, clean and busy wards off vandalism, he said.
“Equipment was getting vandalized,” Sell said. “The township was very receptive to that and fixed the equipment. The community garden is an extension of that. We can create more accountability, more ownership.”
The word is already spreading beyond Sell’s own neighborhood. Extension Park is the smallest park in Cinnaminson and probably one of the least frequented. The garden would change that—not only for kids, but also for gardeners.
“This is going to have mass appeal,” Sell said. “I think we’re going to attract all kinds of people—people who are just plain curious, people who have tried [gardening] but don’t have enough sunlight or space, people whose friends are doing it.”
And it’s not just going to stop at gardening, Sell hopes. He wants to host events at the site and create an exchange with other communities that have gardens.
“We can create that cross-community atmosphere,” he said.
Already, local Boy and Girl Scouts group, as well as the high school’s Interact Club, have expressed an interest in helping.
“The possibilities are endless,” Sell said.
Now, Sell is doing all he can to get the word out. He will be heading up a tomorrow at 3 p.m. at the Community Center in Cinnaminson for anyone interested in learning more about the project. Location, capital projects, a timeline for breaking ground, applications and more will be discussed.
“It’s just making sure we keep moving on the interest that’s being generated,” Sell said. “Really, what we’re looking for at this point is people who are willing to start gardening, in the next couple months—start turning some dirt and make this thing happen.”