The Shaping a Green Bergen Coalition Garden Design Begins to Come to Life!


The Shaping a Green Bergen Coalition partnership met on March 6, 2015 and, in anticipation of spring, began to plan in earnest. Thank you to all who attended—Barbara DiNovi, Virginia Bargisen, Beverley Kazickas, Mark Vangieri, Angela Bonnano-Lynch, Abbie Kesely, Carmen, Linda Morehouse, Joseph McElwain, Sue Shafer, Patti Wojtowicz, Angela Cupo, Kathy Wertalik, Thomas Jodice, Amy Heid, Andee Dixon, Tim Regan, Maria Dvorozniak, Diane Scarangella; the guidance and suggestions we received from our partners have helped us in creating our plan of action.

The Coalition’s goals for this upcoming spring/summer include:

  • Installing raised beds for growing vegetables and herbs adjacent to the Bergen County Special Services School District (BCSS), Career Crossroads program building. This will enable students with special learning needs in the Career Crossroads Hospitality/Food Service program to utilize fresh produce in their cooking activities (
  • Installing movable pots in the Bergen County Technical High School/Paramus (BCTHS/Paramus, courtyard for growing edible flowers and vegetables for use by students in the Culinary program.
  • Planting salt-tolerant plants in the grassy divider at the main entrance to the Bergen County Special Services entrance.
  • Establishing a wildflower meadow on or adjacent to the 90,000 square-foot potter’s field located near BCTHS/Paramus.
  • Converting a nursery trailer into a traveling native species garden

It was decided that the first step would be to design the garden spaces. BCTHS/Paramus Landscape Design Instructor Andee Dixon has come up with a fantastic sketch of the garden area to be located at Career Crossroads that will include four raised beds for vegetables.


Mr. Dixon is also working with the construction and electrical shop teachers to design an enclosure for the mobile garden.

Once the Coalition knows exactly what materials are required for the garden beds, planters, wildflower meadow, and traveling garden, we will create a wish list to submit to local businesses, requesting donations.

We thank Bergen County Utilities Authority for their donation of composters and rain barrels. These will be distributed around the campus allowing students to learn about and implement conservation and recycling techniques such as composting food scraps and using collected rainwater for the gardens.

One of the Shaping a Green Bergen Coalition goals in building these garden spaces is to enhance the sense of community on our campus by creating opportunities for  interaction between students from BCSS and  BCTHS programs, and in the future between the campus and the larger Bergen County  community. This project presents an opportunity for us to all work together. The students can share the responsibilities of caring for the garden, and the produce can be used at the culinary programs at the BCTHS/Paramus and BCSS Career Crossroads and eventually distributed to local food pantries. The design of the raised beds will facilitate access for students with disabilities. These activities will enable our students to gain a better understanding of where their food comes from and how it’s part of a larger ecosystem.

Looking ahead to the future, the Coalition hopes to arrange for interns from Rutgers Cooperative Extension to help us maintain the gardens over the summer and to mentor BCSS Work Ready/Work Now students who will be assigned to work in the garden during the summer. Both partner schools will also reach out to parents and teachers interested in becoming dedicated volunteers as part of a 4H club on the BCTHS/Paramus Campus.

As the snow melts, we prepare to make our plans a reality and eagerly anticipate watching the flowers and produce grow!


August and September Wrap Up

The month of August got away from us and so we’ve decided to condense two updates into one lovely update on the progress we’ve made with our ShapingNJ grant. We are happy to report that we treated our volunteers from the Newark YMCA and Vicinity to an end of the summer cookout as a thank you for all their hard work in helping us set up Earthboxes and prepping the location of our third garden site. We’ve since bid adieu to our Summer volunteers, and have welcomed Fall volunteers into the current garden sites. They’ve assisted us in planting broccoli, lettuce and collard greens in our Earthboxes. Never fans of wastefulness, we’ve strategically utilized our Earthboxes in a staggered configuration, so as to provide the greatest yield for our community come harvest time.

September brought with it cooler temps and one of our proudest projects, the addition of a third garden site, complete with a “Community Performance Area” and a Yoga Garden. This labor of love involved much planning behind the scenes, to which we owe a wealth of gratitude to our Director of Development, Wanda Upshaw. She’s always been the guiding hand and light of our gardening endeavors, but the pinnacle of her achievement was the event Prodigal Sons and Daughters Redirection Services, Inc. held on Saturday, September 20th.

Blessed with good weather and even better friends, PSD welcomed nearly 100 volunteers including: Prodigal Alums, Representatives from the City of Newark, The New Jersey Tree Foundation, Home Depot and even the youngest tots and tweens from our Central Ward to fill our neighborhood with newly planted trees! Our gracious friends at Home Depot also “set the stage” for our Community Performance Area.

Guided of course by our Master Gardener, Walter Barry, our little piece of Newark was filled with helping hands armed with shovels (that even our littlest volunteers could hold) to dig deep holes for our new trees to be set into. Up and down our streets, dirt was everywhere! But also, there were smiles for days and after a long day of digging, and weeding, and transplanting our little piece of the Central Ward of Newark was changed for the better.  Even with the threat of rain looming on the horizon, Saturday’s weather held and we met so many eager and helpful hands that we are still so moved with the utmost gratitude.

Our continued partnership with ShapingNJ has allowed us to impact our community in immeasurable ways.  Providing produce to our community members is something we always look forward to, but Saturday’s event allowed us to create deeper connections with the friends and families that we serve. When people feel a sense of ownership with something, they’re more likely to take pride in it, and want to protect it. This new garden site, complete with the beautiful stage will allow us to leave a lasting impression on our community, and we cherish the opportunity to continue the mission of shaping the next generation of New Jersey’s future to live healthy and happy!

Just In Time

Here’s the latest in regards to the progress of Prodigal Sons & Daughters Redirection Services, Inc.’s Community Gardens!

  •  We welcomed our new friends from Newark YMCA and Vicinity to help us tidy up our Earthboxes and such.
  • We planted seedlings!
  • This year we’re planting another fine selection of salad fixings including: Yellow     Squash, Zucchini, Eggplant, Green Peppers, Red Peppers, Cucumbers,  and Tomatoes
  • We also are planting a nice selection of herbs (which would be great additions to   any home-made vinaigrette) including: Sage, Pineapple Mint, Chocolate Mint and Sweet Basil

We’ll be meeting with a landscape designer to assist us with the logistics for our Yoga Garden. We’re privileged to provide access to free produce to our community members, but with the addition of our yoga garden, we’re hoping to impact the physical and mental health of our community members as well.

Yoga is a great way to reduce stress, and studies suggest that individuals can start to reap benefits from the very first time they practice! In an article entitled, “5 Surprising Health Benefits of Yoga”, The Huffington Post discusses research that suggests the practice of yoga impacts many different aspects of health (improves sleep, helps with migraines, and even can help boost your immunity to disease!). We can’t wait until the logistics for our yoga space have been finalized, so that our community will be eating and feeling their best from head to toe!

Next month we hope to announce the beginning of a new partnership! For more details, make sure you “Like” us on Facebook, and make sure you follow us on Twitter!

Grown right here in Newark, a volunteer tenderly holds a growing green pepper.

YMCA volunteers watering our Earthboxes.


Summer Sun, Something’s Begun!

On Wednesday June 25th, Prodigal Sons & Daughters Redirection Services Inc., celebrated the beginning of a new partnership, and held the first official clean-up of our community garden site. We’d like to thank Victor Nicholson of the YMCA of Newark and Vicinity and all our new volunteers who will be working with us to maintain our garden site!

Our new partners will assist us in preparing our garden site, while learning all about agriculture and the SPIN method of gardening. SPIN (“S-mall P-lot In-tensive”) allows us to get the most use of our lot, and allow us to produce the best quality produce to be available for our community. Follow the link to the Newark Y’s story about our new collaboration on their website.

Our new volunteers helped clear debris out of the garden site and prepped the lot for the most effective use of gardening space. We provided water and Gatorade to keep our young guests hydrated, and in the future will provide a fruit break to keep them nourished, while they learn all about the benefits of the various herbs and produce they will be helping us plant.

Summer is finally here and we’re excited to provide an activity that allows our youth to give back, but that also provides our organization an opportunity to make an impact in these youths’ lives. We hope to influence our volunteers to make healthy choices, not just in terms of nutrition. We hope their experience with Prodigal Sons and Daughters inspires these teens to go forth and make an impact whenever they can.

To learn more about our community gardening efforts, feel free to “Like” our Facebook page, or follow us on Twitter.

This is the result of all the hard work from our new volunteers!

Members of Prodigal Sons & Daughters and our new friends from YMCA of Newark and Vicinity.

Whoah There

Last month we could barely see spring on the horizon, but this month our weather has calmed down considerably. It seems this month has flown by in terms of the weather outside calming down and in terms of weathering the storm called life. Our organization is helmed by a core group of members who have endured a bevy of life occurrences from deaths in the family to graduating from Rutgers University! We’d like to think that our organization is similar to “The Little Engine That Could” but sometimes we are forced to acknowledge our limitations. This month we had to accept the fact that we can’t always juggle successfully between our personal goals and our organizational goals.

That being the case, we did not have the opportunity to plan any events for our current garden sites. Thankfully, it seems that the roller coaster of life has slowed down in our favor, and we look forward to getting down in the dirt to plan the logistics of our new garden site and our two previous Adopt-a-Lots. Looking back on what we accomplished with the help of our community partners and allies last year, we are hopeful that this year’s garden harvest will be even more bountiful! With June right around the corner, we’re looking forward to planning events with our allies and volunteers to make a beautiful and healthy respite here in the Central ward of Newark.

If you have a passion for community gardening, or want to send us a healthy recipe to share with our networks, please feel free! Do not hesitate to reach out to us via our Facebook page or our Twitter feed.


Ah, how peaceful! This is a photo of our scenic Paradise Garden from last year. We can't wait to cultivate this sense of peace this year!

Ah, how peaceful! This is a photo of our scenic Paradise Garden from last year. We can’t wait to cultivate this sense of peace again!