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Volunteers grow cornucopia of fresh fruits, vegetables in community garden

Volunteer Nadja Farooq, of Central Islip, and her

Volunteer Nadja Farooq, of Central Islip, and her son Anthony Cataldo, 15, right, pick herbs at the Central Islip Community Garden on Wednesday. Credit: Newsday/Steve Pfost

A community garden grows in Central Islip.

Begun 10 years ago, the garden — nestled in a section of Islip Town's Central Islip Recreation Center on Clayton Street — is tended and nurtured by a dedicated crew of eight volunteers who grow a cornucopia of beets, carrots, strawberries and other organic goodies.

"Everything from asparagus to zucchini and everything between," said Nadja Farooq, 51, of Central Islip, the garden's manager and coordinator for the last three years.

Until now, volunteers have grown food there for themselves and their families. Now they are eyeing a new mission: donating some of their produce to the community.

The program, called Grow and Give, would set aside three of the garden's 20 beds to grow fruits and veggies that will be donated to community residents in need and food pantries.

"We’re getting our fresh vegetables here," Farooq said one day last week after finishing a shift at the garden. "And it would be nice to give something to the community as well."

The garden started as a place for residents to learn how to grow their own food — and teach the skills to others. Each volunteer takes responsibility for one or more beds, which each measure 5 feet by 20 feet.

Members pay $10 monthly dues for lawn mower repairs and other expenses, Farooq said, adding she uses her own money to buy seeds.

But to start helping others, the garden and its workers needed a hand.

With no budget for repairs, some beds had fallen into disrepair, she said. Along came Sheet Metal Workers Local 28, which over two weekends in June sent 10 union members and retirees and $6,000 worth of wood to fix them up.

"I’ve always found that volunteering like this and community outreach has a ripple effect," said Local 28 business manager Brian Nigro, who also had worked on a community garden in his Riverhead hometown. "It’s always a help. It’s sometimes intangible, but it’s always a plus for us."

Last week, Farooq and her team met with Islip Supervisor Angie Carpenter to discuss ways the town might help. Carpenter said in an interview with Newsday that officials would consider irrigation upgrades and other improvements.

"We’re looking at what their needs are. We think we can help with them," Carpenter said, adding the garden "can become a respite spot for members of the community and a visible example of what happens when community groups work" with other organizations.

Farooq, a nurse at a private medical practice who is raising three sons, said the garden helped her "feel connected."

"It gives me that feeling that I’m doing something really good and unselfishly, because I’m not getting paid for this," Farooq said. "And I want to give something else that is positive and [do] something in our community that isn’t negative."

She chuckles when she mentions her sons, who "think that everything comes from the supermarket," adding she wants the boys and others to appreciate "that that little string of string beans is going to grow into something" with lots of love and care.

"Those plants, they don’t really need us," Farooq said. "But we really need them."

Green thumbs

Organizers of the Central Islip Community Garden accept new volunteers — and wouldn't mind a few extra hands to till the soil. Here's how you can get involved:

  • Come on down: Volunteers work at various times. Though there are no regular hours, someone usually is there every day, coordinator Nadja Farooq said.
  • Social media: Go to the garden's Facebook page (search for "Central Islip community gardens") to send a message to Farooq.
  • Qualifications: Members must be Islip Town residents — and have a green thumb. Members must pay $10 monthly dues.

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