Summer’s Here and Toni’s Kitchen Gardens Are Growing!


It's the start of summer and the harvesting at Toni's Kitchen's gardens has already begun! Toni's operates two gardens–a vegetable garden on Miller Street in Montclair and an herb garden on the grounds of St. Luke's Church.

Under the guidance of volunteer Laura Marchese, 15 volunteers tend the gardens 7 days a week during the planting and harvesting season.

The vegetable garden is on land donated by the HomeCorp nonprofit organization. It has three rectangular beds in the middle and an 18-inch bed around the perimeter to grow climbing plants against the fences surrounding the garden. And there's a lot of produce growing there. "In the vegetable garden right now we have bell peppers, eggplant, cucumbers, squash, a huge number of tomato plants, basil, and an assortment of beans," says Laura. 

The herb garden has lots of different herbs growing right now, Laura says. "We have parsley, thyme, oregano, sage, mint, rosemary, and a huge amount of basil and dill." As herbs are ready to be harvested, Laura picks them and bring them directly to the cooks at Toni's Kitchen. The herbs are used for meals served in the dining room and sent out for delivery. Herbs are also made available at some of the Neighborhood Mobile Markets that Toni's Kitchen operates in the community.


Laura says she knows guests appreciate the effort that goes into the gardens. "Our guests are happy to get fresh herbs," she says.

Laura says that the volunteers who work in the gardens are dedicated. "I ask for volunteers to commit to one day a week for the entire growing season," she says. "So they commit from May to the end of October. I share the schedule and the contact list with the volunteers so that everybody knows who's on the team and then everyone is working together for the whole season." Laura notes that several of the garden volunteers also volunteer in other areas of Toni's Kitchen. 

Laura has been managing the gardens at Toni's for six years now. She started volunteering when she saw a notice that Toni's was looking for someone to manage the gardens. "I teach gardening at the Montclair Community Pre-K," she says. "I manage the garden there with families of the students at the Pre-K." Laura also teaches environmental science and nature at the Shoresh Preschool in Bloomfield, and manages their garden as well. When she saw the opening at Toni's Kitchen, "I felt like it would be a great contribution for me to connect all these gardens together," Laura says. 

She uses her work at Toni's Kitchen in her lessons at Montclair Community Pre-K. She tells her students "if we are germinating seeds in our classrooms for our own garden, why don't we do a few extra and we'll grow them for the Toni's Kitchen garden?" she says. "And it's teaching that sort of ethic of taking care of our community." 

With Laura leading the charge, the work of the volunteers in our gardens is just one example of how Toni's Kitchen works every day to ensure reliable access to healthy food for residents in our community.

Toni's Kitchen invites you to "plant a row" of herbs or produce in your own garden to donate to Toni's Kitchen!