If the purpose of a community garden is to unify neighborhoods, bring people together to work towards a common goal, then the Red Bank Community Garden has already failed, well before a single seed has even been sowed; and, a Fair Haven enviromentalist is at the center of the controversy.
Once again, discussion at a borough council meeting concerning Red Bank’s proposed garden devolved into an argumentative, he-said, she-said confrontation between members of the council and Fair Haven resident Cindy Burnham in a scene that’s played out numerous times over the past year or so.
Burnham has spearheaded the community gardening effort since its beginnings, helping form an early gardening committee with the help of the borough’s Environmental Commission. But as the process has progressed and as the garden organization and development has been turned over to the borough, her role has been marginalized.
Burnham believes the borough is trying to muscle her out of the initiative she started. The borough believes Burnham is actively trying to sabotage the community garden. And so it goes.
The most recent in a slew of conflicts stems from the borough’s decision to create a Red Bank Community Garden Ad Hoc Committee to develop and oversee the creation and maintenance of a community garden on Marion Street. The move ruffled the feathers of Burnham, who believes the borough has stolen her thunder by replacing a committee that already existed, one she helped create.
The borough contends that the official committee is necessary since the garden is located on borough-owned property. The gardeners were given the option of creating their own 501-3c or latching on to another to help manage liabilities, or hand the garden over to the Red Bank Parks and Recreation Committee.
Begrudgingly, it appears, the garden was handed over to the borough.
“We were ready to plot and it was this council that stopped us,” Burnham said, ending her address to the council by saying her “hope is that now the borough has control we can work together in a civil manner and not use the garden as a political football.”
Borough Administrator Stanley Sickles rebutted Burnham’s claims that the garden was ready to go. For one, he said, Burnham personally went door to door on Marion Street to tell residents to oppose locating a garden there.
Burnham, from the audience, did not deny the charge but said it stemmed from her efforts to have the garden placed at 94 W. Front Street on a highly-visible plot of land adjacent to the Red Bank Public Library.
It wasn’t until the towns started seeing fliers pop up that, he said, that it was known if the then garden committee was interested in moving forward. The borough stepped in, with the guidance of board solicitor Daniel O’Hern, to take control of the garden before any planting was done.
“I don’t think you’ve appreciated the fact that this garden is going on borough property,” Councilwoman Kathy Horgan said. “It’s not your property, there are things we have to do before we can move forward. You’ve put the cart before the horse.”
The council also rebutted claims made by Burnham that nearby community gardens, like the one in Shrewsbury, which was approved by council there, installed and funded with Green Acres money, and planted in just a few months, aren't run by their respective towns.
Horgan said she believed Burnham has made the community garden the “Cindy Burnham project.” Burnham, she said, has disagreed with every decision the new committee has come up with. Burnham defended her position, however, saying she’s kept up the pressure for those living in Red Bank.
“I’m not even going to use it,” she said. “It’s for the residents.”
With the borough and its new committee moving swiftly ahead with the Red Bank Community Garden, Burnham's ongoing involvement in the project likely depends on her willingness to compromise and see that the garden grows more than frustration and ill-feelings.