DUMONT, N. J. -- Sixteen-year-old Derek Ravensbergen is learning a lot about collard greens, tomatoes, and peppers -- and it's not because he's helping his parents in the kitchen!
Instead, as a Life Scout with BSA Troop 64 in Dumont, he is working with another Dumont resident, Pat Bruger, who happens to be the executive director of the Center for United Methodist Aid to the Community (UMAC) in Paterson to take an overgrown, poorly producing vegetable garden at their Dumont church and upgrade it so it can provide nutritious produce to thousands of food-insecure families.
It's a project Ravensbergen undertook himself as part of his Boy Scout merit requirements and had to get approved by the Northern New Jersey Council, BSA/Three Rivers District, his scoutmaster Sal Maurice, and the pastor at Calvary United Methodist, Rev. Elaine Wing, where the garden is located.
"I knew I wanted to do a project that would really help people," he said. "CUMAC is an organization which is connected to Calvary because Rev. Pat Bruger is a long-time member of our congregation."
All the vegetables grown in the garden go direct to CUMAC, and Ravensbergen saw first hand how hard it was to get enough volunteers and for the garden to produce enough crop.
He started in late October, planning for the project, determining what supplies he needed, and visiting vendors to seek supply donations. So far, he's knocked down an old tree, installed rainwater collection tanks, installed part of the irrigation system, removed old curbstone and put in new deer fencing.
He's also built a greenhouse to start growing seedlings and is working on attaching drip tubing to the irrigation system.
His goal is to be done by mid-February when he plans to start growing seedlings. "Mrs. Bruger tells me most families who come to CUMAC like collard greens, tomatoes, and peppers so we'll definitely be growing those," he said.
He also said he's learned a lot, not only about how pervasive hunger is, but how you have to do something with heart.
"Most kids my age don't think it's a big deal to have lettuce, tomato and other vegetables in the refrigerator, but now I know a lot of people can't afford it," he said.
"I know my project will help families get fresh, healthy organic food. It's not enough to provide all the families at CUMAC but it'll be more than we've done before."
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