Klett writing second verse with community gardens
HOPEWELL — Like a lot of talented farmers, Ted Klett said he counts his blessings and believes in giving back to his community.
The musician and concert sound technician worked as a data analyst with the New Jersey Department of Human Services for more than 20 years.
Now retired, he’s busied himself at area churches to help them set up their own vegetable and fruit gardens.
Currently, he spearheads community gardening efforts for the Princeton Community Church in Pennington.
Several raised beds in the church yard are self-watering and were designed by Boy Scouts, he said during a recent tour.
He has volunteered his time at several other churches to help members establish their own gardens, ensuring they have resources for their own healthy food.
“We started coming to Princeton Community Church about 18 years ago in 2001,” he said of he and his wife, Roxanne, a vocalist. So when others at the church heard Klett helped set up a garden at the New Covenant Free Church near Mercer County Park in West Windsor, he was tapped to start a garden at Princeton Community Church.
After working in the state’s Medicaid offices for so many years, Klett said he was anxious to get back to his passion for growing vegetables and being outdoors. But he also wanted to get back into volunteer work, as he considers himself fortunate to have grown up in Hopewell Borough, a pastoral, rural town just minutes from Trenton and Princeton.
His great grandfather was a cattle farmer just outside of Hopewell, he recalled, and in his “hippie years” he took an active interest in environmental science, gardening and horticulture.
In college, first at Messiah College in Pennsylvania and later at Trenton State College, he said he became interested in working to alleviate hunger. He graduated from Trenton State College, now the College of New Jersey, in 1983 with a degree in sociology.
“In between these schools I took a semester in Pasadena, California where I took a course in Integrated Community Development, taught by Robert Pickett, a tropical agriculture specialist for World Vision International. He was a big advocate for using appropriate technology, sustainable farming and increasing yields without compromising nutritional value,” Klett said.
“A few years out of college I became Community Food and Nutrition Project Coordinator for New Jersey’s Community Action Agencies,” he explained, noting “my job was to promote federal food assistance programs as well as innovate community responses to food insecurity and nutrition challenges that face many of our fellow New Jerseyans.”
He first heard about donation gardening at a conference he attended for that job, and since he’s been at Princeton Community Church, he and a team of other volunteer growers launched Grow for Giving.
The idea behind Grow For Giving is that all organizations, churches, Elks clubs, Moose lodges, corporations big and small with access to land can plant vegetables and fruits with plans to donate their harvest. While Klett was still working for the state, he began to promote Grow For Giving.
The first few seasons’ crops were donated to a shelter for women and children in the city and Grow For Giving was off and running.
“The kids would run out to greet us with big smiles as if the bags of peppers, zucchini, beans and tomatoes were filled with candy,” Klett recalled, “and they knew exactly what they were getting back then, smashing these stereotypes that kids don’t like vegetables.
“We’re trying to be as self-sustaining as possible here, so we’re constantly creating composting material and try not to ever buy any soil to grow the vegetables,” he said. Klett and the crew of volunteer gardeners at the church will be growing strawberries, lettuce, cabbage, peppers, tomatoes, eggplant and all types of squash including Italian cuccuza squash, “because that squash has much higher levels of nutrients.”
Klett has been actively involved with the organic farmers’ group, NOFA-NJ, since the late 1980s. He’s been involved in various forms of hunger work for just about three decades.
“I always liked being in the outdoors and seeing things grow. If I get to do that with other people, it’s pretty fulfilling,” Klett said.
“Gardening together with other people is satisfying, and knowing that there are seniors and disabled people around here who may have to buy more canned food and less fresh, organic food, I feel I’m fortunate enough, I see the need and have the opportunities to bridge that gap.”
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