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People On The Move - Tony Sloan
07/03/2012 - By Linda Muhlhausen
Back to the Land -- again
Tony Sloan laughingly attributes his passion for community-based agriculture as a hold-over from lessons he learned during the so-called hippie “back to the land” movement of the 1960s and early 1970s. The Neptune native, a 40+ year resident of Highlands, is passionate about the growing popularity of community gardening in suburban as well as urban neighborhoods. When he’s not occupied in his long-standing career of tuning pianos, Tony spends time as a volunteer “farm engineer,” providing hands-on planning and building support to help ensure the success of start-up or existing community gardens in our area.
To Tony, community gardening is more than a rewarding way to grow your own vegetables – it is a philosophy. “Community gardening’s single most important outcome is to recreate the broad-based knowledge of growing things that once existed in the U.S.,” he says.
Helping people grow their own food locally is a “cause célèbre” with Tony, since it is a way he can personally contribute to offsetting some of the negative effects of the way our food is currently mass produced on large-scale farms, collectively known as “agribusiness.” Problems with bacterial contamination and worries about the impact of pesticides and other chemicals are some of the reasons people are going back to growing their own food. Tony believes it has other benefits as well. He points out, “People who garden or small-farm have this exhilaration from actually dealing directly with the plants.”
He is particularly pleased to help out with community garden (CG) projects that are planning outreach programs to schools, to provide children with a hands-on educational opportunity to grow a vegetable from seedling to plate – and make it a lot more likely they will eat that broccoli they helped produce!
As a self-styled farm engineer, Tony’s knowledge and skill helps new CG’s avoid the pitfalls that can result from poor or haphazard planning by preparing a complete garden site layout diagram for optimal vegetable production and ease of maintenance. He provides installation of essential infrastructure, such as fencing and water systems, as well as a complete materials list so the gardeners will know what to buy.
“The largest single deflator of the exhilaration of being involved in a garden is when something goes wrong with the infrastructure, or it is defective to begin with,” he notes. The most common question he gets is about the best type of fencing. “I specialize only in ‘wire on frame’ fences that were used in the traditional American Victory Gardens” of World War II history. When properly constructed, he says, “It’s the only type of fence that really does the job of keeping all animals out while being economical to build.”
While he leaves the “knowing of the plants” to the gardeners, Tony has made it his mission to provide a solid structural foundation for the success of each garden. In Highlands, he helped implement layout changes at the CG at Our Lady of Perpetual Help Church that greatly increased productivity. Over the last three years, he has built CG installations at the historic Crawford House in Tinton Falls, the former Spring House in Shrewsbury, the Municipal complex in Oceanport, and assisted with CG’s in Freehold and at Monmouth University in West Long Branch. He is currently completing a 3,000 square foot fence enclosure for a vegetable garden for Impact OASIS, at their new Transitional Residential/Adult Independent Learning Center (TRAIL) facility for autistic young adults on Sleepy Hollow Road, Middletown. On each of these projects, he has worked hand-in-hand with Master Gardeners of Monmouth County in the planning and implementation of the gardens.
Tony invests his considerable expertise, knowledge, skill, time and labor to nonprofit community gardens on a volunteer-only basis, declaring, “My services are not for sale.” He regards his commitment to community gardening as a form of redress for the way food production was mechanized in this country, starting in the Nixon administration under former Agriculture secretary Earl Butz.
“Agribusiness eliminated practically all knowledge of food growing amongst the general public,” he maintains, adding that the communal farm experiments of other decades were long on idealism, but often short on practical farming know-how. He is thrilled to witness the resurgence of community interest in growing food, and he is giving all he can to help community gardens take root and thrive.
For lunch, the Sand-Witch Shop, in Highlands
60’s Rock ‘n Roll
THREE PEOPLE YOU WOULD LIKE TO HAVE DINNER WITH
Robert M. Pirsig (author)
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