Let It Grow

2009 Seeds of Hope honoree Ernest Cottrill.

Ernie Cottrill is the director of the Giving Garden and Wagner Farm Arboretum.
Photo by John Emerson.

When people look at a garden, some see beauty, some see work. Ernest Cottrill, a retired software developer and 26-year resident of Warren Township, sees the solution to a critical problem—that of hunger in one of the state’s wealthiest counties.

“I was taken aback when I realized that there were actually poor people in Somerset County,” says Cottrill, who came to this realization in 1997 when he volunteered at a local food bank.

A decade later, while driving by the 90 acres that are now Wagner Farm Arboretum, Cottrill conceived of a volunteer-run Giving Garden. Suzanne Smith, president of the arboretum, and Keith Cooper, chairman of the arboretum’s Community Garden, embraced the idea.

Now in its third year of operation, the Giving Garden has yielded close to 10,000 pounds of fresh produce that have been distributed through the Food Bank of Somerset County, Calvary Chapel’s Lighthouse Food Pantry of North Plainfield, and Star Fish in Plainfield, a Union County agency.

Cottrill, 78 and a father of four, grew up in West Virginia during the Great Depression. His family was given a plot of land to farm in return for caring for the elderly owner. “It was a blessing to be able to eat fruit and vegetables picked fresh from the branch and vine during harvest time as well as at the dinner table,” Cottrill says.

Today, Cottrill has found a way to offer bushels of fresh produce and hope to those in need.

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