Mar 03, 2013 05:15PM
By Ana Rincon
A man has made at least a start on discovering the meaning of human life when he plants shade trees under which he knows full well he will never sit.
—— D. Elton Trueblood
I live in a suburban area of Morris County, about equidistant from rural and agricultural areas to the west and densely populated urban areas to the east. Farm stands and farmers’ markets are less common than supermarkets, but still numerous, and a few of my friends and neighbors have small vegetable gardens at home. Until recently I’d had little reason to think about urban gardening and the challenges of getting and growing produce in the city. This month’s feature article, “Urban Gardening Takes Root,” made me curious about what initiatives were in place near me, and I set out to find out more. Happily, I discovered innovative urban gardening/farming projects all around the area.
Some examples: In Newark, the city government has allocated at least $700,000 in grants to urban agriculture projects since 2010. In one of its largest projects, the city plans to develop a two-acre vacant lot in the Central Ward section into an urban garden with trees and vegetables. New Jersey Institute of Technology houses a rooftop garden that feeds its students, and the Newark Beth Israel Medical Center cultivates its own organic herbs and vegetables in an on-site greenhouse.
Garden State Urban Farms (GSUF) operates a hydroponic greenhouse in Orange, NJ. They train ex-offenders and at-risk youth in managing a sustainable business while growing high-quality greens for the local community. GSUF also uses Small Plot Intensive farming (SPIN) methods to grow vegetables and herbs in high-yield container boxes on previously abandoned urban lots. These are in Jersey City and Newark.
Close to home I found the Grow It Green Morristown group that has started the Early Street community garden and the Urban Farm at Lafayette. The latter is an agricultural teaching garden that transformed an underused schoolyard into a “living classroom” for 4,700 children. The Early Street garden provides space for 50 families to grow their own produce.
What struck me the most is that it’s not just about growing food. The urban and community gardening movement feeds many other needs. According to the American Community Gardening Association, “Community gardening improves people’s quality of life by providing a catalyst for neighborhood and community development, stimulating social interaction, encouraging self-reliance, beautifying neighborhoods, producing nutritious food, reducing family food budgets, conserving resources and creating opportunities for recreation, exercise, therapy and education.” Wow — a pretty good payoff from an acre or so of land or an urban rooftop!