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Urban farms bring healthy local foods
4/22/2016 Volume XLIX, No. 15

The Garden State may be renowned for tomatoes, corn, peppers, blueberries and more, but in contrast many of its urban areas are “food deserts” nearly devoid of fresh produce.

Food deserts are defined as geographic areas – often inner cities - where affordable and nutritious food is hard to find, especially for those without cars. According to a 2009 U.S. Department of Agriculture study, some 23.5 million people across the country lack access to a supermarket within a mile of their home.

Today, urban agriculture is making a difference. Several New Jersey cities – including Newark, Camden, Trenton and Paterson – are now growing fresh, healthy foods for local residents.

Jim Simon, deputy director of urban agriculture for Isles, a community development and environmental nonprofit in Trenton, thinks some New Jersey cities are more “food swamp” than desert.  He points out that although supermarkets may be scarce, urban neighborhoods are often filled with convenience stores and fast-food restaurants that mainly offer processed foods high in fat and sugar.

“There may be good food available,” he said, “but it’s hard to get, and there are so many bad choices available.”

Isles is now establishing and providing support for nearly 70 community gardens in and around the city. Together, these gardens produce 20,000 pounds of fresh fruit and vegetables each year. “They really help plug the gaps in the food system,” noted Jim.

In addition, D&R Greenway Land Trust is launching Capital City Farm, a new urban farm in Trenton, with technical advice from Isles. The new two-acre farm is located next to the Trenton Area Soup Kitchen.

In Newark, residents are getting more fresh food options, thanks to the Greater Newark Conservancy and others.

The Conservancy operates two urban farms: one next to the Krueger-Scott mansion on Court Street, and the other near Hawthorne Avenue Elementary School. The Court Street farm grows fresh vegetables and produces eggs from its own chickens and honey from its own apiary. The Hawthorne Hawks Healthy Harvest Farm grows fresh vegetables, and has an orchard with 75 fruit trees. Produce from the two farms is sold at farm stands run by local students.

Newark residents can grow their own produce through the Conservancy’s “Plot it Fresh” program of community gardens. For $10 a year, participants receive seeds, a 4-by-8-foot garden plot and access to the staff’s farming expertise.

Camden is home to dozens of community gardens, many on abandoned lots or park corners. Five of those gardens and orchards are operated by the nonprofit Center for Environmental Transformation, which also runs a farmers market.

The Center’s showcase is the Emerald Street Garden, which spans four city lots and includes a greenhouse, chicken coop and a cob bread oven, as well as space for volunteers, workers, and neighborhood children to gather. Another garden in a Camden sells most of its produce at a weekly farmers market.

In Paterson and neighboring cities of Clifton and Passaic, the nonprofit City Green operates a one-acre farm in Paterson’s Eastside Park, as well as a five-acre farm in Clifton. The two farms grow over 50 different varieties of organic produce to support farm stands and markets in Paterson, Clifton and Passaic.

The New Jersey Urban Mayors Association is holding a conference in Trenton on May 5 to explore ways to promote urban agriculture. For more information, go to

To learn more about urban agriculture, visit the Isles website at, Greater Newark Conservancy at, Center for Environmental Transformation at, City Green at, and the D&R Greenway Land Trust at

And for more information about preserving New Jersey’s land and natural resources, visit the New Jersey Conservation Foundation website at or contact me at



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