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Raised Bed Building in Jersey City

First, let me say welcome to our blog! After many requests and a desire to share more of the stories we get to experience on a regular basis, we decided it was finally time to start writing! We are not going to start from the very beginning; if you want to catch up with how we began and what we’ve done since 2002, head here. If you want to read about our programs or how to get involved, click away. We may reflect back now and then, but we are going to jump right in where we are at: in the spring of 2014. Thank you in advance for reading!

This past month we had the privilege of organizing a raised bed building for a community in Jersey City. Now, we are not really in the business of building raised beds these days given the now combined 288 acres at our Pittstown and Milford farms. Early on in AGAR’s history, we would help schools or communities build gardens for the produce to be donated. However, as part of our arrangements with cities in which we host our Free Farm Markets, we seek ways in which these communities can have continued access to produce. In line with our mission of promoting agriculture and education, we want to help people who live in food desert areas (lacking access to affordable and healthy fresh food) to have more access. Upon visiting our farm, many of the adults from these communities reminisce about farms they grew up on or that their ancestors worked on. But the children do not have these stories and often only know of produce out of a can, if that. Some of these children have had the opportunity to create these stories by visiting us on our farm, but we want to bring part of the farm to them. When they can participate in growing their own food, they want to eat it. We educate children about nutrition, but when they get to plant plant, weed, water, harvest, and eat what they have grown, they learn to like the vegetables on their own. Even adults do not want to be told what to eat, right?

So if our Free Farm Market partners want to and have the space to grow their own, we want to support that. If residents lack a space to grow, then we gather volunteers to help build raised beds. What’s even better, is when we can build them together with members of the community, as we did in Jersey City.

We have partnered with Team Walker, a non-profit free after-school and summer program for youth in Jersey City started by Jerry Walker, since 2012 when we began delivering free fresh produce every other week throughout the harvest season. Jerry was able to acquire a vacant lot just blocks away from their new building. Already fenced in, it just needed some tender loving care. Thanks to 10 people connected to Team Walker and 5 high school seniors and one teacher, Vinny MacMahon, from Seton Hall Prep, we cleared the area, built 3 beds, filled them with soil and compost, and planted by lunch time. For a few reasons, we had very little time to pull this day together, and between gathering the materials, getting free soil from the city, recruiting volunteers, and carrying out the project, everything just flowed seamlessly. We were also very fortunate to have seedlings started weeks ago by the Tewksbury Boy Scouts and the Rutgers Master Gardeners of Somerset. Thanks to them, residents will be able to enjoy green beans, eggplant, heirloom tomatoes, cucumbers, and even some cabbage!

Forgive me as I am about to break out a whole bunch of puns and metaphors, but there is so much truth to the right elements coming together at the right time to nurture not only the seeds of this garden, but also the children and families of this community. And from Tewksbury to Somerset to South Orange to Jersey City, we are all being nurtured by drawing people in the Garden State of various ages and walks of life together while drawing us back to the earth that sustains us.

Thank you to all who participated. We look forward with anticipation to witnessing the growth that comes from this garden and being along for the ride.

-Leena

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