Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Focus on Community Gardens

Part of the beauty of working alongside residents of Northern New Jersey to establish community gardens is witnessing the transformation of a space and the bond formed between different groups of people working together for a common goal.

Community gardens have been popping up across the USA as more people learn about their incredible significance to food security, community empowerment, urban revitalization and environmental stewardship. In Passaic County, New Jersey, nine new gardens have been established and seven gardens expanded or improved this past summer with the support of City Green’s Dig In! program.

Community Garden at Passaic Neighborhood Center for Women

What are some defining characteristics of community gardens?

 It’s important to keep in mind that community gardens come in all shapes and sizes. These can range from a collection of raised beds in vacant lots; garden plots in semi-rural areas; garden-to-food pantry projects between members of an organization or house of worship; and even a therapeutic garden for seniors or people with disabilities. Community gardens are typically located on land that is divided for individual, family or communal use. Gardeners often share the supplies, materials and tools. Most importantly, community gardens are typically organized and managed by the gardeners themselves – whether it is organized through a garden committee or some other core group of leaders.

West Milford Organic Community Garden
West Milford Organic Community Garden

Why do people come together to create a community garden and share in the labors of working the soil, sowing the seeds, maintaining the garden and harvesting vegetables?

Every community garden group has its own mission and vision, which guide the structure and function of the garden. Among the groups we have had the pleasure to work with through our Dig In! program, gardeners have identified an array of reasons to establish and maintain community gardens, including:

  • Providing access to fresh produce for community and surrounding neighborhood
  • Bringing community together
  • Enhancing quality of life by promoting healthy eating
  • Providing environmental education for children and teens
  • Engaging community members in educational programming about gardening
  • Developing deeper understanding of botany, health and nutrition
  •  Promoting sustainability, energy conservation and environmental awareness
  • Highlighting agricultural and cultural knowledge
  • Bringing pride to the community
  • Neighborhood beautification

Community Garden at Paterson Free Public Library Southside Branch

Educational Workshop at Paterson Library Southside Branch
In Northern New Jersey, community gardens are especially poignant in urban areas where residents have little or no access to fresh and healthy food, lack natural green spaces and have few safe areas to enjoy outdoor recreation.

Here at City Green, we believe in the power of on-the-ground community cohesion to revitalize abandoned and forgotten spaces and turn these into something beautiful and usable.

Over the next few months, we will be highlighting a couple of stories about the garden groups we partner with in Passaic County, NJ. Stay tuned for more!

In the meantime, if you are interested in further exploring the benefits of community gardens, please visit the following links:

American Community Gardening Association - ACGA

American Journal of Public Health

Community Gardens: Lessons Learned from California Healthy Cities and Communities

Gardening Matters

North Carolina State University

-page provides link to multiple journal articles researching community gardens

Sustainable West Milford

WhyHunger Food Security Learning Center

by Claudia Urdanivia


Thursday, July 10, 2014

New Jersey Native Plants

City Green recently hosted a workshop about Native Plants of New Jersey titled “Coming Home to Natural New Jersey” by Jared Rosenbaum of Wild Ridge Plants, LLC. The workshop was part of City Green’s newest initiative called Dig In! 

In addition to providing groups from Passaic County funding for the establishment or expansion of a community garden or neighborhood farm, Dig In! also provides technical and educational support for garden groups. 

We kicked off our Dig In! educational programming by hosting “Coming Home to Natural New Jersey.” 

A discussion of native plants is an excellent companion to other workshops on vegetable gardening, soil and related themes. 

                                    Black-eyed Susan (Rudbecka fulgida 'Goldsturm') at Schultheis Farm

What is the importance of native plants? There are several definitions for the term native plants. Generally, native plants exist naturally in a particular region, ecosystem or habitat without direct or indirect human intervention. Over the past couple of centuries, native plants have largely been replaced by exotic plants or fragrant vines that grow faster or are perceived to be more aesthetically pleasing than native varieties. However, there are plenty of benefits to incorporating native plants in your individual or community garden, which include:

  • Locally adapted to New Jersey climate and soils, for example, native plants require less water since they are more drought tolerant 
  •  Attract beneficial insects and butterflies
  • Restore natural wildlife areas to existing urban areas
  • Provide plenty of food for the local wildlife such as birds, butterflies and other pollinators

Jared provided us with a startling statistic about NJ native plants: 40% of the 2000 native plants species in NJ are listed by the state as species of concern or endangered. There are many reasons for the decline of native plant species, including habitat fragmentation, deer overpopulation and invasive species (exotic plants). 

Native plant species are not only beneficial in their local adaptation and the way they co-exist with local wildlife, but they also have an array of medicinal and culinary uses.

Take elderberry:
This shrub blooms and fruits beautifully in the middle of the summer season. Birds enjoy it and humans can make all sorts of preparations with it, such as: teas, wines and syrups. Jared informed us that the berry syrup provides immune support for colds and the flu.

                                                                  Elderberry Bush

How do native plants relate to organic gardening and why are they so crucial to environmental stewardship?

Native plants are vital to a well-functioning ecosystem as they are adapted to the local soils and climate and attract local wildlife. Most importantly, they encourage biodiversity in the region – something that is often overlooked in exchange for the beautification of a space using exotic plants. By incorporating native plants in a garden, gardeners are creating a space to attract pollinators and encourage plant diversity, two important components of natural pest management. Native plants are especially important in suburban and urban areas because of the fragmentation of habitats. By nurturing the restoration of native plant habitats, organic gardeners have the opportunity to engage in the care and respect of life all around us. 

                                   Keystone Buttonbush (Cephalanthus occidentalis) at Schultheis Farm

Where can you find Native Plants in Passaic County?

 A couple of sites to keep your eye out for:

Eastside Park Learning Garden in Paterson, NJ: situated in Eastside Park in Paterson adjacent to Route 20, City Green’s Learning Garden incorporates many types of native plants. Visitors are fascinated by the beauty and diversity of these local plants at the heart of an urban area. Eastside Park Learning Garden attracts over a thousand curious visitors a year, especially in the summer months when local schoolchildren attend City Green’s summer programming “City Sprouts.”

                                  The popular Purple Coneflower (Echinacea purpurea) at Schultheis Farm

Schultheis Farm in Clifton, NJ: One of the only open spaces preserved for farmland in Clifton, Schultheis Farm is transitioning to restore a native plant habitat in the meadow area. The farm is also home to a learning farm and a rain garden incorporating native plants. Other native plants are also scattered throughout the property.

Resources on NJ Native Plants:
Jared Rosenbaum’s blog of Wild Ridge Plants:
Wild Ridge Plants website:
Native Plant Society of New Jersey:
New Jersey Audubon:

by Claudia Urdanivia