Friday, August 29, 2014

Local and Sustainable Food Systems

In previous posts, we shared stories from local community gardens in northern New Jersey and discussed the benefits of gardening for people and the environment. Whether they are tiny square foot raised beds in previously abandoned lots or learning gardens at public libraries, community gardens offer a great example of social and environmental sustainability. Home gardens, community gardens, farmers’ markets, community supported agriculture and food cooperatives are part of the broader local food system.

What is the significance of the local food system? First, by establishing a direct link between consumer and producer, the local food system is reconnecting food to place and creating a space for dialogue where people can learn about the production and distribution of their food. Producing, sourcing and consuming locally grown food also reduces carbon footprint by cutting down on those food miles. Furthermore, local food systems can prove to be catalysts for farmland preservation and small-scale agriculture - ultimately paving the way for entrepreneurial opportunities for young family farmers. An additional benefit for consumers and folks testing out their green thumb includes having access to so many varieties of fruits and vegetables. If you live in the Garden State, just think of all the different varieties of tomatoes you can grow in your garden or find at a farmers’ market! To give you an idea of the diversity of the tomato, check out the Rutgers NJAES database showcasing all the tomatoes grown on their research farm. 

The local food system is very much alive and laying down roots all over the United States. Just last week, Grist posted an online blog series called This is what a more sustainable American food system looks like. The author focuses on an individual or a small business in every US state to highlight the ways they are taking steps in producing food more sustainably. “Local” is a key word that you will find in almost every one of these posts. 

If you haven’t done so yet, I encourage you to visit your local farmers’ market and if you have access to a little green space, start a garden! 

Visit the sites below to further explore information on local and sustainably grown food:

Food Forward is a new show that will be premiering on PBS in the Fall about sustainable food systems.
Food Tank is focused on building a global community for safe, healthy, nourished eaters.
Sustainable Table celebrates local sustainable food, educates consumers about the benefits of sustainable agriculture and works to build community through food.

Support your local farmers’ market and farm stands! Come visit the City Green Farm Stands at 171 Grove Street in Clifton, NJ every Friday from 10:30 AM to 2:30 PM and at 330 Passaic Street, Passaic, NJ every Tuesday from 10:30 AM to 2:30 PM.
Senior citizens at City Green Passaic Market

by Claudia Urdanivia

Claudia is Program Operations Manager at City Green.

Thursday, August 14, 2014

Spotlight on North Haledon Community Garden

The North Haledon Community Garden is a perfect example of a fruitful partnership between a municipal government, community groups and dedicated volunteers. Officially opened on May 3rd of this year, the North Haledon Community Garden consists of 16 raised beds with 15 of the beds currently being used. It is conveniently located at the heart of the town’s recreation center. A visitor can stroll or bike through the walking trails and Dog Park and view the raised beds containing herbs and vegetables such as tomatoes, broccoli, squash, cucumbers, and turnips. One raised bed is even reminiscent of a miniature meadow as it is houses different wildflowers.
North Haledon Community Garden

Instrumental to the creation of the garden was the support of the North Haledon Green Team, led by Mayor Randy George. The North Haledon Green Team designed the garden with the assistance of urban homesteading expert, Victor Alfieri while North Haledon’s DPW prepared the area for the garden. The garden even includes a rain barrel that gardeners can access as a steady source of water. The benefits of the community garden go beyond what it brings to garden participants, as the Green Team has included it as part of their submission for Sustainable Jersey Certification. Municipalities that are certified by Sustainable Jersey practice responsible environmental management and conservation, while saving costs in energy, water and garbage bills. According to Jerry Flach, one of the passionate members of the Green Team and member of the Community Garden, the group is working to improve the community by using best practices, which highlight sustainability to help North Haledon become more self-sufficient over the long run.
Jerry's garden bed using square foot method
Jerry has grown a number of vegetables in her raised bed this year, including tomatoes, kale, turnips, broccoli, collard greens, and bok choy. This was the first year that Jerry grew some of these vegetables from seed. From that harvest, she has shared the produce with her co-workers and family. Although Jerry has garden space at home, she has too much shade that does not allow full sunlight for some of the sun-loving vegetables. The community garden allows Jerry to grow different vegetables and be an active part of the community. Jerry is glad that the Mayor, the Green Team and other residents work together to care for open space in the community. She says that as a whole, North Haledon “makes great use of the space we have, otherwise it would be sitting there idly.”
Pictured above from left is Mayor Randy George, Jerry, Janet and two young volunteers

Part of the funding for the North Haledon Community Garden was provided by the City Green and Passaic County Dig In! program.

by Claudia Urdanivia

Thursday, August 7, 2014

A Volunteer's Perspective

The 2014 farming season is my first volunteer season at City Green. With that in mind I am honored to have the opportunity to contribute a post to the City Green blog about my experience.

I learned about City Green when the recipients of the 2014 Dig In! grants were publicized in March 2014. A change in my employment circumstances had recently opened up an opportunity to take on new volunteer work. As a hobby gardener I’ve been interested in growing vegetables, and from some reading on environmental issues I have come to believe that small farms and community gardens can have a significant positive impact on the health of the community and even on the global environment.

Pat hard at work weeding the squash

City Green offers the opportunity to satisfy both of those interests and make a small contribution to the greater good. It does this through its educational and outreach programs and through its Farm facility in Clifton. I had hoped to work at an educational program in Paterson, but the cancellation of an event put that hope on hold temporarily. No worries, though. There is always work to be done at the City Green Schultheis Farm, and that is where I have spent my volunteer hours.

Volunteer work is like an internship. It should be a learning experience for the participant at the same time as it provides the organization with labor. In some organizations however, interns and volunteers spend their time chained to the various pieces of equipment that the organization employs in accomplishing its mission, with little learning taking place. That does not happen at City Green, and that makes volunteering there such a great experience.

The City Green staff members are passionate about their work and mission, and they pass that passion on to the volunteers. Because the mission of City Green includes “cultivating education in public health, nutrition and the environment,” the staff members also take advantage of every opportunity to teach. What have I learned as a volunteer? Among other things, I’ve learned

     Some of the history of the organization, of course.
     How City Green came to the Schultheis Farm, and what had to be done (and still has to be done) to make the City Green Schultheis farm a productive organic farm.
     That City Green has an impressive range of outreach and educational programs from its summer camp programs to its support of community gardens throughout northern New Jersey to its work with men and women in transition at the Straight and Narrow organization in Paterson.
     Some of the soil conditions that facilitated or hindered the growth of the crops planted during the 2014 season.
     That carrots are harvested with an implement that looks like a prop from a slasher movie.
     That it takes about two full days for the smell of fish emulsion to wash out of one’s hands.
     That a high concentration of wood chips in the soil can inhibit a plant’s intake of nitrogen.
     That the purple hyssop that grows in the flower garden above the parking lot at City Green Schultheis Farm is a native species, is a member of the mint family, and has a square stem, as do all members of the mint family.

So City Green is a great organization for lifelong learners, but there’s also real work to be done. Having spent three years living among dairy farmers in New York’s Mohawk Valley, I did not harbor any illusions about the nature of the work I would be asked to do. I expected to get dirty, sweat, raise blisters, and go home tired. I was not disappointed in those expectations.

Pat and his wife Jody seen in the far back weeding along with other farm volunteers

What kind of work have I done during my volunteer sessions?

     Raked the ground to get it ready for planting.
     Planted seeds and seedlings.
     Pulled and hoed weeds.
     Dispensed fish emulsion fertilizer.
     Raked wood chips.
     Spread mulch.
     Picked and sampled some of the best strawberries I’ve ever eaten.

Working for City Green, and in particular working at City Green Schultheis Farm, has some intangible benefits as well. Traffic noises from the local roads are constant, yet there’s always a song sparrow, killdeer, mockingbird, or cardinal nearby calling out above the roar of the trucks and motorcycles. With equal parts courage and patience one can crouch down and watch a constant exchange of honeybees at the beehive, or one can observe bees and butterflies as they shuttle among the many flowers that have been planted on the grounds. Willie, Harry, and George, recent additions to the farm family, are as entertaining as any cat videos on YouTube.

I am grateful to City Green for the opportunity to contribute, in however small a measure, to their great work. It is my hope that the tribe of volunteers will grow as news about that work continues to spread throughout northern New Jersey.

by Pat Walsh

Pat Walsh volunteers at City Green along with his wife, Jody. He enjoys gardening, hiking, and writing and is a member of the Bloomfield Civic Band.