Camden, New Jersey’s community garden project provides fresh food to community following closure of towns only supermarket

Lynn Griffith
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Trained lawyer, Mike Devlin, used his love of gardening to help address Camden City, NJ concerns of poverty, lack of fresh food and safe recreation. (1)

Three decades ago, Mike Devlin was a new resident and became involved in a community gardening project.  This led him to realize the importance that urban gardens could play in addressing city problems.  Devlin received $30,000 from the William Penn Foundation to start a successful nonprofit organization. (1) Devlin started the Camden City Garden Club and Camden Children’s Garden. (2)

Camden, New Jersey utilizes community gardens to provide fresh fruit and vegetables to their community during economic collapse

In 2008, when the economy collapsed, the people in Camden faced tougher times due to being one of the poorest cities per capita in the United States.  Devlin reported that this city is the worst food desert in New Jersey and one of the nine worst in the country.  At this time, many people would visit the community garden in hopes to gain fresh food and cut down grocery expenses.  In 2008, the community housed 30 community gardens and due to increasing need the city now houses over 130 community gardens.  Devlin reports that approximately 15 percent of the city’s population gets their fresh produce from the program. (1)

The towns population is about 75,000 and about half of this population is under the age of 20.  Sixty percent of high school students in this community drop out of school before receiving their diploma.  The town lost it’s last supermarket one year ago and the town now relies on corner stores that sell very little amounts of fresh foods. (1)

Community gardens filled gap when town lost it’s only supermarket

Many people in the town have been unable to buy fresh foods for many years.  The Garden Club is trying to encourage people to try fresh fruits and vegetables and teach them how to grow them.  Devlin reports, “I believe that if they grow them, they will taste them; they will try to find a use for them because they have developed ownership of that product.” (1)

Devlin states, “We help people get their gardens started and keep them going. They pay nominal dues of either $25 a year for a family or $65 a year for a community organization or church, and then we provide plants, fertilizer, lime, mushroom compost, wood chips, and muscle.” (1)

Devlin reports, “Our success rate is almost 100 percent with kids graduating high school and either getting into college or getting a job after high school. One-third to 40 percent of kids who finish our program graduate high school and enter college. We give them a job, they earn an income, and we take them on field trips. We treat them like family. We’ve only had one kid out of over 300 drop out of high school.” (1)

Recent research from Harvard University identifies socioeconomic status as a concern for healthy eating for those in low-income neighborhoods. (3)  It appears that community gardening could be the answer to this problem. (1)

Sources for this article include:

(1) www.csmonitor.com
(2) www.camdenchildrensgarden.org
(3) www.sciencedaily.com

Image Source: http://www.camdenchildrensgarden.org

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