Laura Aden Packer, Program Director, Arts
If we were playing a word association game about places in New Jersey, what would be the first thing you’d think of if I said “Camden”? Did you answer “community gardens”? No? Well, you might, after you finish reading this.
Last week, I had the pleasure of visiting with the folks from the Camden City Garden Club for a tour of community and faith-based gardens, organized by Mike Devlin and Glades Zambrana of the Camden City Garden Club and the Reverend Floyd White of the Woodland Avenue Presbyterian Church.
Along for the ride, on the old school bus freshly painted white, were several community gardeners, Jasmine Hall Ratliff from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, New Jersey’s Secretary of State Nina Mitchell Wells, Edward LaPorte, Director of the New Jersey Office of Faith-Based Initiatives, Mark Smith, the chef/owner of Tortilla Press in Collingswood who’s always looking for local sources of food for his restaurant, and an assortment of other interested and interesting people.
We first visited Reverend White’s two gardens, one on 9th and Sylvan and the other on Woodland Avenue, and from there, we made ten more stops over the next three hours, meeting with local gardeners and pastors and their congregants, all of whom so proudly showed off their gardens and described the power of planting and producing nature’s bounty. The food from these gardens is shared between parishes and between neighbors.
The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation funds many of the gardens through a faith-based initiative. Several other community-based gardens have been operating for years under the auspices of the Camden City Garden Club, who offers twice-monthly classes on a variety of topics relevant to local gardeners.
In 2009, the Camden City Garden Club helped facilitate: the creation/planting of 26 new gardens; the installation of 3,400 linear feet of fence; 23 deliveries from the Garden Club of compost (30 yards total); and the distribution of over 125,000 transplants to gardens throughout the city.
Although I took a lot of pictures, I left my camera on the bus when we visited what turned out to be one of my favorite gardens: Pedro’s Garden on Beckett Street. He had amazing fruit trees, including several varieties of pears, and I saw Brussels sprouts, which I had never seen in the ground before. He also had an enormous herb garden, featuring cilantro, among other favorites of mine.
The day ended at the Camden Children’s Garden, where all of the gardeners we visited came together and barbequed a delicious and healthy lunch for us all.
For more information on Camden’s gardens, contact Mike Devlin at the Camden City Garden Club, and be sure to go visit the Camden Children’s Garden while you’re down on the Camden waterfront. Like me, you’ll start to think of Camden as *the* place to see community gardens!