Growing a Community in Morristown

Molly de Aguiar, Program Associate

Fresh produce donated to Interfaith Food Pantry

You can probably see that there’s lettuce in the photo above. And perhaps you recognize the kohlrabi on the left, too. In fact, there are 76 pounds of lettuce, spinach, kohlrabi and radishes there – all of it harvested at the Urban Farm at Lafayette and immediately donated (I mean, within minutes of harvesting) to the Interfaith Food Pantry.

Grow it Green Morristown

Last week, the Dodge staff put on its gardening gloves and headed over to Grow it Green Morristown‘s headquarters at the Urban Farm at Lafayette for a day of getting our hands dirty in service to our grantee and to our community of Morristown.

Founded by Samantha Rothman, Carolle Huber and Myra Bowie McCready, and directed by Farmer Tammy Toad Ryan,  Grow it Green Morristown is a creative, resourceful and inspiring organization which uses its gardening projects to promote the practices of sustainable communities: a commitment to fresh, local food; access to clean air and water; bike-friendly streets and safe, walkable neighborhoods.

Grow it Green Urban Farm

The Urban Farm at Lafayette is a 1/3 acre of land behind the Lafayette Learning Center, which also houses the Morris School District (MSD) Board of Education offices. The Farm is a creative partnership with the school district: Grow it Green leases the land from them at an affordable rate; in exchange, Grow it Green teaches the joys of gardening and the principles of sustainability to MSD students while collaborating with the district on new curriculum.

As this new partnership develops, Grow it Green and MSD are discovering benefits they hadn’t anticipated. Field trips with buses are expensive when they leave the district, for example, but are inexpensive when visiting local places. Since May, 20 classes already have visited the farm 4 times each (yes! 4 times each!) to dig deep into the gardening and growing experience, helping to plant pumpkins, eggplant, brussel sprouts, kale, lettuce, radishes and many other vegetables and flowers – 18 beds in all so far. Furthermore, Grow it Green provides a permanent garden and learning space for MSD students, solving the district’s problem of trying to maintain separate gardens at the individual MSD schools.

Most importantly, in a community where the majority of the school children receive free or reduced lunch and where there is significant food insecurity, the Farm is able to donate fresh produce to the school district to help feed its students (in addition to donating it to the community at large).

Sam and Myra from Grow it Green Morristown

Grow it Green Founders Samantha Rothman (right) Myra Bowie McCready (left)

Environmental consultant and Grow it Green Founder Samantha Rothman gave us a full tour of the garden, while sharing stories of generosity and community collaboration to get the land cleared and farm planted and maintained. Marty’s Reliable Cycles donated cardboard boxes, which were laid down on the paths between the garden beds as an eco-friendly way to suppress weeds before being covered by free mulch from the city of Morristown. Conservation Resources Inc. (another Dodge grantee) provided a grant for fencing, Lowe’s has provided lumber at cost, and Morris Brick & Stone donated brick pavers. The Sheriff’s Labor Assistance Program, Boy Scouts, school children, parents, and community members have volunteered hundreds of hours of their time. (See their full list of local businesses who have helped them).

As Samantha spoke, we were struck time and again by the enthusiastic response they’ve received from the community in such a short amount of time – this is only their first growing season at the Urban Farm. We were also impressed with the resourcefulness with which Grow it Green gets donations and maximizes its limited resources. This is clearly a labor of love for so many people.

Kohlrabi at Grow it Green

Beets at Grow it Green Morristown

After harvesting fresh produce to donate to Interfaith Food Pantry, which was our first order of the day, we got to work on our main task: building part of an herb garden designed by landscape architect (and Founding member) Carolle Huber.

Tools at Grow it Green Morristown

Building a new garden at Grow it Green Morristown

New paved garden before

Working on the paved garden

Completed paved herb garden at Grow it Green

The area around the path will be filled in with different beds of herbs; the design also includes an arbor to go over this part of the garden. We can’t wait to see what it looks like when Carolle’s vision comes to life.

In addition to her herb garden design, Carolle asked us to try our hand at building bamboo trellises. Imagine how beautiful this will be in the garden when covered with blooms:

Bamboo trellis for Grow it Green Morristown

While we were working, Carolle’s mother and sister had come to help finish painting the barn; Carolle’s sister then painted this cheerful rooster on the barn door and is working with her daughter to paint sunflowers on the side of the barn (which you can see in the photo above).

Painting the barn at Grow it Green

The Urban Farm is not just for school children; it’s a community space, and as we worked, we could see that the public has embraced it as such. Community members wandered in and out of the garden, some parents brought their children, and here was a class from the Lafayette Learning Center getting a lesson from Farmer Tammy (far left, in the purple shirt):

School tour at Grow it Green Morristown

And here we are (most of us), at the end of a productive day at the Urban Farm:

The crew at Grow it Green

For more information about Grow it Green Morristown, visit their website and watch a short movie about their first project, the community garden at Early Street. You can also read their blog, and if you feel inspired, donate your time or other resources to them. You can also see a terrific photo gallery of the farm in the Daily Record.

Special thanks to Sam, Carolle, Myra and Tammy for hosting the Dodge staff last week. We are inspired by your dedication to Morristown.

One Response to Growing a Community in Morristown

  1. Michelle Knapik says:

    Molly – you did a fantastic job at capturing our staff day of service! Grow it Green Morristown has incredibly robust programs for such a young organization – from emergency food provisions to curriculum design to experiential education and then some! The farm is a community magnet – you just want to keep going back for more. Thanks, too, to our internal Dodge green team – despite the fact that we receive more psychic income than we contribute in physical labor, and the fact that we build stronger relationships, these days of service would never happen if we did not have a team committed to helping us live our values.

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