Community Gardening and Its Impact on Seniors
In continued celebration of NJFA’s 15th Anniversary, we’d like to share with you a guest blog from a former grantee, The Camden City Garden Club, Inc.
The Camden City Garden Club, Inc. (CCGC) operates several programs, which provide Camden residents of all ages access to fresh, locally-grown healthy food. The CCGC’s Community Gardening Program enables 1000s of Camden families to grow their own food in community gardens, close to residents’ homes and promotes fellowship among neighbors. The Camden City Garden Club provides plants, seeds, fertilizers, fencing, supplies and tips to its members for a small membership fee.
Through the Community Gardening Program, the CCGC works with the community to fight hunger and obesity in Camden, NJ, which is the one of the poorest, most dangerous US cities and also one of the “Top 9 Food Deserts”, according to the USDA. In 2013, the CCGC celebrates 29 Years of the Community Gardening Program, which is “perhaps the fastest growing in the US,” according to University of Pennsylvania study. Today, CCGC has created and supports over 120 community gardens, 100 family gardens, and 12 school gardens. The CCGC is helping more than 12% of Camden residents to eat fresh food from these gardens, producing an estimated $2.3 million in fresh produce each year, according to the report by University of Pennsylvania.
CCGC PROGRAMS ARE ASSISTING NJ SENIORS
With support from foundations like the NJ Foundation for Aging(NJFA), the CCGC has increased community gardening with seniors at Camden senior residence facilities. CCGC and NJFA have also established a Senior Citizen Advisory Council for the Garden Club to improve services to encourage seniors to garden. The Council has been operating successfully with 10 members, who represent various communities in the City of Camden. Council members serve as teachers, mentors and guides to advance community gardens in Camden, addressing the particular needs of senior citizens and their families. They provide the CCGC with advice on the needs of seniors and serve as mentors for those wishing to start-up new gardens and improve their gardening methods.
The CCGC Community Gardening Program is multi-generational and multi-ethnic. It has a way of bringing together people of different racial, religious and ethnic backgrounds and having them work together to grow food for themselves, their families and neighbors. The study by the University of Pennsylvania found that Camden gardens were remarkable for the amount of surplus that they produced and their generosity in sharing it with their neighbors. These programs are especially helpful to Camden’s elderly as they often to not have access to transportation, are on a fixed income and because growing fresh foods is so important to a healthy active lifestyle.
GARDENING AT SENIOR HOUSING & GROWING FELLOWSHIP
Since its founding, senior citizens have always been a cherished part of the Garden Club. Many of the members were older people who were interested in gardening since the time they were young children. Garden Club senior gardeners include African Americans who grew up on farms in the South, some from Mexico, Puerto Rico and others who remember gardening with their parents and grandparents on small backyard gardens.
Through support from the NJFA, the CCGC has been able to expand their services for seniors. The Club supports large gardens at Northgate I and Northgate II, senior housing developments that accommodate over 50 gardeners. There are several other community gardens throughout the City of Camden which are led by and cultivated by the CCGC’s active gardening senior. Some outstanding gardens have been attributed to senior gardeners: Paul Williams has an extensive garden – both have been focal points of their neighborhoods and a source of a surplus of healthy food. The CCGC has supported the extensive community garden called the “Men’s Garden” because of the large number of senior men who garden there, as well as, their utilizing the outdoor space as a meeting place.
INTERGENERATIONAL GARDENING & LEARNING
CCGC’s Community Gardening Program also offers opportunities for intergenerational learning. Seniors have the opportunity to mentor the Camden teenagers who work as part of Youth Employment and Job Training Program,. In addition, CCGC hosts AmeriCorps volunteers, young people who are part of the program CCGC hosts who come to volunteer in Camden, help seniors with some of their gardening work in return for learning from them about gardening, food and life. Hundreds of Camden school children participate annually in the CCGC’s GrowLab Program. Many of these children have community gardens in their neighborhoods at home, so they often teach their families and neighbors what they learned in school. The seniors enjoy working and teaching the children what they know about gardening and preparing healthy meals also!
To help supplement the food grown in the community gardens, the CCGC also operates a successful mini farm stand at the Camden Children’s Garden, which sells produce to seniors to supplement what they are able to grow themselves, with items like seasonal apples, blueberries, peaches and corn. The Fresh Mobile Market will sell quality fresh vegetables and fruit at low prices. Some of the produce will be grown at the CCGC’s Urban Farm on 3rd and Beckett Streets in Camden, NJ. CCGC Board member and supporter, Duffield’s Farm in Sewell, NJ, will also supply produce. In addition, the newly launched Fresh Mobile Market Program will bring fresh foods even closer to the homes of elderly residents, with a special focus on senior housing. This program was launched May 2013 at a senior living facility Mickle Towers, along with the Fresh Mobile Partners, including the NJ Department of Agriculture, NJ 5th Legislative District, Camden County Freeholders, City of Camden Mayor, City of Camden Council, Duffield’s Farm, Holman Ford Lincoln, Walmart Corporation, Whole Foods Markets. Also, the CCGC’s “Camden Grows”, the USDA Entrepreneurial Gardening Program, will enable Camden Community Gardeners to make a profit by selling their surplus of crops to the Mobile Market Program.
The target population for the NJFA grants were low income senior citizens. Throughout the year, CCGC estimates that at least 1,400 senior citizens (20% of CCGC’s 7,000 gardeners have been served). CCGC has exceeded their goals for Senior Community Gardening and will continue to work with seniors as an integral part of the garden program.
In conclusion, seniors are important leaders in the CCGC, providing inspiration and direction to gardeners of all ages throughout the city. There is a great excitement about CCGC’s Community Gardening Program in Camden and senior citizens are an important reason for that.
To learn more about the Camden City Garden Club go to http://camdenchildrensgarden.org/about.html