Sometimes it just takes the seed of an idea to grow and sprout into a communityservice project. And sometimes, it just takes seeds, literally. Seeds that grow community gardens and environmental education, that is. They are the building blocks behind City Green, the nonprofit that got its start in Wyckoff in 2004 and has grown since then into a major gardening initiative.
City Green's mission is to help establish urban farms and gardens in northern New Jersey, while also cultivating education in public health, nutrition and the environment. Executive Director Jennifer Papa says the initiative aims "to create greater access in food-desert neighborhoods to locally produced food with increased community involvement."
In 2004, it began with just that – a community garden in Paterson. Good things have been growing at City Green ever since. It now operates school-based environment clubs, a community of school garden teachers (City Green helps with curriculum, tools and support), and after-school and summer garden programming.
Recently, the group moved its headquarters from Wyckoff to Schultheis Farm in Clifton, a five-acre farm that will be used for children's gardens, community gardens and urban farming.
There are a lot of good deeds in the harvest at City Green. One initiative Papa points to is the annual Go Green Conference held in partnership with Ramapo College's One Step environmental club. This year's theme was Collective Action, and one action that resulted was a playground cleanup and revitalization in a blighted park in Jersey City.
Some of the good deeds also happen to taste good. Take, for example, a school garden in Teaneck. "An entire grade of kindergarten students at Bryant Elementary School in Teaneck grew three raised beds full of lettuce," Papa says. "The teachers were inspired to invite the parents to eat the lettuce with their children who grew it – so they hosted a fitness night."
Children who attend the YWCA summer camp in Paterson, meanwhile, have been growing a garden with the help of City Green for more than six years. "We hold an annual Theater in the Garden production," Papa says. "The children rehearse an environmentally themed production for two weeks, culminating in a performance for their families and neighborhood." The after-party snacks feature, of course, sliced veggies.
It takes a lot of volunteers to make the initiative work, and they come from all walks of life.
"We have great educator volunteers who help with our school fieldtrip programming," Papa says. The group also relies on carpenters, plumbers and electricians for the renovation of the farmhouse, and on landscaping assistance for various projects.
In addition, there is a weekly Wednesday morning volunteer program at the new farmhouse location for people who like to garden and an evening program for working on the farm. City Green also hosts corporate events and teen environmental and school garden clubs.
How to Help
Helping hands are needed in a variety of ways: sharing the story, attending fundraisers, donating funds or plants and materials. Visit citygreenonline.org to learn more. Volunteer coordinator Betty Wiest can be reached at (973) 869-4086.