Written by Jay Curry
Albert Dorman Honors College
The mission of the Greater Newark Conservancy (GNC) is to improve the quality of life in Newark’s urban communities. They do this through community gardens and environmental education programs for young children. In mid-November of 2015, I volunteered at the one-acre urban farm at 138 Court Street. There are many vacant and unmaintained lots in Newark, and GNC has taken advantage of these large areas of free space by turning them into urban farms.
The directions stated that the garden was located behind a mansion and I noticed the huge Krueger-Scott Mansion as soon as I reached the street. There were two other students from NJIT, Matt and Paul, who also volunteered. Once we were all there, we were greeted by Jacob Kim, Director of Community Gardening at GNC. He was a very down-to-earth type of guy and young, too. He gave us a tour of the farm by showing us the greenhouses, the chicken coop, and the beds of soil containing various types of fruits and vegetables for the Newark community. There were blueberry bushes, broccoli plants, garlic roots, spinach, and kale; basically, everything someone could find in a produce aisle, except you know everything was all natural and contained no pesticides or artificial chemicals, as Jacob explained. After the tour, we also met Justin Allen, the Director of Urban Agriculture, and Darius Johnson, an urban farmer and also a student studying at Essex County College. All three were very friendly and happy to see us there.
Our first task was to help prepare a bed of soil for the garlic. We loosened up the soil and planted over 100 garlic sprouts in the ground. Next, we went behind the chicken coop and cleaned out all the weeds. It took some serious pulling to excavate some of the weeds that looked like miniature trees! Afterwards, we used wheelbarrows to pour wood chips onto the soil and prepared that area for planting. Then we took the wheelbarrows and brought them back to the soil beds near where we planted the garlic. The long aisles of soil covered about half of the farm and we covered them with wood chips. At this point, the urban farm was ready to start growing produce and start feeding the nearby community. We finished in the afternoon and the three GNC representatives thanked us for our service.
The Greater Newark Conservancy produced over 15,000 pounds of food last growing season, and they need help from Newark residents and from organizations like NJIT, Rutgers, and Essex County College to make their goals a reality. If you’re looking to volunteer and help out the Newark Community, try giving 138 Court Street a visit.