The goal of the Ocean County Soil Conservation District (SCD) initiative was to offer technical support in Lakewood Township, a ‘food desert’ as identified by USDA. A UAC Advisory Committee was established consisting of: Ocean County SCD, Lakewood High School (LHS), Georgian Court University (GCU), Lakewood Township Public Works, Brick Township Municipal Utilities Authority (BTMUA), Fulfill, Farmers Against Hunger (FAH) – a component of the New Jersey Agricultural Society (NJAS) and Barnegat Bay Partnership (BBP).
A new food garden was established at Lakewood High School consisting of 36 raised beds, offering over 200 square feet of planting area. Materials for the creation of this garden consisted of donated wooden frames for raised bed structures, weed cloth and a mixture of topsoil, coir and compost.
Labor was provided by UAC partners and volunteers. Upon its completion, students in the Lakewood HS Horticulture program planted turnips, eggplant, peppers, tomatillos and herbs for their first season under the direction of their Horticulture teacher. They donated approximately 200 pounds of fresh food to the Christ Church Food Pantry. Shrubs, small trees and perennials were donated to beautify the school grounds around the garden.
Lakewood High School horticulture students participated in several “gleaning” events organized by Farmers Against Hunger. Approximately 9,000 pounds of cabbages, 4,000 pounds of apples, and 3,600 pounds of butternut squash were harvested and donated to local food pantries.
The Mercy Garden, a teaching and demonstration garden located on the Georgian Court University campus, was enhanced and augmented. A volunteer coordinator was supported by the project, vegetable seedlings were donated from Fulfill and volunteers and GCU students did the planting. Kale, eggplant, peppers, tomatoes, swiss chard and herbs were grown. Four 4’x 8’ compost corrals were reconstructed and pollinator garden beds were revived. The Mercy Garden expanded its existing 960 square feet of growing space with the addition of new raised beds. Donated wood combined with 5-gallon self-watering containers were used to demonstrate techniques for growing food in urban settings.
Education and outreach efforts strengthened partnerships within the Lakewood community. Growing containers, plants and information in both English and Spanish were given out during a two-hour workshop provided to Christ United Methodist Church families. A make-and-take “Self-Watering Container Garden” workshop was offered to Lakewood and surrounding communities. A “Healthy Soil, Healthy Food, Healthy You” interactive after-school program was presented to Clifton Avenue Elementary students and families, who each received 10 pounds of fresh produce including sweet potatoes, carrots, apples and avocadoes through a food distribution effort. A “Soil Health” training program was presented to Master Composter trainees through the Ocean County Department of Solid Waste Management. In addition, the district’s signature literary resource, “Low Maintenance Landscaping Guide”, was translated into Spanish, and 3,000 copies were printed and distributed. A comprehensive “Tool Kit” of resources was compiled on the district website.
The UAC Advisory Committee partnership continues to support the goal of ensuring access to fresh food and healthy food resources for the Lakewood Township community. The district is committed to augmenting food production in the Lakewood High School vegetable garden and the Georgian Court University Mercy Garden, and continues to promote education and outreach opportunities and food distribution efforts throughout Lakewood Township.
Gleaning field trips are being organized by Lakewood High School for 2019 to offer opportunities for horticulture students to harvest and donate fresh produce to pantries. The partnership built with Christ United Church, linking the GCU Mercy Garden production operation with the Christ United Church food pantry distribution system, will help ensure access to fresh food by the community.
Several members of the UAC Advisory Committee now hold leadership positions on the newly established Community Garden Network of Ocean County, an offshoot of the UAC project. CGN is a partnership between the district, Rutgers Cooperative Extension and Master Gardeners of Ocean County, Fulfill, Hunger Foundation of Southern Ocean, Soil to Soul, Wrangle Brook Community Garden and Community Garden of Beach Haven. The mission is to create a network of community gardens, sustain existing and help develop new community gardens, increase community food security and improve access to healthy food, provide education and share resources. CGN has also adopted Riverwood Park Community Garden in Toms River, N.J., to use as an education and demonstration garden site for the community.