Creating Common Ground, Growing Community

December 21, 2011

By Samantha Rothman
President & Co-Founder
Grow It Green Morristown

One of the things I love about Morristown is that despite its population size (close to 20,000), it truly has a small town feel. It seems of late that whenever I’m out and about in town, I invariably run into parents of children who have been to the Urban Farm at Lafayette. It has been so heartwarming to hear their stories: how their children loved the farm, the chickens, etc. This is routinely followed with an anecdote about how the parent was then shocked to hear how much their child loved the [insert green, leafy vegetable name here].

The Urban Farm in September

I must say, there is magic to the Urban Farm that invites – dare I say tempts children – to try new foods. I’ve seen it with Logan, my own picky eater of 5 years old. If Farmer Shaun presents him with a fresh basil leaf, it is as if it had a chocolate coating! Yet, my basil at our home garden is only good enough after he’s learned to enjoy it at “the farm.” Go figure.

As the Urban Farm at Lafayette continues to expand its reach, so many more children in our community will have the opportunity to engage in healthy eating choices in a fun, child-centered environment. Our “pick a snack” program with the 140 children of the Lafayette Learning Center pre-school program has shown that when given the chance to try new, healthy choices, children not only will give it a nibble, they’ll devour their veggies before even getting a chance to give them a good rinse! (Thankfully, their teachers are on top of it—and the farm is organic). These first interactions with living, fresh vegetables set the foundation for a lifetime of making good nutritional choices.

Hundreds of school children visited the Urban Farm at Lafayette this summer. Their trips to the farm enrich their educational experience and enhance their classroom-based lessons.

Our produce from the Urban Farm is making its way on to the plates of the older children too. Working with the chef at the Morristown High School cafeteria and Chartwells, the food service provider of the Morris School District, our produce is being served up at MHS. Each week, the chef comes to the farm for a pick-up. Choosing from a wide variety of vegetables, nothing has been deemed too uncool for school. We hear the bean salad and collards have both been big hits.

During the height of summer when school is out of session, the Urban Farm at Lafayette has been making weekly donations to both the Interfaith Food Pantry and the Community Soup Kitchen. This summer over 2,000 lbs of produce were donated.

As our support for community food programs grows, we’ve learned that getting the food where it needs to go isn’t always that easy. So, we’re very excited about having been awarded a grant from the New Jersey Department of Agriculture to purchase a pick-up truck. Our new farm truck will support the delivery of our produce, but also enable us to deliver excess produce from other growers, as well as our community garden.

Often, children who attended a class at the Urban Farm at Lafayette with a school group come back on their own in summer months.

Speaking of the community garden, with over 40 families on our waiting list for space at the Early Street Community Garden, we took the leap and began working on the creation of a new community garden in Morristown. We anticipate opening the garden this May. Funding for this new project was made possible through a Franklin Parker Small Grant of $5,000 from Conservation Resources, Inc., a $5,000 award from Gran Fondo NJ and $3,500 from the Supau Family Trust.

In my mind, I can already see the gates of this new garden taking shape, with people bringing in their flats of tiny seedlings, children chasing each other with watering cans, and the first tomatoes being harvested.

While it is true that, on paper, we’re a small organization, but walking in Morristown you wouldn’t know it. People talk about the work of Grow it Green Morristown. Just this fall, we’ve been the recipient of both a Grassroots Award from the Daily Record and an Environmental Achievement award from Governor Chris Christie and the NJ Department of Environmental Protection. And while we are grateful for such recognition, the “organization” of GIGM is really just a vehicle for people in our community to come together to create change – without the people, there is no community garden, or educational farm. They would still just be lonely plots of land.

So, thank you to the people of Morristown. Thank you for being who you are and what you are. Thank you for your help, from shoving dirt, picking up trash, building new beds, and tilling new ground, to having faith in an idea that grew into an organization and supporting GIGM along the way.

Happy New Year!

Images by Carolle Huber / Grow It Green Morristown