Guest Post: Laura Aden

November 11, 2008

Although it had been 12 years since she visited the city of Paterson, Arts Program Director Laura Aden quickly found out this summer how green it has become, thanks to the tireless efforts of City Green. This is the fourth in our Environment Stories series. Please visit us tomorrow for the fifth and final story from Program Officer Wendy Liscow.

City Green: Growing Healthy Cities

Despite constantly traveling throughout our wonderful state, I have only been to Paterson once before – 12 years ago, as part of my Leadership New Jersey experience. I discovered that amazing things are happening in Paterson when I met Jennifer Papa, the indefatigable founder and Executive Director of City Green, and I saw firsthand how deeply committed she and the staff and volunteers of City Green are to creating livable, green communities in Paterson.

I met Ms. Papa at the new Learning Garden in Eastside Park, an extraordinary example of cooperation between the city, the school district, and City Green. She showed me the Learning Garden’s dozens of raised beds for growing a wide array of vegetables, surrounded by a border of plants entirely indigenous to New Jersey; in fact, they traveled to South Jersey to purchase the native butterfly-attracting wildflowers and seed and fruit-bearing trees favored by local birds and insects.

City Green hosted the Learning Garden’s grand opening in early June of this year, following an intense two week period during which more than 2,000 Paterson students helped construct the raised plant beds and plot out the Garden. Once it officially opened, City Green’s summer programming at the Learning Garden served over 250 city youth per week with activities that included wildlife gardening, vegetable gardening, a Green Market (farmers’ market), and internships for local high school students. The Learning Garden yielded so many vegetables that the students were able to take home produce to their families throughout the summer, and the high school interns sold the surplus produce at the Green Market.

The Learning Garden is not even the only City Green garden in Paterson; there are now a dozen flourishing community gardens in neighborhoods throughout the city.

Additionally, City Green offers afterschool programs, such as “Healthy Bodies, Healthy Communities,” in many of Paterson’s schools and teaches children to understand where their food comes from. A new City Green-founded recycling initiative is already in five schools and spreading quickly to other schools.

Perhaps needless to say, I was inspired by City Green’s vision of a greener, healthier Paterson, a city to which Jennifer Papa is clearly, deeply committed.

By connecting kids in Paterson to nature, teaching them how food grows through the joy of planting seeds and watching the results, sharing the bounty, and showing them the path to eating a healthier diet, City Green is having a meaningful impact on Paterson’s children, as well as on its urban spaces and communities as a whole.

I am looking forward to my next visit to Paterson – and this time I won’t wait another 12 years – to see what new feats of greening the phenomenal City Green, under Ms. Papa’s visionary leadership, has accomplished.

To find about more about City Green, visit their website, and read their fall 2008 newsletter. You are also invited to attend their annual fall fundraiser this Sunday (November 16) from 2 to 5pm at the Paterson Museum.