Have Farm, Will Travel

September 28, 2009

Michelle Knapik, Program Director


The highly successful, model urban farm owned and operated by Lorraine Gibbons of Garden State Urban Farms (formerly Brick City Urban Farms) at the corner of Washington and Spruce Streets in Newark is in search of a new plot of land for next year’s growing season.


As of October 15th, the land will be back on track for a planned housing development, but oh what positive impacts the farm has had as an interim use on this once vacant land. It has beautified this central intersection, provided produce to a neighborhood that has little access to fresh foods, trained and employed residents, donated food to a local soup kitchen, launched an urban CSA (community supported agriculture) started contract farming relationships with several local restaurants, and built community, government and businesses relationships in Newark and across the state.


The beauty of the Earth Box system that Garden State Urban Farms (GSUF) utilizes is that it is portable, so all of the GSUF activities will continue somewhere in or near Newark. The system also increases the prospects for utilizing vacant urban land (vegetated, cement or asphalt) on a large scale.

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The system is spreading throughout New Jersey because Lorraine Gibbons is one of those rare people who shares her knowledge, experience and ideas generously with any interested party. Most recently, she hosted two Morristown organizations, Neighborhood House and the Frelinghuysen Arboretum, whose representatives are working to expand a youth gardening program at Neighborhood House.


From left to right: Lesley Parness, Superintendent of Horticultural Education, Morris County Park Commission, Gwen Montgomery, Senior Horticultural Program Specialist at the Park Commission, Steven Neblett, Assistant Executive Director at Neighborhood House, and Lorraine Gibbons owner/operator of GSUF.

The property adjoining Neighborhood House is owned by the Morristown Housing Authority, and at this time it is unclear how long the proposed garden might be welcomed on this land or how large a footprint the garden can occupy. In examining the Earth Box system, it became clear that the scalability, portability and contamination-free planting options offered just the solutions the Morristown contingent was seeking. The GSUF-Morristown connection, however, is just getting started. Before the end of the Morristown field trip, there were plans for Lorraine to join the Arboretum folks for their fall garlic planting day, and for GSUF and the Arboretum horticultural specialists to work together on an “over winter” garlic production pilot via an Earth Box exchange. No doubt, relationships are blooming as fast as the plants.

There are so many chapters of this story yet to unfold. For starters, Lorraine sees urban Earth Box farms on commercial rooftops, as well as in old warehouse space and greenhouses. One can also imagine redevelopment plans that identify a rotating schedule of interim farming, or backyard /front yard Earth Box initiatives in neighborhoods where soil health is in question, or community development projects that integrate housing, retail, farming and food processing opportunities all in one.


I know that some of you may be questioning the validity of the Earth Box, which at first glance looks like a simple plastic box, but with its watering and drainage systems, soil amendments and other features you get high yields, pesticide-free growing and reduced water consumption. Plus, you can get up and running within a growing season, without the need or costs associated with soil remediation on contaminated lands.

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The produce at GSUF is mouthwatering and speaks volumes about Earth Box system. We, at Dodge, are interested in your Earth Box stories, as well as other urban farming options, so please share your stories and keep this conversation going. And if you happen to own land in Newark, or know of a potential landlord, contact GSUF and help identify the 2010 home for this treasured mobile farm.