Keeping the “Garden” in the Garden State

October 1, 2012

Apples in a crate photo by Simon Wuyts

I am obsessed with apples. Most people bemoan the waning weeks of summer; I get deliriously anxious. What I feel when I bite into my first Macintosh apple of the season, and experience that unmistakable snap and sublime blend of tart and sweet, is profound gratitude. I know I was lucky to grow up next to orchards and farms, and I hope to never take for granted that the best, healthiest food comes from a delicate combination of productive soil, hard labor, perfect timing, and good weather.

As I traveled farther from the truck farms of my childhood, I learned that not everyone has equal access to the bounty of the season and that over the decades of my lifetime, our food system has changed dramatically. Public policies and subsidies, market forces, and a rapid loss of farmland to suburban sprawl turned the family farm into the factory farm, and created a system of food production and distribution that is highly industrialized, fossil fuel dependent, and global in scale.

Despite being a nation associated with abundance, there are American communities identified as “food deserts,” where people lack adequate access to fresh, quality food. Rising obesity and diabetes rates are stretching the limits of our health care systems. An aging population of farmers wonders who will take over their farms once they have retired, and how will they make a living as production costs and land values rise. What we eat, how it is grown and processed, and how we procure it impact the health of our families, farms, and communities.

Here in New Jersey, non-profit organizations and community groups statewide are looking to the local food system as a means of addressing public health concerns, revitalizing the economy, and promoting sustainable agricultural practices. For example, organizations like Isles, the Camden Children’s Garden, and the Greater Newark Conservancy are exploring the new frontier of urban agriculture; the Northeast Organic Farmers Association of New Jersey is training the next generation of farmers in the Garden State; and local green teams are establishing farmers markets and organizing farm tours in their communities.

We hope you will join us this October 24th, on National Food Day, to celebrate local food and the people who are working hard to ensure that the “garden” remains in the Garden State. Established in 2011 by the Center for Science in the Public Interest, Food Day is a nationwide celebration and a movement for more healthy, affordable, and sustainable food. Check out their website at for more information about Food Day events in New Jersey, to register your own event, or become a local Food Day organizer.

In honor of this, the second annual national Food Day, we are dedicating the bulk of the October Dodge Blog to food! This month, we will feature blog posts from friends at the Delaware Valley Regional Planning Commission, Sustainable Jersey, the Campbell Soup Foundation, Jersey Bites, and other organizations that are empowering communities to create and sustain a healthier, locally based food system in New Jersey.

And don’t forget to get out this October and sample the season’s offerings. There are an abundance of farm stands and farmers markets to provide that first, delicious taste of fall.

Margaret Waldock directs the Dodge Foundation’s Environment grants and identifies opportunities for Dodge to support innovative and creative approaches to advance sustainability and environmental protection in the Garden State.

Prior to joining Dodge in 2011, Margaret was Executive Director of the Hunterdon Land Trust for eight years, where she oversaw an expansion in net assets, staff, members and donors and helped preserve over 5,000 acres of land.

For our archive of Food & Food Systems related blog posts, please click here.

Apples photo: Simon Wuyts
Dodge staff photos: Dennis Kleiman Photography