Last week, New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection (NJDEP) Deputy Commissioner David Glass joined 52 NJDEP employees to harvest vegetables, tidy gardens, and spread mulch as part of a volunteer effort undertaken in partnership with Groundwork Elizabeth to prepare community garden plots in Elizabeth, New Jersey.
The group gathered Friday, October 27 to prepare individual gardens for winter at the Elmora Community Garden in Elizabeth. DEP volunteers harvested tomatoes and sweet peppers, planted garlic, prepared the gardens for spring 2018 plantings, and tidied the property during the daylong volunteer effort. They also spread more than 35 yards of wood mulch over the entire community garden and around 50 planting beds, prepped 28 raised beds, and cleaned food-safe plastic containers.
“This is the fourth volunteer event that members of the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection have participated with Groundwork’s Urban Agriculture Program, many coming back again and again,” said Groundwork Elizabeth Executive Director Jonathan Phillips. “Our work together goes beyond the raised beds, the wall building, the planting and maintenance as we jointly address challenges of environmental justice in urban areas. We do this locally, but the message resonates throughout the nation and the world.”
“I am proud of the DEP employees who volunteered for this important initiative that will help improve the quality of life in Elizabeth and surrounding communities,” DEP Commissioner Bob Martin said. “By developing a series of community gardens, DEP and Groundwork Elizabeth can transform neighborhoods, teach gardening skills to young people, and ensure families have access to quality produce.”
In addition to the garden work, the employee volunteers also insulated a wood-frame learning center with denim insulation. The denim is an all-natural green product made from denim scraps and cotton that provides the same R-value as standard fiberglass insulation.
“DEP takes great pride in having our employees volunteer in the communities we serve because, ultimately, we are public servants,” said Deputy Commissioner Glass. “It’s easy to get caught up in a day-to-day routine, so taking time to volunteer with great organizations like Groundwork Elizabeth really makes a difference.”
In 2016, NJDEP awarded $250,000 to Groundwork Elizabeth’s Come Grow With Us! Community Gardening Program to improve access to healthy foods, develop ways to build sustainable agriculture systems, and create “green”-focused career opportunities in Elizabeth and surrounding urban areas of Union County.
Groundwork Elizabeth works to meet those goals through its MORE P.E.A.S. (More Permaculture Education in Agricultural Systems) program, which is sponsored in part by NJDEP. The program, overseen by the DEP’s Department of Environmental Justice, brings together government partners, the private sector, faith-based organizations, community-based groups, local educators, and the community to develop a local system for sustainable foods to help offset food deserts. It also helps combat rising obesity rates, declining health indicators, and increasing costs related to food production and transportation.