Wednesday, April 3, 2013

Community Advisory Board Meeting – "Greening our Community" Part 1

Last week the Newark Community Advisory Board held its first meeting of the year at the Center for Law and Justice at Rutgers-Newark. The evening kicked off with a rousing welcome form Judge Victoria Pratt (“the Community Court Judge”) and a review of Newark Community Solutions’ 2013 Annual Report. But the highlights were the updates from several community gardeners in the City’s Adopt-A-Lot program. Since 2012, Newark Community Solutions has partnered with Adopt-A-Lot, the Greater Newark Conservancy, and the Newark Community Garden Coalition to help offenders complete their community service obligations. The typical Newark Community Solutions participant receives a court sentence which includes social services and community service in lieu of paying a fine. Adopt-a-Lot owners, all of whom are Newark residents, lease vacant lots from the City for one dollar a year with the promise of improving the land as a community garden or urban farm. Newark Community Solutions’ participants work with these gardeners by clearing debris and preparing the planting beds.

Each gardener shared why they decided to start their garden.  The owner of the “Paradise Garden” in Newark’s South Ward, wanted to grow “better vegetables” than she finds in the local grocery store.   For the owner of the “Connection Community Garden” also in the South Ward, it was the desire to create a place in her neighborhood that would exemplify “peace and learning.”   And for the last presenter, who created the Ujimaa Garden in the Central Ward; the goal was to transform a neighborhood eyesore into a beautiful and useful space.  They also shared a few interesting observations on what gang members thought of their lots. One gardener recounted a conversation with a person she described as gang member “He said don’t worry Ms. Smith [not her real name]. No one is going to steal your planting pots.  You got nothing to worry about.” Imagine that! A young man who some might choose to fear, took a moment to assure his neighbor that he’ll keep an eye on her garden.  Maybe that’s the secret. We should do less worrying and more talking and gardening. 

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