Oasis in the Food Desert: Camden City Garden Club

The residents of Camden, one of the country's nine worst food deserts, learn to grow their own fresh produce with help from the Camden City Garden Club.

Grow Your Own: The Camden GrowLab Program gets kids involved in eating healthy.
Photo courtesy of Camden’s Children’s Garden

Amid the barren foodscape of Camden, a group of local volunteers is making green and growing things accessible to residents in need of healthful food.

Camden is cited by the USDA as one of the country’s nine worst “food deserts,” meaning affordable, healthy food is difficult to obtain. When Pathmark, the city’s lone major supermarket, closed last September, it left nothing but fast-food chains, small bodegas and convenience stores to supply the city with inexpensive food. While a ShopRite is slated to open in East Camden in 2015, many feel its planned location on the busy Admiral Wilson Boulevard won’t benefit the city’s large population of carless residents. (The closest bus stop is a five-minute walk.)

The Camden City Garden Club, a non-profit founded in 1985, has long recognized the problem and sought new ways to bring fresh produce to the city. In spring 2013, the CCGC launched Camden’s Fresh Mobile Market, a farmer’s market on wheels that moves to various neighborhoods and organizations throughout the week, including senior centers and churches. Residents can apply online for the Mobile Market to stop at their building. To make the produce even more accessible, the Mobile Market accepts cash, credit or debit cards and EBT (electronic benefits transfer), a kind of digital food stamps.

The CCGC also helps residents create community gardens and runs Camden Grows, a USDA gardening and training program that teaches residents how to become urban farmers. “If someone grows a surplus of a crop,” says Nohemi Soria, the USDA community food access manager at the Garden, “they can barter with us to exchange for something they can’t grow, like cabbage for strawberries.” Produce sold at the Mobile Market and the exchange program comes from the CCGC’s 2-acre Beckett Street farm and the privately owned Duffield’s Farm in Sewell.

CCGC also maintains the Camden Children’s Garden­, a waterfront plot on Riverside Drive that hosts fitness- and health-related events throughout the year. (The Beautiful Butterflies, Birds & Cinco De Mayo Festival takes place May 10 to 11.)

Camden’s elementary school children also benefit from CCGC’s GrowLab, a program that teaches healthy eating habits, ecology and math skills. At the end of the semester, the children celebrate with Salad Parties to enjoy the fruits—and veggies—of their labor.

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