Since its founding in 2009, the nonprofit Grow It Green Morristown has evolved from a small garden in an abandoned lot into a thriving community hub.
The organization affords more than 100 local families the opportunity to grow their own food at their Early Street Community Garden and has created New Jersey’s largest public school garden, the Urban Farm, on land owned by the Morris School District. It has created sustainable farms and gardens while educating communities on healthy eating, environmental stewardship and creating greater food security.
Morristown native Shaun Ananko, director of agriculture and education at Grow It Green Morristown, developed his love for farming as a small child when his mother taught him how to grow tomatoes in their home garden. Fast forward, and Ananko is now growing tomatoes in unheated high tunnels, which are temporary structures that extend the growing season.
As is the case throughout the world, local farmers are not immune to the impact of climate change. But these high tunnels, funded by donors, are helping. “The New Jersey climate is not as relevant when you have this technology,” Ananko says. “It allows us to start crops earlier in the season and push them later into the winter, so there is a continuous harvest through the growing year.”
In addition to families growing their own food, the community benefits from the availability of fresh produce at the group’s farm stand, offering SNAP redemption with double bucks; CSA shares (available now for the season, through donations for programs in Newark and Morristown); and new sliding-scale shares available to neighbors in need in local neighborhoods.
Grow It Green Morristown also educates students from pre-K through 12th grade about agriculture and the importance of taking environmental science seriously. The group piloted an apprentice program last year, creating opportunities for underrepresented populations to pursue careers in agriculture and its associated pathways. Group leaders believe that vocational education opportunities in agriculture in urban areas are vital to building self-reliant communities and creating healthy, sustainable food systems, especially when it comes to the issue of food insecurity.
Says Ananko, “In the winter, especially in New Jersey, fresh produce like greens, lettuce and kale are not as easily available on a local scale, so having these tunnels, local farms are able to provide that produce throughout the winter, spring and fall.”
Grow It Green Morristown extends this reach through its urban agriculture training for Newark-based growers. The free program, developed in partnership with Newark Science and Sustainability Inc., brings urban farmers together to expand their knowledge in areas such as planning and seed starting, spring startup, pest management, and fall planting and fall harvest, including storage. Ananko, who facilitates this program, says, “Grassroots organizations working together to expand sustainable production at urban farms strengthen the local food systems from within, with healthy food readily available for local residents, while increasing green spaces, which helps mitigate the effects of climate change.”
Steve Adubato, PhD, is the author of five books including his latest, Lessons in Leadership. He is also an Emmy® Award–winning anchor on Thirteen/WNET (PBS) and NJ PBS. Check out steveadubato.org. Steve has appeared on CNN, FOX5 in NY and NBC’s Today Show, and his “Lessons in Leadership” video podcast with co-host Mary Gamba airs Sundays at 10 am on News 12+. Steve also provides executive leadership coaching and seminars for a variety of corporations and organizations both regionally and nationally. For more information, visit stand-deliver.com.