Growing Healthy Habits in Trenton Community Gardens

Isles Urban Agriculture Program has provided more than 60 school and community gardens.

By Lauren Wanko

This community gardener is watering her fresh vegetables in the middle of Trenton. She’s growing kale, collard greens, tomatoes and more.

“I’m growing it, I’m cooking it, giving it away, then it’s time for more — so okay new recipe!” Laurie LaMarra said.

LaMarra is a trainee with Isles Urban Agriculture Program. Isles is a Trenton based community development and environmental non-profit.

“We started it over 34 years ago to find a better way to promote development in places that really needed it and we look for low-cost ways to foster self-reliant families and healthy sustainable communities,” said Founder and CEO Martin Johnson.

Isles supports more than 60 school and community gardens in Trenton by providing technical and organizational assistance.

“We do site assessments. We test the soil and make sure there’s no issue with lead contamination. We work with the city to get leases if they’re on public property. We work with water works. Really you need sweat equity. You need people, and you need passion. You can acquire those other resources, seeds and seedlings, pretty cheaply, so its really a low capitol type investment,” said Jim Simon.

The non-profit’s staffers and volunteers created this incubator garden for their trainees like Laurie. She’s given her own garden plot seeds, and plants. Over the course of a year she attends workshops, visits gardens and meets with other community gardeners while she tends to her own vegetables and herbs.

“The expectation is that you connect with someone else in the community and bring gardening to them and help them out,” she said.

Every Monday Isles staffers pick the fresh vegetables, herbs and flowers in this garden and deliver them to a community farmer’s market in town. The proceeds go back into the non-profit and whatever isn’t sold is donated to a local food pantry.

In the demonstration garden students from Isles Youth Institute prepare the soil for planting, maintain the vegetables and learn other skills.

“You can teach kids how things are grown and not always in supermarkets or how it even got to the supermarket,” said Andre Thomas

Thomas remembers what this site used to look like.

“Growing up in Trenton this was a concrete park where we used to get into a lot of trouble in this little area,” he said.

“One on hand we’re taking vacant lands and making it, making it sing. We’re also helping families come together across neighborhoods. They’re coming in the same common ground, literally, and having to work together. There’s the benefit of the food, and then there are the benefits of health.” said Johnson.

“It’s like you’re here with the plants and the Earth getting dirty. It just feels like it spills over into other areas,. Being more confident and  willing to do different things,” said LaMarra.

Even though the summer is ending Laurie and other gardeners have already begun planting fall crops.