One of the goals of the Foodshed Alliance is to strengthen our local food system and make it more resilient across northern New Jersey from the rural hamlets along the Delaware River to the urban communities along the Hudson. Farmers grow food on hundreds of acres as well as 100×50 foot plots. Rural or urban, they all have the same goals: growing healthy food for people in our region while creating a vibrant local food economy.

In September, Foodshed Alliance staff visited a number of urban farms in Newark, arranged by our partners, Urban Agriculture Cooperative (UAC). Our first stop was the grade 9-12 West Side High School, where they are installing 75 raised vegetable beds, an orchard, hydroponic greenhouse, outdoor classroom and a space to preserve and prepare foods. West Side is incorporating agribusiness education, as well as environmental science and nutrition. “It was so inspiring to see the infrastructure being installed to not only grow healthy food, but to show young people the opportunities and careers supporting the local food system,” said Kendrya Close, executive director, Foodshed Alliance.

The next stop was Rabbit Hole Farm in Newark’s South Ward which grows everything from peaches to paw paws on a 100×60-foot lot with a gravity-fed irrigation system harvesting rain water. Besides vegetables, fruit, herbs and flowers, Rabbit Hole grows community, with local artwork decorating footpaths, lovely areas for conversation and contemplation, and a sweat lodge. Rabbit Hole sells its produce through the food hub pilot program, a joint project between UAC and the Foodshed Alliance.

Our final stop was the three-acre Hawthorne Avenue Farm operated by the nonprofit Greater Newark Conservancy. In addition to 85 production rows and 130 fruit trees, there is a school garden used to teach local students, a large strawberry patch, a trellis garden, and 260 raised garden beds, available to community members to grow their own vegetables.

“Each site was a model to show what is possible,” Close said. “Urban farming is a critical piece to rebuilding our local food system. It’s important we connect urban farmers with rural New Jersey farmers since the goals are the same—produce healthy food to feed ourselves and to build a resilient local food economy.”

To continue bringing together the voices and ideas of the urban and rural farming communities, the Foodshed Alliance invited some of Newark’s urban farmers to tour our rural farm initiatives in Warren and Sussex counties.

On October 15, about 20 urban farmers, agriculture nonprofit professionals, and student interns toured Longmeadow Farm in Hope where owner Brad Burke gave a tour of his pick-your-own orchard where he grows 16 varieties of apples, plus pumpkins, sweet corn, raspberries, blackberries and vegetables. The group asked questions about his sustainable farming methods,–he uses as many organic practices as possible, minimizing the use of pesticides and chemical fertilizers–and his composting operation where he produces 4,000 cubic yards of compost each year to naturally build up the soil on his farm. Longmeadow Farm is also the aggregation point for our food hub project, where rural farms drop off their produce which is picked up for the Newark food hub pilot.

The group also toured the Foodshed Alliance’s Sustainable Agriculture Enterprise (SAgE) project in Sussex County, which makes long-term affordable leases of preserved farmland available to farmers that are committed to natural and organic practices. They visited the plots where five new farms are starting up, including a community college farm, organic orchard, and a hemp farm. They spoke with Michaeline Picaro of Munsee Three Sisters Medicine Farm, a Native American-owned company growing food and building community. The farm encourages members of their community to volunteer and participate in the farm, and reconnect with the Earth and their indigenous heritage.

The Foodshed Alliance and UAC opened up conversations on how to make sure those in urban communities are aware of the SAgE leasing opportunities for affordable long-term access to preserved farmland.

“We are looking at our foodshed holistically and realize that our local food system includes food grown in our urban centers as well as our rural farms,” Close said. “We need both types of production to feed our region and we can work together to support each other to increase both economic opportunities and access to healthy local food.”