In the midst of abandoned lots in one of America’s most dangerous cities grows a beautiful oasis of fruits and vegetables.
The produce gardens represents not only a food source for the residents of Camden, New Jersey (which is known for its high crime rate and drug use), but also a sign of renewal and recovery for the area’s children and families.
The year 2012 saw Camden named the most dangerous city in America, and times only got worse in 2012 when Camden lost its last central supermarket. Now, all that is left for food shopping is a grocery store that’s too far away for the city’s poor, car-less population and packaged food that can be purchased at the city’s bodegas. With access to fresh, healthy food so limited or nonexistent, it is no surprise that obesity is common.
However, not all is lost thanks to the introduction of community gardens. Across the city, they’re sprouting up in the abandoned lots sponsored by churches, neighborhood organizations, and private growers. The University of Pennsylvania’s Center for Public Health Initiatives reported in 2010 that Camden’s gardens were the fastest growing in the country. The 130 gardens in the city produced $2.3 million worth of food and fed 15 percent of the population.
Who is responsible for this change? The answer can be traced back to one man: Mike Devlin. Devlin came to Camden in the late 1970s and has since been trying to develop agriculture in the area. Under his guidance, the Camden City Garden Club was created in 1985. The organization provides support for the area by offering educational classes, materials, structural help, and food distribution. Under the club are a number of other organizations such as the Camden Children’s Garden, Camden Grows, the Food Security Council, and the Fresh Mobile Market.
Camden has been wrestling with violence and economic troubles since the late 1970s. Although those issues are still prevalent in the area, the community gardens provide an alternative life. Many students who work at the Camden Children’s Garden go on to attend college. While the gardens may not solve all of Camden’s problems, it provides a stepping stone for residents and a hope that change is possible.