A Farm Grows in Newark

Brick City Urban Farms is a startup nonprofit looking to bring good produce to Newarkers at reasonable prices. They’ve started a “prototype” farm on a small plot of land in downtown Newark.
Yes, you read that right: farming. In downtown Newark.

When John Taylor of the BCUF emailed me about his project, I had to check it out. Schedules being what they are, my daughter, Dahlia, joined me on this assignment. So, we packed up the stroller and headed across town to the Lincoln Park Coast Cultural District.

There, we found a small plot of land just off of Lincoln and Spruce that had been repurposed into a SPIN farm. SPIN, John had explained, was short for Small Plot INtensive farming — a recent idea in agriculture that brings small, low-cost farms into urban environments like rooftops and community gardens. When we arrived, we were greeted by Tony Gibbons, Kirsten Giardi, and John Taylor, three of the four founders of the nonprofit.

My daughter meandered between rows of peppers and squash as John and Tony told me about the results of their urban farming experiment. In six weeks, they had managed to clear the weed-strewn lot, bring the Earthboxes and seedlings into the site — on loan from the LPCCD until other plots of land are made available by the city — and work the farm to the point where they were already harvesting produce. They shared that urban farms and community gardens have benefited neighborhoods by bringing jobs, lowering crime, and raising property values.

As we spoke, it was apparent that their enthusiasm and energy was infectious. Children from the neighborhood called out from the fence facing the row houses behind the farm and asked for produce (which Kirsten gladly handed out). The neighbors to the south, apparently inspired, had cleared the fence of weeds to get a better view of their new neighbors’ work, and had even begun to attend more thoughtfully to their own yard.

BCUF has received a lot of support from Newark leadership and community groups for their work. Council members Mildred Crump and Ron Rice have visited the farm, as well as Mayor Booker. Volunteers regularly visit from the nearby Integrity House to work on the microfarm, and BCUF is looking for ways to partner with other nonprofits around the city to bring education, nutrition and work ethic to the community.

John explained that the next steps are to continue with the next farm, a rooftop project which is planned for the top of 90 South Street in the Ironbound, owned by the North American Facilities Group. Brick City Urban farms plans to be a “revenue-generating” nonprofit — in other words, a real business, selling produce in grocery stands, co-ops and stores.

Check out the farm if you’re in the area; it’s truly a wonder to walk between rows of tomatoes and peppers in the Garden State’s largest city. And keep an eye out: the next vegetable you pick up at your local grocery stand just might be labeled, “Grown in Newark, New Jersey.”

Author: Ken Walker

Husband, Father, Newarker, PCA Elder, Business Analyst. In a glass case of emotion since 1978.

6 thoughts on “A Farm Grows in Newark”

  1. great, so we’ve tackled the rocket science of farming.. in about 20 years we should catch up to west virginia. let’s focus on the real issues here..

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  2. Jake,
    Last I checked, rising commodity prices and the price of oil were real, global economic issues. BCUF eliminates the gas tax on food by growing it halfway around the block rather than halfway around the world. Instead of relying on the massive oil-based infrastructure — tankers and tractor trailers and your own car — to get your food, you could get it from its origin down the street. That’s a huge cost savings that gets passed directly to you, the customer.
    Last I checked, the healthcare crisis and childhood obesity are real, national issues. Making quality foods available and bringing food education to inner cities has the potential to reduce or eliminate quality of life and health hazards before they happen, which reduces their toll on the healthcare system. You know, that same system that has closed at least two Newark hospitals who couldn’t pay their bills.
    Last I checked, prisoner re-entry and integration into society is a real, state-wide social issue. Providng jobs is a critical component of keeping ex-cons from returning to the only lifestyle they’ve known to make a living. If you create a business that generates real, paying jobs, you can make a direct impact on the crime rates in the city.
    Economics, healthcare, and crime: it’s not rocket-science, but these are the issues that a business like this can address directly and change the city for the better.
    But maybe you were thinking of some other “real issues.”

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  3. This is the most uplifting “news” and news report on our struggling city and its enduring people. If some people dare to grow fruits and vegetables on this land, we should all be able to stick here longer to harvest the love they have seeded. Planting a tree, watering a flower, picking up a piece of garbage, and, even better, reading a book to Dahlia and all our children. Do something!
    This is the real issue: Are we a defeated people in a city without any imagination and fighting spirit?

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  4. Here in the Ironbound, a lot of yards boast gardens, myself included. Aside from the fact that a good percentage of places are growing grapes (for wine, mostly), a lot of us have back yard gardens. When I first moved here the landlord offered us the yard with a shrug, it was untended for /many/ years. After months of cultivating, throwing out a mountain of garbage (and glass), and constant care, we are finally turning it into a nice little Eden. When we started the soil was so dry, clay filled, and rocky (and again, a lot of glass)…and now, my tomato plants are exploding (I can physically see forty green tomatoes growing in on 11 plants), as are my peppers, bush beans, and herbs. Now granted, this is relating on a personal level, where these people in the article are a more commercial level, it seems…but the principle is intact- put time into it, cultivate the earth, there’s good soil down there, keep digging. In the end, not only do you get such yummy (and sweet) veggies that are completely organic and fresh, but you get the overwhelming feeling that you accomplished something. I raise my glass to the Brick City Urban Farms. Now all we need is a commercially produced Newark wine!

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