In many ways, the pandemic laid bare the critical connection between conservation and community access to local food. Americans around the country experienced a disruption in grocery and food supplies. Fortunately, The Land Conservancy of New Jersey was already ahead of the curve in making fresh food available to community members in need.
The accredited land trust established a bustling community garden at its South Branch Preserve in Mt. Olive, New Jersey, seven years ago. The 145 organic plots are on land that was purchased to protect the headwaters of the South Branch of the Raritan River, a drinking water supply source for more than 1.5 million New Jersey residents. Over the past five years, the gardeners donated nearly 3,000 pounds of fresh food to the community. With the events of 2020, the garden was more popular than ever, with members eager to spend time outdoors and grow their own food.
The conservancy also partnered with City Green, a New Jersey nonprofit working to revitalize urban areas through agriculture and make fresh food accessible to low-income families. City Green farms 12 acres at the South Branch Preserve using organic, regenerative methods. They grew over 41,000 pounds of produce this year, and much of that was sold at Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program-friendly markets in urban areas of north Jersey.
"While our focus is on preserving land and water resources, growing and sharing food fits neatly into The Land Conservancy's mission," says Danielle Wolfrum, vice president of development and communications. "It's an excellent way to responsibly make use of preserved farmland and build community in the process — especially in this new, uncertain era of climate change and food insecurity for many."