Working with residents and stakeholders to increase access to fresh food, develop healthier eating habits, and help them beautify their neighborhoods in the process
Isles’ urban agriculture work addresses hunger, food access, and community disinvestment in Trenton by sharing tools, networks, and resources that empower residents and stakeholders to take action and make healthy choices. We support over 70 community and school gardens by providing technical assistance to local residents, teachers and students, and community-based organizations. We also offer garden-based environmental education to schools and summer programs. Direct beneficiaries of this work include more than 200 community gardeners and family members, 45 teachers, and 1,100 students.
Want to join a garden?
Isles Garden Support Network
Isles Garden Support Network (IGSN) supports community and school gardens by providing technical, organizational, and educational gardening assistance to residents, teachers and students, and community-based organizations. This work includes access to plants and seeds, soil testing, and advice on organic pest and disease management.
IGSN offers workshops on topics such as gardening basics, organic growing, composting, and food preservation. Each year, Isles distributes approximately 10,000 vegetable seedlings, hundreds of pounds of seeds to school and community gardens, and also donates over 700 pounds of food to emergency food providers. Isles staff also manage twelve beehives at demonstration and production gardens and host hundreds of volunteers who assist with urban agriculture projects.
Tucker Street Garden
The Tucker Street Garden is a valuable resource for the community to gain access to fresh food and learn about gardening and environmental stewardship. The half-acre garden serves as a demonstration, production, and training site for gardeners of all skill levels. Isles also offers hands-on gardening instruction through its Incubator Garden program. This Incubator provides workshops, leadership training, planting space and one-on-one assistance. Many of the crops harvested at Tucker Street are then sold at affordable rates at the Greenwood Avenue Farmers Market.
Farmers Markets and Emergency Food Assistance
Isles not only helps build gardens, but also works through community partnerships to increase access to healthy food in other ways, including as a founding member of the Greenwood Avenue Farmers Market. Now in its fifth year, the farmers market operates every Monday from mid-June to mid-October and has seen a steady increase in traffic and increased use by customers of EBT, matching benefits, and WIC and Senior Farmers Market Vouchers. Isles staff and interns sell vegetables, herbs, flowers, and honey produced from the Tucker Street garden at affordable rates. The market also served as an outreach tool for other Isles services, including IGSN. The market focused on offering healthy food and featured cooking workshops, physical activity, and health screening by hospitals and other community organizations. On average, 700 pounds of unsold produce is donated to emergency food providers over the course of the season. Isles also supports gardens at food pantries and faith-based organizations, and also coordinates produce donations on behalf of community and school gardeners.
Learn more about our youth gardening work here.
Data from the U.S. Department of Education Institute of Education Sciences reveals a high demand for food support services like food stamps and school lunch programs. Sixty-four percent of Trenton School District students (pre-k to 12) are eligible for free (55%) and reduced (9%) lunch. Compared to Mercer County’s and New Jersey’s rates of 24% and 28% respectively, Trenton’s situation is deemed a “severe need” by the State of New Jersey.
Trenton has only one supermarket located within the city to support a population of more than 80,000 people. Trenton residents, due to lack of transportation or income, are forced to shop at corner and convenience stores, which are found in abundance throughout the city. Healthy food is hard to find in Trenton, especially for its poorest residents.
Because of the lack of healthy food access, Trenton residents face health challenges related to healthy food consumption. The growing rate of obesity has reached epidemic proportions in New Jersey, especially in low-income communities like Trenton. A study conducted by Rutgers’s Center for State Health Policy, found that Trenton ranked first among New Jersey cities with the most overweight, obese or very obese children, ages 3 to 19, at 43.7%.
Although most people are now aware of the health risks associated with poor diet, many people live in communities where improving nutrition is difficult. Low-income households especially lack the resources to pay higher prices for fresh, healthy food or such food may simply not be available in their communities. By participating in Isles’ Urban Agriculture for Trenton, low-income families are able to stretch food budgets, obtain fresh, nutritious organic produce, and learn and develop habits of healthy food consumption.
Why Urban Agriculture
Over the years, these gardens have played a critical role at the household level in helping families meet their food needs by increasing access to fresh and nutritious foods at low cost. Gardens:
- Improve nutrition and health by providing exercise and fresh, healthy fruits and vegetables.
- Save families hundreds of dollars per year. During Trenton’s long growing season, an 800-square-foot plot can provide enough vegetables to feed a family for an entire year.
- Strengthen the community by enhancing connections between people, making the streets more secure, and giving people a chance to share food with others. Over 70% of Isles’ gardeners report that gardening greatly improves their neighborhoods.
- Clean the environment by improving soil and growing plants that filter the air.
- Beautify communities.
Donated more than 700 pounds of produce to emergency food suppliers.
Worked with 814 elementary school students in 36 classrooms on a weekly or biweekly basis.
Hosted more than 500 volunteers from schools, corporate partners, and other non-profits.