Montclair Community Farms continues to expand its reach
by STEFANIE SEARS
for Montclair Local
The good people of Montclair Community Farms are having a very busy summer, from harvesting the perennial herbs and seasonal crops in the beds to traveling to various locations with their mobile farm stand.
Angelica Diggs, coordinator of Montclair Community Farms, works with head farmer Matt Duker, assistant farmers Avery Federico and Chrystine Gaffney, and Marissa Blodnik of Rutgers Cooperative Extension of Essex County.
Montclair Community Farms is known as a “microfarm” due to its compact size. According to the website, its mission is to “serve as hands-on resources that engage and educate the community and youth farmers in urban farming, sustainable agriculture, affordable food access, and healthy food and lifestyle choices.” The farm also supplies eggs, thanks to its resident chickens.
A growing enterprise
MCF originated in 2011 at the Miller Street Farm through a partnership with the Miller Street Community Farm Coalition. Since 2013 it has been known as the Montclair Community Farm Coalition, to represent both the Miller Street and Orange Road locations. In 2012, the project was joined by Montclair State University and Essex 4-H. Bryan Murdock, MSU’s director of community engagement, is now the MCF Coalition’s president. The Montclair History Center, formerly known as the Montclair Historical Society, also joined the coalition, and provided the farm space on Orange Road.
The farm’s purpose is to give Montclair youth the chance to grow and sell vegetables to both increase access to affordable, sustainable fresh produce and provide health benefits to youth farmers and lower-income residents.
According to Diggs, MCF grew more than 575 pounds of food in 2016, counting both the Orange Road and Miller Street farms, as well as a partnership with gardens at elementary schools in town through Montclair DIGS.
The mobile farm stand is a key ingredient in achieving those goals. Susan Portuese, director of Montclair Department of Health and Human Services and MCFC treasurer, applied for the stand with the community farm to serve seniors with limited mobility, and the initial plan has expanded ever since.
The mobile farm stand runs through Oct. 28 and serves Pine Ridge, First Montclair House, the Senior Center at Edgemont Memorial Park, Crane Park Market, the food pantry of the Episcopal Church of the Holy Spirit in Verona, and Cedar Ridge Senior Housing. The complete schedule is at montclairhistory.org/montclair-community-farms/.
And of course, it is always looking for volunteers.
“I think it was really just basing off of other ideas that we have seen of initiatives and ways to help with food access,” says Matt Duker, of the mobile farm stand’s conception. “We thought it would maybe fit well around here ... because of the close proximity of residents in this area. Everyone is on top of each other in New Jersey and it’s easy to get around. As close as we are, there are still people who aren’t close to a supermarket. The whole basis for the mobile farm stand is to bring the farm stand to them.”
Duker, a 2015 MSU graduate with a degree in nutrition, has been tending to the farm since 2013.
“I’d much rather drive the farm stand around promoting fresh vegetables than canned vegetables,” hesaid. “It’s nice to grow stuff and have people appreciate it.”
Duker’s reasons for working at the farm are twofold. He wants to “bridge the gap between the disconnect all of us Americans have, especially in the urban areas, as far as knowing where their food comes from, how it’s grown, what it looks like, and all that.
“People my age and older than me still couldn’t identify certain types of food that they like that’s grown here, so I would really like to enlighten people on that and teach them about that.”
And he wants to expand food access, because although Montclair may look like a wealthy town, appearances are deceiving.
“There are a lot of towns that may be seen as affluent, but aren’t, and have residents that still struggle with food access,” Duker said. “This mobile farm stand is a gift in my eyes to the customers that we have provided services to last year and the future ones.”
Educating all ages
One of Montclair Community Farms’ main aims is to educate, and there are plenty of teaching opportunities.
MCF offers short-term, one-time programs, as well as ongoing programs, says Blodnik.
“We offer camps here throughout the summer for middle school and under. We teach them husbandry, history, food systems, healthy living, and then we have the youth farmers where the teens help with the farm stand and with harvesting and learning about the production that the adults do.”
Kids work alongside dults and learn that “life in the gardening experience,” she said.
The youth farmers program is how Federico got involved with the community farms. He was working toward hours for other projects and from there he began working at Montclair Community Farms. A TV production student at MSU who has created promotional videos and T-shirts for the farm and the farm stand, Federico has been dubbed by the group as its artistic director.
The same origin story can be said about Gaffney, a certified Master Gardener. While working toward her Master Gardener hours, she met Blodnik, who introduced her to the farms.
Montclair Community Farms is funded through Partners for Health.