Atlantic County

Growing Healthy Project

Estell Manor Park and Lake Lenape East Park, Atlantic County

As the name suggests, our overall goal was to help people in our community “grow healthy” by developing sustainable community resources to help improve nutrition and increase physical activity.

$20,000, in the form of two grants of $15,000 and $5,000 each.

Time Frame:
January 1, 2011 to March 31, 2012

Funding Partners: Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (initial $15,000 grant for Growing Healthy Project), Healthy Communities ($5,000 to promote the Harvest Festival and to purchase and install a Mobius Children’s Climbing Wall), and Atlantic County.  Community Partners: Atlantic County Division of Public Health, Atlantic County Utilities Authority, Atlantic County Healthy Living Coalition, Shore Medical Center, Rutgers Cooperative Extension and Atlantic County Parks.

We achieved our goal of developing sustainable community resources to help people “grow healthy.” Specifically, we:

  • Built and prepped 16 community garden plots at the Atlantic County Park at Estell Manor, ordered all supplies, and started seeds in the greenhouse to germinate bedding plants for the garden.
  • Drew 35 people to our community information meeting on April 27, 2011.  We invited residents and community organizations to participate in the community garden.
  • Created a website specific to the Growing Healthy Project.
  • Attracted 40 people to our kickoff on May 14, 2011. We taught garden participants how to plant and water—essentially “Gardening 101.”  This was also the day that the gardeners planted their seedlings.
  • Donated vegetables to the Rescue Mission, Food Bank, and Women’s Center.  The food was also used in an adult day care facility, drug and rehab center, churches, and more.
  • Participants learned how to garden, the county has a community garden location that is ready to go and the community has free physical activity equipment at the park.

Surveyed gardeners to estimate crop yields:

  • Tomatoes:              4,000
  • Cucumbers:              560
  • Sweet Peppers:         416
  • Hot Peppers:         2,656
  • Zucchini:                    48
  • Squash:                     336
  • Eggplant:               1,440
  • Carrots:                        0
  • Radishes:                  320
  • Ordered, built and installed adult physical exercise equipment at Atlantic County Parks at Lake Lenape East.  The equipment included a stair-stepper, chest-and-back press, and Tai Chi machine.
  • Ordered, built and installed a children’s rock-climbing wall (Mobius) adjacent to the outdoor fitness equipment at Lake Lenape East Park.
  • Unveiled and taught use of the adult equipment at a Growing Healthy Festival on August 19, 2011; 88 people attended. The event focused on nutrition, physical exercise and gardening.  We also celebrated our community garden.

Lessons Learned: 

  • Community involvement was surprisingly great, and we had no problem finding volunteers to garden our plots. We attribute the response in part to the broad support the project received, including:
    • The Atlantic County Utilities Authority (ACUA) donated eco-soil for the boxes.
    • The Atlantic County Parks Department got the site ready, taught “Gardening 101” and installed the adult equipment.
    • The Atlantic County Division of Public Health ordered all the supplies and handled the grant requirements.
    • The Atlantic County Public Information Officer took care of the website and marketing of the project.
    • Shore Medical Center completed the evaluation of the project, helped with grant writing and overall event planning.
    • All committee participants helped with the Growing Healthy Festival by doing an educational piece.
  • Gardeners worked in their gardens two to six days a week; their actual time ranged from two to 10 hours weekly.  Some gardeners came twice a week, some three times a week, some based on the rain, but the gardeners whose yields were greatest tended their plots in a daily rotation, with someone scheduled to work the garden every day.
  • Thanks to the raised beds, weeding was not a daunting chore.
  • Most of the care for the gardens consisted of watering and weeding.
  • Eggplant and squash plants needed a lot of maintenance to be healthy.
  • The gardeners felt they learned a lot about gardening: how to make a raised bed, how to plant marigolds to keep pests away, how to space, and when crops need to be harvested.
  • The tomato plants really took over. It was important to teach the gardeners how to manage them by staking them or planting fewer tomato plants.
  • When the County’s Law Department would not allow the Health Department to sell vegetables to the public at our proposed farm market, we instead allowed each community garden group to keep its produce and encouraged them to donate excess to organizations that disperse food to communities and populations in need.

Phase Two:

In 2012, our Community Garden Project continued, with 16 raised bed gardens being adopted by community and faith-based organizations. Unfortunately, due to severe wind damage to areas of Atlantic County caused by the Derecho storm in June, portions of the Estell Manor Park were closed to the public, so the Community Garden was not accessible for several weeks.  

The Division of Public Health looks forward to coordinating this project for its third year in 2013, and the Atlantic County Parks are looking at locations to create additional community garden beds.

The fitness equipment and children’s Mobius climbing wall purchased and installed at Lake Lenape East Park are being used by the public.

For more information, contact Ben Mount or Kristen Mittleman, 609-645-5853, or    mount_ben@aclink.orgor