Montclair Community Farm at Miller Street


Montclair, Essex County

Objective: The mission of The Montclair Community Farm at Miller Street is to engage youth in personal and social change through local, sustainable agriculture.  By growing vegetables for sale at a low-cost farm stand, the project increases access to healthy, affordable, fresh produce for lower income residents of Montclair; benefits the social, emotional and physical health of the youth farmers, and enhances the environment of neighborhoods throughout the community.

$15,000, which also was applied to our physical activity portion of the Shaping NJ projects.

Time Frame: 
May 2011 to present

Funding Partners: Partners for Health Foundation; Capital One.  Community Partners:  Essex County 4-H, HOMECorp, Montclair Health Department, Montclair State University, TerraNoble Design, Montclair Historical Society, and United Way of Northern New Jersey.

In the Montclair Community Farm’s inaugural year, six students grew and harvested almost 300 pounds of vegetables during a short growing season on 1,000 square feet of land on the Miller Street property.  In all, over 150 vegetable plants were set out, including tomatoes, cucumbers, peppers, zucchini, yellow squash, broccoli, cabbage, collards, pumpkins, and several herbs.  All of the produce was sold at a weekly farm stand, priced below market prices to make it affordable to all residents. Each week the farm stand sold out.

Lessons Learned:
Our first year was a “growing experience” and we learned a great deal. Challenges ranged from what to do about a pesky groundhog that was eating our crops to how to keep the student farmers onboard and engaged for the duration of the growing season. One important lesson learned was to document everything so that we can track our progress accurately.

Our initial idea was to seek produce donations from farmers’ markets and sell the food at below-market prices; that idea evolved into plans to plant and grow our own produce.  A Master Gardener who owns a local landscaping company donated his time and talent to the project, teaching participants how to plant and grow.  Others contributed additional ideas that would help get healthy whole foods into more kitchens.

In our second year, we encountered a particularly persistent weed—we just couldn’t get rid of it.  An urban farmer with the Essex County 4-H program who worked with us in this phase was passionate about organic gardening, and she found a solution.  She ordered 4,500 ladybugs for the Miller Street community garden, and they took care of our white fly pest problem.

To retain student farmers, we offered a stipend—in essence, profit-sharing—but once school and sports resumed, most of them stopped gardening.  In our second growing year at Miller Street, we paid student recruits minimum wage, but in September we still lost them to school and sports.

In our third year, we will recruit a farm coordinator—possibly a Montclair State University student interested in farming or nutrition—for an internship. We’re weighing other options for recruiting and retaining farmers to establish a crew that will be dedicated through October.  We’re also working with the high school’s Social Justice Club on the issue of healthy food and its availability to everyone, regardless of income.

Phase Two:
During the second year of operation, by adding raised beds to the Miller Street garden, we increased our growing capacity and harvested almost 500 pounds of produce, of which we donated 60 percent to Montclair senior residents, a soup kitchen and a food pantry. The balance was sold weekly at a  farm stand located just down the street at the Montclair Child Development Center, a Head Start site.  We also expanded our coalition to include Montclair State University and Essex County 4H, which increased our funding and human resources capacity for the project.

Through outreach to the president of the Montclair Historical Society Board of Trustees, we also expanded the project to a  second location at the Society’s Israel Crane House.  This site provides an additional 6,000 square feet for gardening and raising chickens, tripling the size of the project. During the fall of 2012, with the aid of Montclair State University volunteers, we broke ground at this location, erected a fence, installed a chicken coop, and held a Food Day “Spoon-A-Thon” fundraiser.

Phase Three: 
Sustainability of the project requires not only additional funding, but also strategic planning. The seed money to launch and operate the program came from Partners for Health Foundation, and for our second year of operation, the project also received funds from Capital One.  For year three in 2013, we received seeds and a grant from the Garden Club of New Jersey as well another grant from Kings Foundation through Rutgers Cooperative Extension; we are writing additional grant applications to various foundations and businesses.  We intend to do additional outreach to faith-based congregations with lower income populations as a distribution channel through which to donate or sell additional harvested vegetables, and we are interested in developing an eggs and salsa business venture for the youth farmers.

To publicize the program and availability of affordable fresh produce, we’ve been relying on free channels (e.g., cable news, Facebook) as well as the local print media, but we recognize the need to do more.  Coalition members have been posting information on their individual sites, but we need a Community Garden website where we can enlist the support of interested constituencies for volunteering and funding.  We plan to develop that dedicated website in Phase III.

For more information, contact Erica Abbruzzese, Health Educator, Montclair Health Department, or 973-509-4969.