Shaping Paterson One Step, One Bite at a Time

Paterson, Passaic County

Overall, to engage kids and the public in physical activity (planting and maintaining a garden) and eating better through greater access to nutritious produce.


Time Frame:
March 2011 to present and ongoing.

Funding Partners:  Shaping NJ (through the N.J. Department of Health and Senior Services and the New Jersey Association of County and City Health Officers).  Community Partners:  Paterson Division of Health (part of the Paterson Department of Health and Human Services), Concerned Parents for Head Start, Paterson YMCA, Rutgers Cooperative Extension Service, Passaic County 4-H Program, the Paterson Family Success Center, and the Residents of the Great City of Paterson.

This project has several elements, all designed to achieve our twin goals of increasing activity and access to healthy food.

Intergenerational Community Garden—South Paterson has one of the oldest farmers’ markets in the state, but it’s difficult for many residents to get to. We wanted to establish something on Paterson’s West Side. Initially we considered installing a garden by Head Start, but we encountered insurance and access issues. Then we decided historic Westside Park would be a good location, as our planned walking trail there would draw people to both the park and the garden.

The city agreed to our plan and recommended the best location for the garden: atop a hill opposite Head Start, away from the river (and potential flooding) that bisects the park.  A local fencing company fenced the garden area. We’re encouraging residents to attend workshops and work in the garden, and adult and youth volunteers dug beds and planted perennial and annual plants and trees.  Our first planting season yielded a healthy array of several kinds of tomatoes, cucumbers, herbs, peppers, mini eggplant, squash, grapes, and more.  We also planted self-pollinating fruit trees (apple, plum, pear and peach)—and the apple tree actually produced a single apple.   We donated the produce to homeless and senior residents of the area.

Walking TrailDesigned by Frederick Law Olmsted, designer of Central Park in New York, Westside Park 100 years ago was beautiful, almost like a botanical garden.  Over the decades, the park has suffered from lack of use, neglect, and the ravages of Mother Nature.  We are hoping that, over time, these projects can help restore the park and increase its use by city residents. As our first step, volunteers built a walking trail all around Westside Park, past the garden and near the falls. A local sign company created weather- and graffiti-proof signs displaying antique images of the bucolic park as it looked in the 1890s; we installed the signs so that walkers can see those areas of the park as they once were.  People once rowed and canoed on the Passaic River, and Paterson’s mayor is hoping to re-introduce boating and kayaking on the waterway.

We planned a spring 2012 public introduction of the new Westside Park Walking Trail, with kickoff pedometers given to the first 100 participants, but weather forced a postponement, and subsequent rescheduling efforts fizzled. Now planned is an April 2013 kickoff to reinforce the importance to good health of walking 10,000 steps daily.

City OrdinanceAn ordinance is pending before the City Council to gradually reduce access to junk foods and sugary beverages in municipal vending machines. The proposed ordinance is modeled after California’s state vending law.

Lessons Learned:
We learned that, because we’re doing things outside, we have to be very flexible. We situated the garden in a high and dry location to avoid problems with hurricanes and floods,  but a better location might have been a place where people know and respect what we’re doing: the garden has been vandalized. We installed picket fencing to fit in with the “last century” look of the park, but in the fall, vandals tore pickets off and threw them around the park.  After we collected and screwed them back onto the fence, the vandals returned to kick and break the pickets.  To find a solution to this problem, as well as encourage greater youth involvement in the project, we have enlisted the help of the nearby high school’s environmental group.

Phase Two:
The local nonprofit community service organization Fourth and Inches has adopted Westside Park as a beautification project, beginning with planting flower bulbs.  We are also looking for ways to involve local residents increasingly in the fruit and vegetable garden.  Plans call for a farmers’ market to be established by the garden, which will broaden public access to fresh produce.  We continue to seek funding for plants and seeds for the garden.

For more information, contact Robin Regenburgh, Health Educator, 973-321-1277, ext. 2715,