Montclair Community Farms: Engaging the Community through Farming and Food

Written by Beth Pulawski, Director of Montclair Community Farms

This year has been challenging. The COVID-19 pandemic and #BlackLivesMatter movement have exposed the deep inequities and inequalities that have existed and persisted in our country and community for too long. They have required that we not only think differently, but do differently, to continue to learn, and be better and do better. They have also showed us the power in community and the things that bring us together.

At Montclair Community Farms, we have really taken this to heart and thought hard about how we work to address all of the factors that lead to healthy living – access to food, education, job opportunities, and community, among others. We don’t have all of the answers but we do have a renewed sense of purpose about what we can do as an organization, and as individuals, to best serve our community. We can continue to provide space to engage and educate the community through farm, food, health and a little bit of fun, and do so regardless of a person’s time, finances, child care, or the many other barriers that they may face.  We can also continue to listen to our community.

Thanks to the generous funding of Partners for Health Foundation and Van Vleck House & Gardens and Montclair Foundation we grew more than 3,000 seedlings including 1,000 for our farms’, and 2,000 that were donated to the community. We also engaged more than 50 new gardeners (at free, reduced and full pricing) in our first-ever virtual Grow Your Own Vegetable Garden series. We are proud that our students are now growing and maintaining thriving vegetable gardens. Perhaps more important than growing their own homegrown fruits and vegetables, these gardeners – who would not have met otherwise – have a new community around a shared experience, purpose and passion. Going forward we seek to provide more such opportunities and reach more deeply into our community.

One area we are keen to explore and that was brought on in part by COVID-19 is engaging more young people – who hold the greatest opportunity to make a positive impact for generations to come – in strengthening local food systems.  We want to support youth in developing 21st century skills – innovation, creativity, and leadership –  through small scale grain milling with community partners like Ruthie’s Farm (of the infamous Ruthie’s BBQ in Montclair), and the development of value-added products such as flour, pizza dough, tomato sauce and salsa. Interestingly enough, this same topic appeared in a NYT Op-Ed last month. Our goal is to provide alternative career pathways through paid positions, as we recognize that a lack of income is the number one barrier to food security and many other social determinants of health.  We hope you will join us.