Within the heart of campus lies a sanctuary of greenery and growth – the Montclair State University Community Garden. The garden is a testament to the power of collaboration within the campus community. Each fruit and vegetable is selected and cultivated by students, staff and faculty. In the garden, students with their hands in the dirt can make a big impact on Montclair State.
Founded in 2018, the Montclair State Community Garden is open to all students, staff and faculty. The community garden occupies the space behind the Student Center, which includes 20 raised garden beds. The work performed by the community garden directly benefits those in need at Montclair State by providing the Red Hawk Pantry with fresh and local produce.
Brittney Portes, the garden lead, has taken the garden by storm. She said, “[I am] taking the responsibility and also giving it a new vision for how we can engage the campus community and make it more well-known so more people can get involved in growing regardless of experience.”
The community garden provides its gardeners with all of the necessary tools and training for the growing season to be successful. Growing lasts anywhere between March through November depending on the temperature and how cold it gets.
Ronald Ortega, a junior biology major, is the garden assistant. He spoke about how during the growing season, the garden provides fresh produce to Red Hawk Pantry.
“We partner with them, by weighing and donating a portion of the veggies and fruits that come from the garden,” Ortega said. “This season, 62% of the produce grown has been donated to the pantry – that’s over 300 pounds of donated food.”
The donations to the garden are on a frequent and regular basis.
“We bring the donations twice a week,” Ortega said. “That way, the pantry fridge will always be filled with fresh produce throughout the growing season.”
Outside of the growing season, the members of the community garden work with students. According to Portes, members of the community do a large amount of preparation for the next season, for example, what fruits and vegetables are going to be planted and both sending out and reviewing students’ applications for gardeners.
The members of the garden outside of the growing season focus on educating students on food security. They provide resources and support for addressing food insecurity on campus as well as engage in research to monitor food insecurity on campus. All in all, the garden focuses on education and engagement.
Ortega includes, “Besides the growing season, we focus on awareness of food sustainability and food security. Maintenance of the community garden by weeding and common repairs. Also, special events throughout the semester to encourage people to get involved, plant, and grow their own fruits and vegetables.”
“Montclair State University is proactive in its approach to addressing food insecurity,” Karina Escobar, the coordinator for student access to community services, said. “The university regularly conducts surveys to better understand the extent of the issue and the specific needs of our student population.”
In 2019, during the spring semester, students had the opportunity to participate in research about food security on campus. 628 students completed the survey for research, and it included a USDA (United States Department of Agriculture) Adult Food Security Survey to better address a university student audience. The research conveyed that four out of every ten students who participated in the survey may be food insecure during the semester. Meaning that students may not have access to enough food.
The goal of the community garden is to strengthen connections within Montclair State and bring everyone in the community closer together while providing fresh foods and educational resources for those in need. The community garden’s mission is to donate locally grown produce as well as work with the campus community to increase awareness. In doing that, they are giving back to the community.
With that being said, this is Portes’ first year managing the garden and she has plans on starting a garden club led by students and more garden events both outside in the garden and inside, educating students on food security and ways people can access food and other resources.
For those who want to support the community garden, follow them on Instagram @montclair_communitygarden and sign up for the Garden Club where all participants will be notified of volunteer days and events coming up this year.