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Partner Spotlight: Isles

September 10, 2015 | Community News, Trenton

In Trenton, NJPHK is led by Isles Inc. and the YMCA of Trenton. This month we spotlight our partner by taking a look at its growth and support of Trenton’s community gardens.

islesAs part of its mission to revitalize communities, train and educate and promote healthy living, Isles, a community development and environmental organization, has supported community gardens with technical training, seeds and seedlings, tools, and site assessments for more than 33 years. The Isles Garden Support Network (IGSN) currently supports over 60 school and community gardens, helping individuals, families, students and teachers actively take part in the ‘grow your own’ movement.

“I’ve been with Isles for seven years,” said Jim Simon, Urban Agriculture Manager. “When I started, we supported about 30 gardens; it is amazing that in the time since, we’ve more than doubled the number of gardens.”

The four members of the Isles agriculture team, along with many volunteers, offer workshops to help teach gardening to community residents to help them start their own gardens or prepare to join and assist in other gardens. “We are seeing multi-generational gardens, and that is a fantastic sign,” said Jim. “Families and students come back year after year to learn more about how to grow and maintain their gardens. We provide site assessments, where we check the soil and sun exposure, and events and training sessions, where we are able to connect new gardeners with experienced ones. We’re excited to see that each new generation is embracing the opportunity to grow their own food and bring healthy, fresh food to their meal planning.”

The community gardens, which are managed and maintained by residents or schools, grow a variety of fresh produce, including carrots, spinach, kale, lettuce, tomatoes, herbs, as well as tropical fruits and vegetables originally grown in some residents’ native homes – Puerto Rico, Africa, Jamaica, Central America and others.

When NJPHK came to Trenton in 2012, Isles became an instant partner, helping NJPHK with introductions to many of the schools and community groups in Trenton. “Our first collaboration with Isles took place when we were working on bringing healthier food to the lunch menu and installing a playground at Monument Elementary School,” said Marissa Davis, Project Manager, NJPHK. “We engaged Isles to assist in revitalizing and expanding Monument’s school garden and our relationship flourished from there.” Most recently, Isles collaborated with NJPHK at the Kilmer School, helping to rejuvenate that school’s garden and building a greenhouse, while NJPHK worked on outfitting its fitness room and lunch room salad bar.

This summer, Isles brought fresh garden food to the Greenwood Ave. Farmers Market, a new, first of its kind farmers market launched by NJPHK with the support of several organizations and supporters. “The produce that we sell at the farmer’s market comes from our demonstration garden,” said Jim. “It also features a section called the Incubator Garden that residents can sign up for a year to learn gardening and meet other gardeners; it’s a real ‘growing ground’ for learning and partnering to start new gardens and strengthen existing ones.”

In the past five years alone, Jim estimates that more than 250,000 pounds of fresh produce has been grown in Trenton’s gardens. He knows that it takes the efforts of many volunteers and team members to be successful in growing healthier food options. “I really look forward to engaging more people in creating and growing community gardens,” said Jim. “The future will be shaped by our youth; helping them learn how their food grows and teaching them how to be smart consumers is the key to helping them develop healthier eating habits that will grow with them for a lifetime.”

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