Ironbound Community Corporation’s (ICC) Urban Agriculture Program
Down Bottom Farms in Newark is teaching kids in the Ironbound neighborhood about healthy food, gardening and community building.
When you think of Newark, the last thing you might imagine is a farm, complete with a fruit tree orchard, two community gardens and a thriving Farmer’s Market. But the Ironbound Community Corporation’s (ICC) Urban Agriculture Program has created Down Bottom Farms there.
The farm serves up a continuous supply of healthy produce, youth education, local commerce and community pride in what had been an abandoned and contaminated freight rail yard. It’s thanks to a generous grant from The Horizon Foundation for New Jersey, which is dedicated to supporting organizations that make New Jersey healthier.
Visitors to Down Bottom Farms see that young people have the most active presence there. They’re tending the garden and working at the Farmer’s Market. You can find organic vegetables, flowers, fresh fish and even hot sauce, all for an affordable price. Children who attend ICC’s Early Learning Center work in the garden and even have their own plots to tend.
It’s critical, says Katilia Velez, the ICC’s Director of Development, for children to learn about and have access to healthy food. “Learning to garden and getting involved in other aspects of the farm sets young children on a positive academic track, while helping them and their parents establish a healthy lifestyle at home,” she says.
The program’s impact on the Ironbound neighborhood and its families is tangible. Drive down Ferry Street, and you’ll be drawn to Down Bottom Farms with its brightly painted murals. But the program’s benefits go far beyond the surface, making a deep, lasting impression on kids like Craigin Diaz and Quamir Meril.
Craigin, age 11, was introduced to Down Bottom Farms when his older brother left the house one day and Craigin asked where he was going. He said “to the garden.” Craigin followed him and has since become a gardener. He’s learned what words like “organic” and “composting” mean. As a testament to the program and his teacher, Miss Emily, Craigin says: “I want to become a vegetarian, but I know it’s going to take a lot of work.”
Quamir, a 13-year-old who has been coming to the farm for five years, takes pride in what he plants and grows for the Farmer’s Market that takes place on Saturday mornings. He loves when people ask where the produce comes from, because he gets to explain that he grew some of it. But what he’s most proud of, he says, “is that I get to help teach the kids gardening after school at the farm.”