CAMDEN, NJ — The Camden Urban Agriculture Collaborative (CUAC) will receive more than $300,000 for its local farming and healthy food initiative, Virtua Health announced on Friday.
CUAC will receive $293,411 from the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) plus a $33,000 match from one of CUAC’s member groups, Parkside Business and Community in Partnership (PBCIP).
The Camden Urban Agriculture Collaborative (CUAC) is one of 23 organizations nationwide — chosen from 578 applicants — to receive the USDA’s Urban Agriculture and Innovative Production (UAIP) Award.
The award is the USDA’s first-ever initiative to invest in the mission of encouraging and promoting urban, indoor, and other emerging agricultural practices.
The Office of Urban Agriculture and Innovative Production was established through the 2018 Farm Bill. It is led by USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service and works in partnership with numerous USDA agencies that support urban agriculture.
“As the People’s Department, USDA supports and strengthens all types of agriculture, including the work being done by urban farmers and community gardeners,” USDA Under Secretary for Farm Production and Conservation Bill Northey said. “I look forward to seeing the innovations in urban, indoor, and other emerging agricultural practices that result from the agreements, including in community composting and food waste reduction.”
These grants will fund CUAC’s Urban Agriculture Leadership Pipeline Project through 2022. The pipeline project seeks to increase Camden residents’ capacity to grow fresh foods and sell them through new buyers.
These buyers will include local health systems that already prescribe fruits and vegetables to patients as part of their medical care, according to Bridget Phifer, executive director of PBCIP.
“USDA funding is critical to improving health equity in Camden’s neighborhoods by increasing access to healthy food,” Phifer said. “These grants will enable CUAC to restore vacant and underutilized land for urban gardening, and collaborate with our urban agriculture and health-centric partners on health education, food demonstrations, and urban agriculture apprenticeship programs.”
“This is not about growing all of Camden’s own food, or creating an extraordinary number of jobs — although I’m incredibly excited that we will do some of both,” Lew Bivona, a CUAC founder, said. “The real power of urban agriculture is how it helps people to question why the food system is the way it is and gives glimpses of how things could be different.”
For example, communities such as Camden often lack grocery stores and access to food that is both healthy and affordable, according to health officials. The pipeline program will help address this need.
In Camden, the effort to train and support urban farmers and create new sales channels is already underway through a separate national grant that PBCIP secured last year, health officials said.
Camden’s Roots to Prevention (RTP) Initiative received $500,000 in cash and in-kind support through the BUILD Health Challenge award.
“Roots to Prevention works to reduce the causes of diet-related illnesses by creating opportunities to grow and sell local produce,” Roots to Prevention Manager Jonathan Wetstein said. “The UAIP award will deepen this collaboration, and attract even greater funding and attention to the powerful work of Camden’s gardeners and farmers.”
CUAC formed in late 2018 to pool resources, find common ground, and advocate for urban agriculture in Camden. CUAC’s core partners include PBCIP (the grant’s lead applicant), Camden City Garden Club, VietLead, the Center for Environmental Transformation, Camden Lutheran Housing Inc., the Neighborhood Center, Cooper Lanning Civic Association, Powercorps Camden, Virtua Health, Free Haven Farms, and many community gardeners.
The collaborative has established a shared tool library providing gardening equipment to community gardens, supported PBCIP’s successful BUILD Health award application, and developed a city-wide survey of urban farmers and gardeners. It has also begun creating a shared marketing system to streamline produce sales in Camden.
“Our ultimate goal is building and encouraging resident leadership of urban agriculture in Camden, so that instead of seeing positive changes happen to Camden, we as collaborators can be a part of a movement that happens with and because of Camden,” Bivona said.
In all of Camden County, about 52,430 people were considered food insecure before the pandemic, according to Feeding America’s “Map the Meal Gap” interactive study.
Job loss and other economic crises associated with the coronavirus could push the rate of food insecurity in Camden County from 10.3 percent to 15.3 percent by the end of the year. Read more here: Coronavirus Increases Hunger: Find A Food Bank In Camden County
Patch has partnered with Feeding America to help raise awareness on behalf of the millions of Americans facing hunger. Feeding America, which supports 200 food banks across the country, estimates that in 2020, more than 54 million Americans will not have enough nutritious food to eat due to the effects of the coronavirus pandemic. This is a Patch social good project; Feeding America receives 100 percent of donations. Find out how you can donate in your community or find a food pantry near you.
This article originally appeared on the Haddonfield-Haddon Township Patch