With no experience in urban agriculture, a single dollar and a lot of determination, a former teacher secured a vacant lot in Newark, New Jersey that has since grown into a flourishing community garden and gathering spot. Meet Barbara Weiland and Kinney Community Garden.
There’s something good growing in Newark, New Jersey. Spend enough time there and you’ll discover a growing network of local gardeners and community-led organizations making notable pathways to create long-term healthy food access solutions.
The garden is about much more than just vegetables. It offers a journey of hope and trust… It is a place of extraordinary happenings.
– Barbara Weiland, Founder and Executive Director of Kids In Business Kinney Community Garden
Several years ago, Whole Cities Foundation recognized the passion and potential behind the community-led movement in Newark, so we partnered with local experts asking how we could best help amplify their efforts. The result is the Fresh, Healthy Food Access Grant. Now, each winter, local groups with food access projects can apply for up to $15,000 in funding. Grantees have included urban farms, healthy cooking classes, agriculture skills development programs and community gardens — organizations such as Kids In Business Kinney Community Garden, a three-time grant partner.
“Kinney Community Garden is a place of deliberate beauty and calm, and it is the community’s park. The garden is about much more than just vegetables. It offers a journey of hope and trust… It is a place of extraordinary happenings,” explained Barbara Weiland, Founder and Executive Director of Kids In Business Kinney Community Garden.
Putting Down Roots
$1 and a dream. Barbara has more than four decades of teaching experience in Newark and has founded numerous community programs. So, she envisioned Kinney Community Garden as a prototype for a skills center for vocational training in carpentry, masonry and horticulture that would also improve healthy food access.
Thanks to Newark’s Adopt-a-Lot program, she was able to secure land for just $1 a year in 2017. The city-run program gives residents the opportunity to rent vacant city-owned lots in their neighborhoods to grow fruits, vegetables, flowers and/or foliage plants. All for the cost of $1, and, of course, a lot of work.
Barbara was quick to point out that she had no best practices when she started the garden, nor did she have a background in urban agriculture. “What do you do?” asked Barbara, “We did not know what we were doing.” And yet, she found a way. She started with a broom.
After securing the lot, Barbara adopted the block by sweeping the sidewalks and gutters every day and removing broken glass and other trash. She also worked with the sanitation department to put out receptacles so others could help beautify the block. It didn’t take long for neighbors to notice a difference and understand that someone cared.
From the broom and receptacle bins came community building. Neighbors began thanking her and pitching in too. A real sense of neighborhood pride and ownership grew as the garden started taking shape. As she continued interacting with the neighbors, she discovered helpers, like a plumber, tiler and exterminator. Barbara and the volunteers worked to clear and level the lot, spread truckloads of mulch, plant trees and establish the garden’s foundation.
Barbara started the garden by building trust and engagement throughout the block, and when asked how she continues to build momentum today, she explains, “You include, you always include. Remember, small things build up trust.” So, whether it is emptying full trash receptacles herself or saving a plate of food for a neighbor during an event, Barbara’s actions underscore that Kinney Community Garden was built by the community, for the community. It welcomes all.
This learning garden has become yet another example how Barbara brings to life her passion for teaching in effective and meaningful ways and highlights her dedication to the Newark community. “I will walk a million miles for our kids, parents and neighbors,” she said.
Another not-so-secret element to Barbara’s success? Local partnerships, which allow her to leverage resources and gain access to needed materials, tools, funding, volunteers, and technical assistance.
For example, since meeting Tobias Fox (Founder and Managing Director of the community-driven nonprofit, Newark Science and Sustainability, Inc. and local urban agriculture activist and grower), Barbara explained that her knowledge and awareness of future food access possibilities increased dramatically.
In addition, Barbara says the Newark Community Food System has been a game-changer. The collective, co-founded by Whole Cities Foundation, focuses on actionable steps to encourage residents to become actively involved in reshaping their food system, while gaining control of their health and environment. Barbara credits the collective with broadening her view and knowledge of the various fresh and healthy food access successes and needs.
Imagination, creativity and exploration are at the basis of all we do. – Barbara
Now in its fourth year, Kinney Community Garden continues to flourish. Neighbors grow food for themselves and freely share with other community members. Several local groups also use the space.
“People of all ages gather in what has become a family park, which reflects their pride, trust and ongoing hope,” Barbara emphasizes. “Kinney Gardens is much more than growing food, it’s a place where neighbors can take ownership, gather, learn, and share ideas. The broader goal of this project is to provide a safe haven for members of the community to venture outside of their home and feel, smell, breathe, touch, and react with nature.”
Over the years, neighbors have used the garden not just to improve their health but as a creative outlet tapping into their own talents. “Imagination, creativity and exploration are at the basis of all we do,” Barbara explains. “We work to nurture these with all of our garden participants, from the very youngest to the oldest. The process, and not the final product, is our most important educational tool.”
For example, Ms. Gaither, or Ms. G. as she is known, was the community chef whipping up recipes from the garden’s produce; Purple became the community liaison and protector of the garden; and Ruby now manages creative plantings. Mr. Bacon, Sugar Bear and others have also been ever-present in the garden.
The garden hosts workshops, classes, camps, tastings, and other community events and attracts volunteers from all over the city, including Rutgers University. During the upcoming planting season, community members convicted of low-level offenses will be supporting the garden’s upkeep in the innovative justice project Newark Community Solutions program.
Fresh, Healthy Food Access Grant
For the past four years, Whole Cities Foundation has partnered with 26 organizations across all five wards, investing over $630,000 in the Newark community.
“Whole Cities Foundation funding has given legitimacy and visibility to all of the magical things happening at Kinney Community Garden,” Barbara explains. “We have always appreciated how Whole Cities Foundation really sees what needs to be seen, and they ask what needs to be asked. They are genuine, caring and thoughtful about their work. As a grantee, I have always felt as though they have my back, which is both encouraging and heartening. They help empower change no matter how difficult the challenges.”
If your organization is working to strengthen Newark’s local food system and could benefit from grant funding between $5,000 and $15,000, consider applying for our Fresh, Healthy Food Access Grant in early 2021.