The New Jersey General Assembly unanimously approved a bill on Monday that will allow state schools to serve produce grown in community gardens.
“Community gardens are an untapped resource to provide healthy, low-cost snacks for our state’s children, especially those living in food deserts,” said Assemblyman Gilbert Wilson, the Camden County Democrat who drafted the bill, in a press release. “We need to create multiple opportunities to combat childhood obesity, which is plaguing the children living in our urban areas.”
The bill will require community gardens to follow federal, state and local health and sanitation requirements. Soil and water used in cultivating the produce must also be tested to ensure the produce is safe for consumption.
Monday’s bill is the second sponsored by Wilson that encourages access to healthy food in neighborhoods considered “food deserts,” or those that suffer from limited access to produce and fresh food.
In January 2012, the Assembly’s Fresh Mobiles bill, which created a pilot program that allows a non-profit to sell produce year around throughout various locations in Camden, was signed into law. The Camden Children’s Garden, a 23-year-old organization that maintains a garden at the Camden waterfront, initiated the pilot program.
Access to healthy food has been limited in Camden. The city of 77,000 currently has only one full-sized grocery store.
The lack of grocery stores in urban areas makes residents more dependent on corner stores that lack healthy options. A research study conducted by Temple University in collaboration with The Food Trust found that urban school children in Philadelphia relied heavily on corner stores for their nutritional needs.
The study also found that 29 percent of the children visited their corner store twice a day, five days a week, typically on their way to and from school. The study also states that children consumed an average of 350 calories per visit.
In response to high obesity levels in urban areas that lack healthy food options, the Camden-based Campbell Soup Company has pledged $10 million to combat childhood obesity and hunger in Camden over 10 years. This includes introducing healthy food options to corner stores in two different neighborhoods.
Camden is hardly the only place in America where residents lack access to healthy food. As David Lepeska reported in a recent Forefront story, “about 50 million Americans face food insecurity, and another 23.5 million live in designated food desert neighborhoods with higher incidences of obesity and dietary diseases.”