CAMDEN, N.J. – Many neighbors in the Cramer Hill section of the city enjoy garden fresh produce throughout the summer thanks to the Community Garden created by the students from Camden’s Pride Charter Elementary School.
“It started as four small garden beds on the side of the Pride building six years ago,” Camden’s Pride science teacher Brenda Mazzerella said. “It was very small but gave the students a chance to see how to harvest vegetables and taste the things we were growing in there.”
According to Mazzarella, the goal of the Community Garden was to create a space for teachers to bring students out to read in a butterfly themed area. The first garden beds were turned into butterfly flower beds. The garden has expanded exponentially from there.
“It was a big open area with nothing but dirt,” Mazzarella explained. “Then the flowerbeds came and the vision of the garden was established.”
The school was able to expand the garden with the help of several South Jersey organizations. Salem County’s Appel Farms helped design pillars that have mosaic tiles of vegetables and fruits on them as well as the student’s names. “Those fourth graders are now 9th graders and their brothers and sisters are finding their names as we enter the garden,” Mazzarella said.
Campbell Soup helped plant the trees that surround the garden, and those trees were donated by the NJ Tree Foundation. Campbell Soup employees also helped build the garden beds in 2016 as part of their “Make a Difference Week.”
While local neighbors help out by volunteering to water and weed over the summer months, the students sowed the seeds that reap more than just fresh produce. Mazzarella said it is also a learning experience. While turning over dirt in preparation for planting, the students are exploring bugs. Other teachers take students to the garden to give them another place to learn to read, write, and even work on math in an open area. “The garden has turned out to be a place for us to show with hard work and lots of dirt we can help things grow for the environment,” Mazzarella said.
While the Camden’s Promise Charter Elementary School Community Garden has expanded significantly over the past six years, there is still room for growth.
“Each year I try to come up with new projects our fourth graders can help design or give back to the garden,” Mazzarella said. “We have decorated the large pots that house butterfly plants to return each year, as well as large river rocks that were donated for students to design and place around the garden tree bed for color. This year I was able to get a donation of birdhouses that I am hanging from the back fence. The fourth graders are working together to give their birdhouses character and color.”
When school starts in September, Mazzarella said she plans on having a salad party with her students to let them eat the vegetables while they explore the garden and make plans for the next season’s harvest.
“It’s nice hearing the students talking with classmates and teachers about the things we have planted in the garden or how to garden,” Mazzarella said.
Camden’s Pride Elementary School is part of Camden’s Charter School Network.