TRENTON, N.J. — New Jersey Secretary of Agriculture Douglas H. Fisher joined officials from the Isles Inc., and the Howell Living History Farm to mark the start of the planting season with the plowing of the Chestnut Avenue Community Garden in Trenton this week. Secretary Fisher took the plow behind Howell Living History Farm Belgian horses, Bill and Jesse, as they led the way in preparing the garden for planting. The Chestnut Avenue Community Garden was established in 1981 and is a place where diverse produce has been grown over decades.
As part of the activities, Isles Inc. staff was on hand to provide educational talks for approximately 200 students from schools in the area throughout the day that included sessions on the importance of beekeeping, corn shelling, and composting. Students and staff were offered the opportunity to take the plow behind the horses as the rows were made. Isles Inc. supports over 70 community and school gardens by providing technical assistance to local residents, teachers and students, and community-based organizations.
“To have land in an urban environment used for an agricultural purpose proves that vision and motivation will allow you to grow crops almost anywhere,” Secretary Fisher said. “That people can come and raise fresh produce for their own personal preference shows how a garden can enhance a community and neighborhood.”
Isles was founded in 1981with a mission to foster self-reliant families and healthy, sustainable communities and started an urban agriculture initiative in 1982. Now, Isles works with more than 200 community gardeners and family members and supports teachers and students in gardens at nearly all schools in the Trenton district.
“It’s an incredible day when school kids, farm staff, and community gardeners learn and work together to build a better future through food,” said Jim Simon, Deputy Director of Community Planning at Isles. “We are proud to share this tradition with Howell Farm and the community. The day happens quietly year after year but carries a powerful significance that transcends generations as well as urban and rural landscapes.”
Gardeners supported by Isles Inc. harvest more than 20,000 pounds of fresh produce each year, increasing food access and improving food quality in Trenton.
Howell Living History Farm demonstrates how much of agriculture was accomplished in the year 1900. Howell Farm offers people of all ages, backgrounds, and interests the chance to learn about their rural history and heritage by rolling up their sleeves for hands-on activities, meeting interpreters in historic costume, and embarking on tours through a farm that’s really working year-round. Depending on the season, visitors help farmers as they plant and harvest crops, care for animals, build fences, and raise barns – or do the cooking and chores that keep the farm running smoothly. Ice harvesting, maple sugaring, sheep shearing, and threshing are just a few of the activities along with hayrides, music, dancing, or mixing homemade ice cream.
“That we are able to play a role in helping educate students and others about how a farm works is a very rewarding part of our mission,” said Mercer County Executive Brian M. Hughes.
Pete Watson, longtime director of Howell Living History Farm added, “We want people to have a better understanding of how so many of the products they use and consume are made, as well as gain an understanding of our agricultural heritage.”
Howell Farm, a facility of the Mercer County Park Commission, was a working farm for 240 years before its last private owner, Inez Howe Howell of Pennington, donated it to Mercer County in March of 1974. The farm sits on 130 acres near Titusville, in Hopewell Township. The New Jersey Parks and Recreation Association recently honored the farm with its Excellence in Educational and Interpretive Programming award for its “Share the Harvest” Program, which provided farm-fresh food and produce to Mercer County food shelters throughout the pandemic.
–Jeff Wolfe, NJDA