Kula Urban Farm – Rooted in Community
Program Spotlight | Kula Urban Farm – Rooted in Community | June 2019
On a Friday afternoon in May, Gail Dixson, her neice Myleah, 8, and nephews Shamar, 10, and Isaan, 12, joined Kula Farm manager Lisa Bagwell in planting radishes, collard greens, and a rainbow garden of orange and yellow marigolds and red salvia in the back yard of Bethel AME Church’s Community Center on Atkins Avenue.
Bethel and Kula Farm are in their first season of transforming the land adjacent to the farm into a garden to grow produce for the church to give out to the community. The Dixson cousins and other children in the church’s Young People Department have made working in the garden a youth project centered on learning and giving back.
For a number of years, Interfaith Neighbors has been actively engaged in offering programs to help Asbury Park’s West Side community residents develop a healthy, hopeful community. The Kula Urban Farm and Farm Without Borders delivers community programming directed at nutrition, healthier living, as well as helping to develop jobs for area residents.
Now in its fourth full season, the Kula Farm can still come as a surprise to many coming upon its greenhouse at 115 Atkins Avenue, across from Springwood Park. Few expect to see such a farm in the city of Asbury Park. But like its sister, Kula Café, which opened in April 2013, the state-of-the-art greenhouse, seasonal beds and community gardens have taken hold in Asbury Park, providing fresh produce for the café, selling produce to local restaurants and the public, and providing harvested free vegetables for the community. The farm sells plants to those who can afford it and gives plants to those who can’t. It invites all to visit and encourages guests to grow food for their households.
But, what still might not be well known is the day in, day out progress Kula Farm has made in a most essential mission–providing job training and actual paid jobs for residents, some of whom have gone on to supervisory positions at the farm. Those jobs are the result of generous philanthropic support aallowing Interfaith Neighbors to reach across Springwood Avenue and use vacant land to grow food for the community. As of May of this year, 32 residents have worked in the 60 hour paid program and five have been hired to longer-term positions.
Ewelina Makowska is assistant greenhouse manager, and Doni Gray is assistant hydroponic grower. Elizabeth Cao is supervisor and community liaison in charge at the Farm Without Borders. Robert Beatty and Charles Ade also have held the long-term positions.
For Ewelina Makowska , the greenhouse is her terrain where she’s an expert in managing the micro-green growing system and the vertical hydroponic towers. “The farm’s taken root in the community,” Ewelina said. “Anyone who lives around here and has a garden comes by to talk. Engaging the community, I think that’s most important.’’
Liz Cao has become the face of the Farm Without Borders, maintaining the community gardens where people can come and take what they need and also participate in planting. Liz had no previous experience in gardening but has taken to it.
Doni Gray, works 15 hours a week and takes three buses to get to work. “The thing I like about the job is the life cycle, going from seeds to growing up and turning into food,” he said. “It helps me to see the transference in life.”
The continued growth and success at the farm can be attributed to Farm Managers Lisa Bagwell and Thijs van Oosterhout. They’ve built a farm business next to the café that each season brings fresh ideas, new knowledge, and new ideas to attract new visitors and benefit area residents.
“I like to be able to engage with as many residents in the neighborhood as I can,” Lisa said. “And, I like to be able to transform unused land into a productive garden and grow vegetables.” Lisa came to the farm with community garden and farm experience and is also known for her popular trash assemblage artwork. Her passion for gardening, art, and people are on display at the farm.
Thijs is part of a farming family from the Netherlands. He is an environmental scientist, aquatic ecologist and a professor at Georgian Court University. He focuses on the science and the details of the greenhouse operations. He spoke of adding Epsom salt to provide more magnesium for the plants and increasing CO2 to speed plant growth. The greenhouse seems at times to be his laboratory. “Our goal is to make the farm self- sustainable,” he says.
Back on a Friday in May, Alan Powell visited the farm and took home some okra, peppers and tomato plants to join the collard greens, kale, strawberries, cabbage, butter lettuce, melons and pumpkins he has planted this year. Alan, a retiree from Neptune, comes each season to get some growing tips, seeds and plants for his garden.
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