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Nourishing Our Community & Cultivating Change: A Year in Review at CATA's Food Justice Program

Updated: Feb 27

The energy crackled with anticipation within the familiar walls of CATA's Bridgeton office as we gathered for our first meeting of 2024. It was a moment to celebrate the triumphs of the Food Justice Program (FJP) in 2023 and chart the course for an even more fruitful year ahead. 

Seeds of Knowledge Blossom

Our journey began with enriching our own knowledge foundation. In January, we delved into NOFA workshops on organic farming, herbalism, and nutrition, equipping ourselves with new skills and insights. By March, we had launched our first year-long youth internship, igniting a passion for sustainable agriculture in high schoolers as they learned the art of nurturing seedlings using organic methods.

Celebrating Nature & Sharing Knowledge

Spring brought opportunities to connect with the community. In April, we invited everyone to immerse themselves in nature with a guided walk and interactive herbal demonstrations in the garden. Summer saw us collaborating with Vietlead, creating a meaningful field trip to Philly where elders guided youth in crafting nixtamalized tortillas from locally harvested corn. This cultural exchange highlighted the importance of tradition and fostered intergenerational connections.

From Garden to Table: Cultivating Abundance

Our community garden flourished, with the weekly youth-led market becoming a cornerstone of access to fresh, healthy produce. The introduction of SNAP/EBT acceptance widened accessibility, ensuring everyone could share in the bounty. Among the most treasured market items were Mexican marigold salves, papalo, tomatoes, and lemongrass. Our innovative spirit extended beyond fresh produce, as we transformed garden-grown ingredients into value-added products like jams, salsas, and salves.

Empowering Youth Leadership & Community Collaboration

With unwavering support from the community, former youth leaders Lali and Rigo took center stage. Lali led the installation of a vibrant community mural, while Rigo constructed a mobile farm stand – both testaments to their creativity and dedication. Youth leaders Esmeralda and Felicita shared their expertise by training interns on harvesting and managing the market stand. As the sun shone brighter, new solar panels were installed, allowing us to harness renewable energy for cooking and more.

Celebrating Milestones & Embracing Change

October brought a celebratory wave. CATA members and volunteers unanimously elected Lali as the first youth member of the CATA Board, marking a significant step towards inclusivity and youth empowerment. The month culminated in a joyous Dia de Muertos celebration, honoring ancestral traditions and community spirit. Our commitment to food sovereignty was further emphasized with a logo design competition. Gadiel Pabon, a young grandson of our dedicated garden volunteer Migdalia, won over hearts with his community-inspired design.

A Year of Impact: Numbers Tell a Story

In 2023, the garden nourished over 90 families and welcomed 170 visitors to workshops, volunteer days, and events. These numbers illustrate the program's reach and its significance as a community hub.

Planting Seeds for the Future: A Look Ahead

Our 2024 journey began with a thought-provoking discussion on "malahierbas" – weeds often deemed undesirable. Yet, the community recognized the potential of some "malahierbas" as edible and medicinal treasures. Inspired by this, we plan to dedicate space to cultivating plantain, a versatile and nutritious "weed." Our focus extends beyond "malahierbas," as we plan to gather community input on desired crops, organize our seed inventory, and acquire new seeds.

Empowering Community Action: Join Us!

Leadership transitions are underway, and we're excited to welcome new energy into the program. To kick off the volunteer season, we invite you to join us for a Volunteer Work Day on Saturday, March 9th, from 9 am to 1 pm at the Bridgeton Community Garden. We'll clear weeds from raised beds, preparing them for "direct seeding" of vegetables on March 23rd. This two-part workshop/volunteer opportunity will teach you the "stale bed" technique, minimizing weed competition for your crops.

Join us as we nourish our community, cultivate positive change, and explore the hidden potential of "malahierbas." Stay tuned for more updates on the Food Justice Program by visiting our social media channels! Let's grow together!

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