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The community garden has been lead by Jackie Santiago, a North Camden resident, and leader in the community. Photo: Facebook.
The community garden has been lead by Jackie Santiago, a North Camden resident, and leader in the community. Photo: Facebook.

A North Camden community garden becomes a haven for a community and a source of fresh fruits and vegetables

La Esperanza is one of two community gardens run by Jackie Santiago, and there are plans to open a third in the near future.

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Camden, New Jersey has struggled with a lack of access to fresh produce for years.

Specifically, North Camden has been experiencing worse and worse food apartheid, with very little access to fresh food.

Most residents take a bus to Cherry Hill or Collingswood to get to grocery stores, meaning they have to lug their heavy purchases on and off transportation services.

It’s why community leaders in North Camden are taking the initiative to bring healthy produce to their neighborhood.

Jackie Santiago is the project coordinator at North Camden Community Garden, which is focused on creating a safe space for local residents to hang out, and provide the neighborhood with fresh fruits and vegetables.

Santiago is hoping that by creating community gardens, residents can have access to produce in their neighborhood.

Her work does not go unnoticed and with her team of volunteers, La Esperanza — the name of the community garden — has thrived as a place locals can call their own.

“It’s a place to be tranquil,” Santiago said in an interview with Tap into Camden. “Anybody can come here, sit down, relax and have a quiet place to enjoy.”

Santiago runs two local community gardens on 835 North Sixth Street and the other located at the intersection Third Street and Erie Ave.

She is dedicated to letting locals know it is their space and the gardens are never locked.

Santiago is also getting Camden residents involved in maintaining the gardens together.

“Our biggest jobs are always weeding and watering,” she said. “I weed every day. Even on my days off, there’s no days off for the plants.”

Beyond gardening, the locations have also hosted community barbecues, seed planting events, and scavenger hunts for children.

The garden has also fostered a classroom for children who want to learn more about planting, horticulture, and agriculture.

Santiago’s son, Diego, has helped his mother in the garden for quite some time, and is in charge of weeding and watering the fruits and vegetables.

“We’re planting tomatillos and green beans and on these trees, there’s some peaches and apples,” Diego showed Tap into Camden.

The garden has also been growing an abundance of peppers, kale, and strawberries, for residents.

In addition to their produce, La Esperanza displays colorful and vibrant flowers, such as lavender, and tiger lilies. The modest garden even has a free book library.

Last weekend, La Esperanza hosted a gardening event where members of the Center for Aquatic Sciences volunteered and brought different insects to showcase. Children who came to the event also made kites.

Their next event, the Juneteenth Microgreen Micro teach will take place on June 19 at 835 North Sixth Street between 10 a.m. and noon. The event will give a wide overview on how to grow microgreens. 

Participating locals will leave with supplies to get them on the right track to growing their own microgreens.

As more events are in the works, Santiago also plans on building greenhouses in the upcoming future. She also plans on adding a third community garden soon.

For more information on La Esperanza please visit its Facebook page.

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