After Chris Christie took office as governor of New Jersey, he awarded the non-profit Camden Children’s Garden, located in impoverished Camden, N.J., a hero of New Jersey award. Two months later, his administration cut the organization's state funding. Now, the Treasury Department is trying to evict the garden off its land.
The Children’s Garden is adjacent to the Adventure Aquarium on the Camden Waterfront. The state says it owns the land that the garden is on. They bought it for $1 in 1999, and according to Philly.com, the state will not disclose the agreement under which they bought the property.
In addition to gardens, the four acres that the Camden Children’s Garden occupies contain amusement rides, a gazebo, a giant dinosaur, and a butterfly house. It’s a frequent destination for school trips and for families looking for something fun and educational on weekends and in the summer.
The state wants to turn over most of the land that the garden now occupies to the aquarium, saying that Herschend Family Entertainment, the company that owns the aquarium, will "enhance the economic development potential of the property."
Basically, the state has dollar signs in its eyes. A communication that I received from the Camden Children’s Garden said that the organization is “currently contesting alleged ownership of the land.”
At issue here isn’t just a place for school kids to visit on trips or families to escape the bleakness of much of the city to enjoy the beautiful gardens. The USDA has identified Camden as a food desert, a neighborhood with inadequate access to fresh food.
The Children’s Garden oversees community and backyard food gardens and school food garden programs. A University of Pennsylvania study estimated that the 90 backyard gardens and 120 community gardens in the city of Camden produced “$2.3 million worth of fruits and vegetables in 2012.” The garden gives away about 200,000 plants annually to the community.
If the Camden Children’s Garden is evicted from its property, one of the major sources of fresh fruits and vegetables available to the city's impoverished citizens will disappear.
There’s a petition on Care2 that currently has about 2,270 of the 3,000 signatures it needs to be sent on to the state. There is also a Save the Camden Children Garden Facebook page with over 6,500 members. (Is anyone else wondering why the petition doesn’t have the same number of names?)
Early last month, The Philadelphia Inquirer wrote that not only would the loss of the garden be a “stunning blow to kids,” it would be “the spurning of a national trend.” It’s not just those of us from the state of New Jersey and specificially the citizens of Camden that should be concerned with the garden’s potential eviction. If politicians in other impoverished cities see that in New Jersey this land was so easily taken away for the use of corporate profit, they may be tempted to do the same.