Fernanda Alvarado, ILE Scholar, Class of 2020

My stay at Kroka was challenging, both physically and mentally, but I loved it. I immediately missed it, once I returned to New Jersey. I didn’t think I would like living on a farm that much, but I did, and wanted to experience that again in the future. In the meantime, I did what I could with the resources I had. I decided to convince my roommates to start collecting food scraps to be composted. Before we started, however, I needed to secure a place where I could drop my food waste. I reached out to Emilio Panasci, the head of a Newark nonprofit called Urban Agriculture Cooperative. I volunteered with him the year before for my Leadership for Service Professionals class. He allowed me to drop off my food waste in one of their urban gardens. The community gardens around Newark are only a block wide, but when I went there, I felt like I was getting a piece of Kroka. And so I started volunteering with the organization, and slowly realized that I could get some parts of Kroka in Newark. There is a profound sense of contentment when you work under the sun, digging your fingers into the soil, putting your faith in the ground. It only gets better when you receive the fruits of your labor and are able to share it with your community! This was the essence of my Kroka experience, and to find it back in Newark has been a delight.

I am now an intern with the organization and have become deeply invested in the work – everyday I find something new to learn about! I spent a lot of time learning about the history of the organization and how to maintain the farm. I work at the SWAG Urban Farm in Newark. It took me a while to get into the habit of calling it a farm, I kept calling it a garden. It wasn’t until I started harvesting heaps of food, that labeling it a farm felt necessary. When you live in an urban area, surrounded by concrete and traffic, you think the nearest farm is hours away. The SWAG farm is a hidden gem, but it’s no backyard garden. I’ve planted and harvested tomatoes, beets, peppers, garlic, swiss chard, corn okra, squash, parsley, lavender, thyme, mint, oregano, sage, and basil. Soon to come are watermelon, peanuts, and cucumber!

I also met so many gardeners around Newark, who collaborate with the organization. These gardeners, most of whom are Newark natives, live their lives in devotion to their gardens and serve the community through them. Everyone I’ve worked with has a social mission attached to their work, but also a deep passion for gardening and farming. It has been a truly wonderful experience getting to know them and learning from them. When I was at Kroka, I thought that I would only be able access a nature-centric lifestyle in the rural wildness of Marlow, NH. My experience working in Newark Community Gardens has shown me otherwise. I’m glad for the resources and connections that enabled me to discover the existence of a small farm in Newark. It has been my privilege and pleasure to work closely in nature, cultivate food, and contribute to the urban agricultural movement.

In light of the COVID-19 pandemic, we have just launched out Virtual Farmers Market, please check it out here https://www.localline.ca/independent/supplier/urbanagcooperativemarket