Heros in Our Backyard!

Last year, SWAG Project was chosen by ioby as one of their 2014 Hero projects. This lovely video, made by Good Eye Video, gives an overview of our community development and local food project and it’s goals. We are incredibly thankful to ioby for highlighting our work, for helping us raise funds to continue making our neighborhood a more livable and lively place, and for making us a part of the creation of this short film.  Were also incredibly thankful to all the local community members and partners who have made SWAG what it is!

Below is the blog published by ioby as part of the ‘Hero’ highlight, we hope you enjoy!

And please remember to support sustainability at SWAG through this years ioby fundraiser here.

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Last year, we started cooking up a video series designed to feature some of the real heroes of the ioby community – projects and leaders we wanted to set squarely in the limelight, and hold up as role models and as inspiration. Among those we featured was SWAG of Newark: a thriving urban community farm that today educates around 700 local students per year, sells wonderful fresh produce at its own market, and has become a source of great pride and pleasure in the South Ward of Newark. The farm has even served as a wonderful resource for the unemployed or underemployed who seek a creative, confidence-building, social outlet while they search for new work.

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In fact, so much has happened at SWAG since the video went into production – not least of all their latest ioby campaign, to which you can still donate here – that we wanted to accompany the video’s release with a little update. Here’s where they are now:

The last year has seen SWAG delve deeper than ever into an analysis of what sustainability means for the farm, and for the South Ward community. Becoming sustainable with a capital “S” will mean closing loops on environmental impact, on financial self-reliance, and in terms of community leadership. SWAG co-founder Alexandra Payne is thrilled about the developments on all three.

“In a lot of smaller communities that are poor communities,” says Payne, “you see these big ups and downs in how well projects work based on funding or based on how well things are going in the city or based on these small pots of money that are available. What this sustainability project is partially about doing is making it possible for the farm to continue its basic operations without having to worry about that. So without having to worry about issues like where will our seed money come from every year, or can we afford to buy seedlings and  supplies, or can we afford that outside organic fertilizer, or can we afford to pay the neighbor for water? Can we afford local interns?”

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How will SWAG close those loops? Well, first, they’ll make their own soil, for free. Plans are in the works for two huge new compost bins will turn organic farm waste into fresh soil for next year. “For a quarter-acre farm,” says Payne, “you do need a decent amount of soil additives to keep soil healthy, and we prefer not to buy those, not have them all be purchased cow manure or mushroom compost. We prefer to make them because you get a better mix of components, and because it means that we can do it right on farm and have more of a closed loop.” Second, a hoop-house for germinating seedlings will go up in the fall, so that SWAG won’t have to look to expensive nurseries at the start of each growing season. Taken together, these two new initiatives will mean greater security through the unpredictable ebbs and flows of external funding.

Another hugely important part of SWAG’s vision for its sustainable future is that they be able to afford to pay local interns. Some of the interns they’ve had have come back year after year, both shaping the project and being shaped by it – even choosing college majors according to new passions they discovered on the farm. “It’s really great for us to have interns who can really run small pieces of the project,” says Payne, “and who feel comfortable leading the classes and who when they’re at the market can talk to people about ‘this is why we’re doing this and these are our goals’ and who can really start to internalize that and see the project as their own.”

SWAG Whole Farm

But Payne and the SWAG Team don’t want those dedicated interns to have to choose between the farm and earning money. Starting with their current ioby campaign and moving forward, she plans to offer interns a stipend, as well as lunches and travel reimbursements. “We really want to invest in interns from the local community,” she says.

As part of that transition toward even stronger community-directed leadership, Payne would like to see volunteer numbers going up, so that each person takes on fewer hours. “Like a co-op,” she says, so that the joy of the work spreads further, but the burden for each person is lighter, reducing burnout.

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Meanwhile, an exciting transition is afoot at the farm. Payne and her team are readying the farm for a passing of the baton, in terms of leadership. SWAG belongs, she says, to the South Ward community, and that is where its future leaders will be found. “We’re there to give some direction and help raise funds and help people dream about what the farm could be, and in the future I’d love to step back and have a group of residents and students who’ve been there really take the day to day reigns of the project,” Payne says.

She and her team plan to step back a bit, starting this spring – very slowly and consciously, of course – and she’s excited to start talking about where the first satellite projects might pop up. They already have small satellites in Baltimore and outside of Philly, and want to continue to expand in the model of SWAG. “I don’t think we ever see ourselves not being a part of those projects; I just think it’s important at a community level to have them be very community directed. So once it’s stable and on its feet, that’s what I see happening.”

To support SWAG during this time of innovation and transition, and to learn more about the farm’s new initiatives, click here.

575641_360919704008712_668437568_nTo view the original article, click here

Published by SWAG Project

SWAG Project is an Urban Farm, Food Justice and Community Building project in the Weequahic district of Newark, NJ Mission SWAG Project uses urban agriculture in the South Ward of Newark to create strong bonds of community among a diverse team of people who all care deeply about health and food justice. In addition, our diverse team helps impact the neighborhood by educating students and neighbors and by restoring and farming under-utilized urban spaces. Company Overview Planting Seeds of Hope is an initiative of The Fund for an Open Society. Fund is focused on building and sustaining racially and socioeconomically integrated communities; and -following that goal - PSH initiatives use urban agriculture as a way to create common bonds between diverse people. The project is run as a partnership between the Planting Seeds of Hope, Amplify Consulting and the local community. Amplify is an urban planning and anti- hunger consultancy focused on using food as a tool for community development. Description SWAG Project is an Urban Farm, Food Justice and Community Building project in the South Ward of Newark. We are dedicated to providing community food access and increasing educational and economic opportunities for local residents. We provide fresh and healthy foods to the local community of Newark's South Ward and work to empower residents to take control of their local food system and health. The farm and community center is open to all local residents and visitors as a place to relax or volunteer. Participation in all our events is welcome and we invite all local residents and members of local schools and universities to get involved. We have regular volunteer and open gardening days, as well as harvest and shared community meals. Starting in fall the site will also offer community nutrition and cooking courses, as well as information on food justice and empowerment. The site was generously donated by First Tabernacle to the local community and schools as a place of learning, environmental sustainability, and for the production of local fresh foods. The project is run as a partnership between the non-profit Planting Seeds of Hope, Amplify consulting, the First Tabernacle team, and local residents! We partner with both local schools, Peshine Avenue School and TEAM Charter, as well as multiple other city offices, local non-profits and businesses and university teams! Email or FB message us to learn about the Farmer's Market, Volunteering, Enrichment Visits, Events, or Contributions.

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