MORRISTOWN, NJ - Though we are still in lockdown, it doesn't mean we can’t go outside to tend the garden. On October 20, at the Lafayette Learning Center Preschool, members and employees of the Grow It Morristown assembled at The Urban Farm for a special occasion.

Grow It Green Morristown is a non-profit organization that creates sustainable farms and gardens, and educates local communities on healthy eating and environmental stewardship. Food that is grown in their farms and garden are also donated to needy families.

At the Lafayette Learning Center, there is The Urban Farm, first established in 2011, where students of all grades in the Morris School District attend to learn sustainability and how to support their community through vegetable growing.

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The Urban Farm contains one acre of variety of produce, including romaine lettuce, string peas, cherry tomatoes, bell peppers, bok choy, broccoli, rosemary, blueberries, radishes, cabbage, squash, cucumbers, and eggplants. The area also has a chicken coop, which is all maintained by Grow It Green employees.

“It’s great to have the community support to fulfill our mission,” said Shaun Ananko, a Morristown resident who works as the director of agriculture and education. “Overall, it helps with production of our produce that goes to local food pantries and soup kitchens.”

Ananko has worked with Grow It Green for 10 years, with many volunteers, including student interns from Morristown High School, such as 16-year-old junior Cindy Perez.

“I’m really proud to do this. The Urban Farm helps a lot of people through food donations. At first, I thought it would be hard to maintain, but I’ve learned a lot since, like how to grow and harvest vegetables.”

But last Tuesday, Grow It Green received a donation of $2,200 from The Morris Muses: Morris County Women, a group of entrepreneurs, artists, and friends that work together to supports local charities. Recently on October 7th, Morris Muses held their annual Fashion for HOPE at Fig & Lily Garden, where an organization is selected to receive donations from the event. This year, Grow It Green was selected.

“One of the Morris Muses is Sam Rothman of Fairview Flowers, one of the three women who were the founders of nonprofit, Grow It Green Morristown,” said Lisa Alexander, executive director of Grow It Green

“She was determined to convert a local junkyard slated for development into an incredible, environmentally sustainable community garden on Early Street, and rallied the town to make it happen. The garden has grown to 94 plots where residents of all types pay a nominal fee to have a plot for the season at the garden to grow all types of food, flowers, and herbs. A garden is proven to provide mental and physical health benefits so important during this pandemic. At the garden, there are 2 rain gardens, a solar pavilion, bicycle station and apiary all built to be examples of sustainability inspiring others to protect our resources caring for the soil and the water. The residents of the senior center next door enjoy walking the parklet around the garden to see the incredible beauty growing across the fence. Giant sunflowers grow up from beds, looking like guardians of the garden.”

With the new funds, Grow It Green hopes to finish the back of the parklet in the coming year, while also adding an ADA accessible entrance to the parklet’s back to increase access for students walking to Morristown High School, parents walking their children in strollers and seniors living next door. The group also has a set goal of donating 8,000 pounds of fresh produce, exceed last year’s donation of 7,000 pounds.

“The staff of Grow It Green are incredibly grateful to the Morris Muses for seeing what we are doing and choosing to support our mission,” said Alexander. “These creative, strong women work hard with their hands and their hearts, and I am inspired by their willingness to safely hold the Fashion for Hope event in these challenging times. Thank you to the attendees who realize the importance of supporting local businesses and organizations that serve our community, because it truly benefits all of us.”

Later this year, Grow It Green intends to hold their annual Winter Market in early December, continuing to help promote local farmers, ranchers, artisans, and businesses.

For more information on Grow It Green Morristown, visit their website at https://www.growitgreenmorristown.org/, or visit them on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/GrowItGreenMorristown/.