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Farm Offers Jobs, Produce, and Hope

“Gardening is always such a hopeful act,” says Lisa Bagwell, manager of Kula Urban Farm, a project of the social-services nonprofit Interfaith Neighbors, which serves Monmouth County, NJ Sprawling across formerly abandoned lots in Asbury Park, the farm offers a jobs program, educational opportunities, and free produce to the local community.

One of its defining features is the lack of fencing: Bagwell and her colleagues call it the Farm Without Borders. Anyone is welcome to harvest from the plot — and there’s plenty to choose from. The farm grows okra, tomatoes, zucchini, collard greens, strawberries, and more. Far from inviting competition and chaos, the borderless farm has sown community. “It goes to show that you can have a big garden and not have it vandalized,” Bagwell says.

Jobseekers can find temporary stints on the farm, too. “It’s easier to get a job when you have a job,” Bagwell says. “We try to hire people that really face barriers to employment — maybe they’ve been formerly incarcerated, they don’t have their papers together — people that really need a hand.”

Temporary farmhands help maintain the farm’s greenhouse, planting and harvesting kale, endive, salad greens, and herbs to be sold to local restaurants. Produce sales bring in some cash for the nonprofit, but Bagwell says grants provide the most support. In 2021, the farm was awarded a $100,000 grant from the Gannett Foundation, some of which will fund the construction of an outdoor classroom. The farm currently hosts school groups and presents community educational programs on topics such as composting and organic gardening, and it will offer events at its covered outdoor classroom in the future.

“Gardening is the easiest way to solve a problem and create a space for education,” Bagwell says. “There’s just so many benefits of it, and it’s so easy.”

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