Building inclusive healthy communities, one garden at a time

Building inclusive healthy communities, one garden at a time

A community garden in Glassboro incorporates inclusive gardening principles.

Community gardens are meant to benefit their neighbors, but few are intentionally designed to welcome all gardeners, no matter their abilities. 

To fill the gap, a new project led by Rowan University is underway in South Jersey to create or renovate seven community gardens to make them more inclusive and accessible to people with disabilities.  

The community gardening project is part of a larger initiative to help communities become more inclusive and welcoming to individuals of all ability levels, including those with intellectual and developmental disabilities, through a variety of projects. Funded by the Division of Disability Services, New Jersey Department of Human Services, the $250,000 Inclusive Healthy Communities grant was awarded to the partner organizations of the Family Resource Network, Rowan University and Stockton University. 

Sonya Harris, master gardener and founder of the Bullock Garden Project in Glassboro, is lending her expertise to design the inclusive gardens in partnership with Backyard Gardens, LLC, led by owners Alex Seidel and Brian Pearsall. 

Inclusive design principles include ensuring wheelchair access to all parts of the garden, adding Braille and pictures to the text on signs, and creating peaceful spaces without excessive sensory stimuli, such as noisy windchimes and spinning objects. 

“Gardening is a wonderful way to introduce people to trying and enjoying fresh foods.  It also brings communities together around a healthy activity in a way that is fun for people of all ages and abilities,” said project director Dr. Leslie Spencer, Rowan University professor of health and exercise science. 

As of April 1, the partner gardens include: 

Atlantic County:

  • Communities Revolutionizing Open Public Spaces (C.R.O.P.S.) N.J., Atlantic City

Camden County:

  • Branch Village (Parkside Business and Community in Partnership), City of Camden
  • Kroc Center, City of Camden
  • Cooper Sprouts, City of Camden

Gloucester County:

  • Glassboro Community Gardens, Glassboro
  • Williamstown Organic Community Garden “Sustainable Monroe Township,” Williamstown

The initiative was funded (or funded in part) by an Inclusive Healthy Communities Grant from the Division of Disability Services, New Jersey Department of Human Services.