Kathleen Jackson, a family nurse practitioner


Kathleen Jackson, a family nurse practitioner, helped to bring 22,350 pounds of fresh produce to Ablett and Branch villages, two lower-income housing communities in Camden. She plans to continue the produce program this year.

Sweet corn. Juicy tomatoes and watermelons. Peppers in a rainbow of colors. Cucumbers, potatoes, eggplants, and apples. New Jerseyans generally enjoy a bounty of fruits and vegetables grown in the Garden State, but residents of low-income urban areas aren’t as fortunate. There’s such a dearth of fresh, affordable produce in these neighborhoods that they’ve been termed “food deserts.”

Family nurse practitioner Kathleen Jackson, an assistant professor at the School of Nursing–Camden, wants to change this scenario for residents of Camden, one of the poorest cities in the United States. Last summer she partnered with Farmers Against Hunger and the Housing Authority of the City of Camden to bring 22,350 pounds of fresh produce to Ablett and Branch villages, two lower-income housing communities. The produce program is part of her ongoing community health work in these vulnerable neighborhoods.

“The residents want fresh produce but they have limited resources,” says Jackson GSNB’08, SN’11. “There are few grocery stores in Camden and therefore less access to healthy food. Many residents lack transportation. They shop at  the corner stores where produce choices may  be limited and more costly than at larger  grocery stores.”

To meet this need Jackson tapped into Farmers Against Hunger. This Bordentown-based nonprofit works with farmers throughout the state to deliver unsold or surplus crops to underserved communities. Produce coordinator Brian Strumfels collects the food and makes deliveries. He explains, “There are many reasons why farms might have surplus produce, including unexpectedly large crops, market conditions, or lack of labor. Why let that food go to waste if someone is in need?”

The deliveries to Ablett and Branch villages  began last July and continued through Thanksgiving, with Strumfels CCAS’06  delivering to Ablett one week and Branch the next. When the truck arrived residents immediately came out of their homes carrying shopping bags. “No matter what we brought, everyone was appreciative,” says Strumfels. “That’s rewarding for us, too.”

An estimated 23.5 million Americans live in food deserts, according to data from the United States Department of Agriculture, with nearly half of them having low incomes. “Families have shared their concern about higher levels of obesity, diabetes, heart disease, and other diet-related illnesses and are interested in making healthier food choices,” says Jackson. “We’re working with the communities to make the healthy choice the easy choice.” She plans to continue the produce program this year, expanding it to include nutrition education and cooking classes. “Everyone knows what to do with corn and tomatoes, but some people have never prepared eggplant,” she states.

She adds that the program would not have been successful without the collaboration of community partners. “They place the needs of Camden residents first and foremost.”