Building Community |Sustainable food purchasing in Weehawken, NJ

By Claudia Gutierrez

The Township of Weehawken, New Jersey is “luckily” geographically situated!  It is a short distance, by way of Lincoln Tunnel, to the Big Apple. Weehawken has a population of about 14,000. Historically, Weehawken has been a town of working class people who held jobs mostly associated with the nearby Hudson River. Recently Weehawken has experienced an influx of people who desire its proximity to New York City, a very small school system (~1,200 students) and an urban, yet somewhat suburban feeling. Not to mention its river front parks and views of the Hudson and NYC.

We moved to Weehawken in 2004.  Through the schools and local parks we met a bunch of native and non-native “weehawkenites,” who brought fresh ideas to the town and began a close community oriented neighborhood. Here are a few things that we have done:

First, one of our neighbors/friends began “the milk club.” The milk club first consisted of a handful of families. You ask what is a milk club? It consists of a different family picking up, every two weeks, fresh, organic, free range cow’s raw milk in a reusable container at a sustainable farm in upstate New York.

Second, within the same group, five families (including my own) who are meat eaters began to price out the cost of organic meat and its origin. We then realized that we should embark on a trial base purchase of an entire cow from a local sustainable farm! We began by researching the closest local organic farms. Our research entailed: cost, distance to the farm, cow roaming/grazing and diets. After our successful research in finding a farm, we purchased our first cow in the fall of 2010.  Subsequently, we purchased a pig; and soon after, some families also began sharing a lamb.

Last fall another dear friend began the Purple Dragon Cooperative. This is a cooperative that focuses on fresh organic produce delivery. Families who are part of the co-op share fresh organic produce every two weeks. Purple Dragon buys from local organic farms, ecological farms and they work closely with them to support their efforts to grow food in an ecologically sustainable sound manner.

It doesn’t take much to begin investing in any of the above mentioned. It just takes one person initiating the conversation. For us, many of the planning happened at our parks and our schools, just a few parents chatting about how to feed our children better! I do agree that planning for the next milk and egg pick up, and when is  the next cow coming and waiting for my winter kale (actually in the winter) requires a little bit of more thought and work.  Still it is extremely rewarding to know where your food is coming from.

About the Author: Claudia Gutierrez is currently a Senior Advisor on Caribbean issues for the Regional Administrator since 2010. In this capacity, Claudia is working on different partnerships, including the White House Puerto Rico Task Force on Status and the Vieques Sustainability Task Force.

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