CAMDEN - Residents of Branch and Ablett Villages, two Camden housing communities, got a firsthand view of the meaning - and value - of Jersey Fresh.

From July 6 through Thanksgiving, the residents were treated to thousands of pounds of New Jersey-grown vegetables and fruit through a joint effort by nurse-practitioner Kathy Jackson, Farmers Against Hunger, and the Housing Authority of the City of Camden.

Jackson, an assistant professor at the Rutgers School of Nursing-Camden, has a continuing community health project aimed at helping Camden families live healthier lifestyles.

"The goal for this project was to get fresh produce into low-income communities in Camden," said Jackson, whose research focuses on community engagement and health in communities in need.

"In speaking with the residents, I've learned that they want fresh produce, but these are areas where access to fresh produce is difficult, and it's costly," Jackson said.

The food delivered to the communities was seasonal produce such as tomatoes, watermelon, squash, corn, and eggplant in the summer, and peppers, squash, white potatoes, greens, and apples in the fall.

Jackson said the families reacted positively to the delivered produce, while at the same time Rutgers got to advance its civic engagement goals.

"Now I want to build on it," Jackson said. "I'd love to work to establish some cooking classes, get students and community partners involved to educate the residents about healthy foods; and even get residents involved with gleaning their own produce.

"By working in partnership with the communities, we can find a way to better meet needs and provide resources to make the healthier choice the easy choice." - Rita Giordano