A group of Camden teens has come up with one solution to the city's small number of healthy food sources: an urban farm in the heart of downtown, complete with small vegetable gardens and planters.

In designing the project, four LEAP Academy Charter School students teamed up with students from Rutgers-Camden and several of its professors. The resulting proposal depicts hanging gardens and soil beds to be installed along Cooper Street, in front of the buildings that make up LEAP's downtown campus.

The project was part of a student competition organized by the School of Public Affairs and Administration at Rutgers-Newark, which this year hosted its first social justice challenge.

This week, the project submitted by LEAP's students was awarded $5,000 toward bringing the concept to life in the coming year.

Bielka Gonzalez, 15, one of the students who worked on the project, said she and others wanted to add green space to the city.

"Camden isn't that pretty on the surface when you look at it," she said. "We came up with the idea of exposing its inner beauty with a community project."

The proposal is also aimed at addressing the dearth of fresh food in Camden, which in recent years was classified as a food desert because of a shortage of full-service grocery stores.

The LEAP students team developed the plan using the school's fabrication laboratory, where students used a 3-D printer and a laser cutter, Gonzalez said. They also included plans for utilizing water sources like rain barrels.

Once the project is installed, she said, it will be up to the students at LEAP and Rutgers, and even residents of the surrounding neighborhood, to maintain it.

"I don't think that will be too hard, though," she said. "Everyone loves to look at plants. I think the community will really want to engage with it."


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