The Camden City Garden Club celebrated the harvest with a feast prepared from the produce of its more than 120 community gardens. On the menu were grilled green beans, squash, peppers and onions. There was a pasta pesto salad spiced with basil grown in Camden. There was a salad made with home-grown purple potatoes and a big bowl of fresh, home-grown lettuce.
This bounty was made possible by the youth staff of Camden Children’s Garden, 17 young people drawn from Camden’s high schools and technical schools, who toiled in the earth all summer and cheerfully served up the fruits of their labors.
The Youth Employment and Job Training Program of the Camden Children’s Garden has many goals, said Jeff Clarke, who joined the Garden’s staff in 1999. Chief among them is to get the kids through high school. In a city with a 60 to 70 percent drop-out rate, this is a major concern, Clarke said. But the benefits extend beyond school and work.
Vidal Rivera, 21, joined the program five years ago at the encouragement of his boxing coach. Now he’s part of the full-time staff and mentors others. The experience helped him overcome his shyness and present a better face to the world, he said. It also taught him a healthier way of eating and brought him closer to his mother and grandmother, who live in South Camden.
“My mother loves it, that I’m doing something positive,” he said.
A two-time state Golden Glove champion, Rivera said he hopes to have a career in boxing, but if that doesn’t work out, “I could see me opening a landscaping business,” he said.