By ERIN ROLL
There is a new project taking root on Pine Street.
With the closing of the Pathmark grocery store in Lackawanna Plaza, many nearby residents were concerned about the neighborhood having a local source of healthy, affordable food.
Mary See is the owner of the 73 See Gallery, at 73 Pine St. In response to the Pathmark closing, she worked with other residents and business owners in the area to establish the Pine Street Community Garden.
The garden consists of a series of raised beds and planter boxes near the gallery and around the neighborhood. To help expand the garden, the group has applied for a grant from the organic food company Seeds of Change, which awards grants annually to school and community gardens. The 50 applicants that receive the most votes will be announced on April 24, and the grant recipients will be announced on May 8.
“When Pathmark closed, my neighborhood has been struggling with groceries,” See said. “It was a really symbolic thing, that we didn’t have access to a grocery store.
“I think that the town is unaware of the pressure it’s been putting on people, not being able to walk to a grocery store,” she said.
For many households, who may not have access to a car, a trip to the grocery store often requires public transportation, which poses additional complications, See said.
“You can take a bus or a train to Foodtown in Bloomfield,” she said.
For customers who spend $25 or more, the store’s owner will arrange for a ride home if the customer needs it. But for other grocery stores, it gets more difficult, usually involving a taxi trip or a bus ride. “And you can only carry what you can carry, because you can’t take a grocery cart on the bus.”
If someone runs out of something during the middle of the week, See said, their only options are the CVS or local convenience stores.
According to data from the United Way of Northern New Jersey, about 23 percent of households in Montclair are either below the poverty level or are classified as ALICE households: Asset Limited, Income Constrained, Employed.
Stephanie Hoopes is the director of the United Way’s ALICE program.
“Having enough food is a basic challenge for ALICE and poverty-level households. In 2015, the food budget for the Household Survival Budget is $612 per month for a family of four in Essex County (based on the USDA Thrifty Food Plan, the most minimal of the USDA’s four food plans and requires skill and time for cooking and shopping),” she said in an email on Monday.
“In Montclair, 23 percent of households do not earn enough to afford even this basic budget. And the Consumer Expenditure Survey (CES) estimates that a family actually spends $924 on average per month on food.”
The Pathmark in Lackawanna Plaza closed in November 2015, after A&P, its parent company, declared bankruptcy.
In the garden’s first season, See remembers, they grew items like cucumber, dill and garlic, and used them to make pickles.
All of the neighborhood children were involved in the garden’s first season, she said. And in the garden’s profile on the Seeds of Change website, it is noted that the garden was also used as a small park by the community, and as a venue for special events and small concerts.
See said the next step is to install the framework for a vertical garden, in which plants and vegetables are grown from containers on a climbing frame rather than on the ground.