Rowan University received funding from the NJ Department of Disability Services to increase inclusivity of individuals with disabilities within communities, particularly within healthy settings such as community gardens. Rowan University is currently working with seven community gardens within Southern New Jersey, including Atlantic, Gloucester, and Camden counties.
One of the participating community gardens within Gloucester County is in Glassboro, New Jersey, right near Rowan University’s campus. All four of the all-abilities plots were purchased by individuals with a range of abilities and backgrounds. Mrs. Alaedia DiColli, a Special Education teacher at Glassboro High School, purchased 2 all-abilities plots at the Glassboro Community Garden for her students to grow fresh fruits, vegetables, herbs, and flowers. The students have also been attending the Get FIT @ Rowan Program at Rowan University for years, which is directed by Dr. Leslie Spencer, who also directs the Inclusive Community Garden project. The Get FIT @ Rowan Program is a fitness program for individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities, who receive one-on-one fitness training by Rowan students and staff members who are trained for this role.
The Principal Investigator of the project, Dr. Leslie Spencer, and the Graduate Program Coordinator, Jenna Bottiglieri, visited Mrs. DiColli’s classroom and spoke with her students regarding their gardening experiences at the inclusive garden.
The students and Special Education teacher are growing carrots, tomatoes, cucumbers, pumpkins, romaine lettuce, chocolate mint, cilantro, green beans, flowers, and peppers. The students were already able to bring home romaine lettuce and the chocolate mint. Students made salads at home with their lettuce from the garden, as well as smoothies using the chocolate mint. The students look forward to roasting pumpkin seeds and carving Jack-O-Lanterns in the fall from their pumpkins in the garden, and trying new vegetables they have never eaten before, such as cucumbers and green beans.
“I have never grown vegetables before,” student Victoria told us. “I was very proud of how the romaine lettuce turned out. It was crunchy and fresh.” Another student told us how excited she was to pick carrots from the garden to feed to her sister’s pet rabbit. Once the school year comes to an end, students have signed up to be responsible for harvesting, watering, and attending to the garden throughout the summer until school resumes in the Fall.
The connection between the students bettering their health physically at Get FIT @ Rowan and bettering their diet and lifestyle by gardening as a class is truly inspiring.
The Rowan team also had the pleasure of meeting another plot-owner, William (Bill) Reitter. Bill is 80 years old, an avid gardener, and resides with his wife, Brenda, in Glassboro. Bill has already picked and has eaten many of his plants, including zucchini, lettuce, sugar snap peas and peppers. He donates his produce to local food banks and to his neighbors. He has grandkids who will join him in gardening as well.
“The best part [of being a member of the Glassboro Community Garden] is the people. I come here for the people, to learn more, talk, and share. I think it’s great you have combined with the town to be more educational, and put a focus on health.” Bill told us.
The Glassboro Community Garden will continue to bloom in not only beautiful plants and produce, but inclusivity towards individuals with disabilities. Visit the Glassboro Community Garden website at: https://www.glassboro.org/community-garden.