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PROJECT PROFILE: Three-County Collaborative on Inclusive Community Gardens and Cooking with Fresh Produce

The purpose of this collaborative learning project is to further the goal of making community resources and spaces welcoming to people of all ability levels through changes to systems, environments, and policies. This collaboration brought together active participants and leaders in a project during the 2021 calendar year (funded by the NJ Division of Disability Services) that resulted in the creation of seven inclusive community gardens, five group home gardens, and a series of cooking classes for people with disabilities.

Project Director: Leslie Spencer (Rowan University)

Project Team: Dara LoBuono & Mahbubur Meenar (Rowan University), Jenna Bottiglieri (Family Resource Network), Jonathan Wetstein (PBCIP and Roots to Prevention), Paige Vaccaro, Edward Sarmiento, & Alicia Newcomb (C.R.O.P.S. NJ), Sonya Harris (Bullock Garden Project), Brian Pearsall & Alex Seidel (Backyard Gardens LLC),  Maddie Booth (Vetri Community Partners), Charlotte & Kim Borgersen (person with a disability and caregiver who participated in the inclusive garden project)

This project was funded by Healthy Places By Design through the NJ Health Initiatives in 2022.

Photos captured from the collaborative event, Rowan University, May 2022


Participating organizations and individuals represent three counties in southern NJ: Camden, Gloucester, and Atlantic. Each of these organizations has already committed to this work through in-kind contributions, and financial contributions, and these organizations include the following: 

  • Rowan University faculty who directed the project, one of whom directed the creation of cooking classes

  • Parkside Business and Community in Partnership (City of Camden), facilitator of community gardens

  • Roots to Prevention (City of Camden), facilitator of urban agriculture as a means of increased produce consumption and income enhancement

  • Bullock Garden Project (Glassboro), facilitator of community and home gardens

  • C.R.O.P.S. NJ (Atlantic City area), facilitator of community garden groups and construction of gardens

  • Backyard Gardens, LLC (Burlington), a small garden construction business that designed and built four inclusive gardens for this project

  • Vetri Community Partnership (Philadelphia-based, serves Camden), a non-profit organization with a mission to improve nutrition and health  through cooking

  • Engineers without Borders, Rowan Chapter student club donated time, labor, and materials to build a wheelchair ramp to a garden; plan to offer a service project each semester

  • Borgersen family (Williamstown), family with young adult children who have disabilities, participants in the inclusive community garden project


Each of these organizations and individuals contributed to the just-completed project of creating inclusive community gardens and cooking classes for people with disabilities. Each has learned how to better serve the disability community, but there has not been an opportunity to bring all of these groups together so that they can learn from each other and together make plans for the continuation of this important work. This learning collaborative serves as a bridge to future grant-funded projects to improve the ways in which each organization is practicing inclusivity of people with disabilities and to expand the reach of this work to include more partner organizations in more counties in NJ.


To learn more about this project and how you might become involved, contact Dr. Leslie Spencer at



Together, the collaborative created a comprehensive PPT slide presentation and a written report of what we learned from this collaborative experience.

You may access the PPT here.  You may access the summary report here

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Projects Completed by the Team, 2020-2022

Inclusive community gardens

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Group home gardens


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Cooking classes at group homes


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Reflections + Lessons Learned

Group home cooking classes - Rowan University

"Group home staff are essential for success, but it can be hard to effectively engage them. Participating staff and residents are very interested in cooking and eating healthier foods. Adaptive utensils can enhance the experience and engagement for residents."

Dara LoBuono, PhD, RDN

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"We recognize the need to engage group home staff to make sure the garden is maintained, watered, and harvested. We also learned that we need to build barriers to prevent animals from eating the produce. Active and engaged community garden partners are essential. Leveraging funds and resources from other sources allowed us to build more features into the gardens."

Jenna Bottiglieri

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Group home gardens & community gardens - Rowan University

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Inclusive garden design - Backyard Gardens

"This project was an incredible opportunity for us both personally and professionally to expand on our work as garden designers to create spaces that are considerate of everyone in the community and in particular those who experience limitations that may otherwise feel left out. Through our professional work, we’re lucky enough to see the peace and satisfaction gardening and sustainable food production can bring to individuals and families. We have been fortunate enough to work alongside so many motivating leaders in expanding that reach to communities that give an opportunity for everyone to participate and share in those benefits."

Brian Pearsall & Alex Seidel

Community experiential learning - Bullock Garden Project

"We are committed to inclusivity in all aspects of our work. We believe that community gardens should be accessible and inviting spaces for everyone in the community."

Sonya Harris

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Building a local food economy - RTP, CUAC, & PBCIP

"Through this project, a new community garden was built for the Branch Village affordable housing community and the Parkside History Garden was renovated to become an ADA accessible space. The community engagement and enthusiasm around these projects was strong."

Jonathan Wetstein & Travis Spotts

IDD gardens - C.R.O.P.S.

"These spaces are very important from a nutritional perspective, a mental health perspective, and a social perspective."

Alicia Newcomb & Erika Quarton


Williamstown community garden

"The butterfly/pollinator garden is fun to watch, it makes us happy, reduces stress, and allows us to observe and enjoy nature. It is cool watching the caterpillars grow and transform into butterflies."

Charlotte & Kim Borgersen

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