Camden County Freeholder Michelle Gentek has been named Sustainable New Jersey’s May Hero. She was recognized for leading the effort to get all 37 municipalities in Camden County registered with Sustainable Jersey, greatly expanding the county’s sustainability efforts and increasing environmental education.
“I am honored to receive this distinction,” said Gentek, liaison to Sustainable Camden County. “I invite all Camden County residents to join me in making a commitment to a more sustainable Camden County and greener practices for the future.”
Gentek is spearheading the creation of the Camden County Environmental Park that is transforming an eight-acre site at the county’s Lakeland Campus in Blackwood into a hub for community gardening and environmental education.
At the site, a series of greenhouses that had sat vacant for several years have been invigorated filled with plants. They will host classes in collaboration with the Rutgers Master Gardeners program on topics such as what ornamental plants are best to grow in this region, how to grow and maintain a vegetable garden and how to integrate pest management (IPM) techniques into your garden. The Environmental Park also contains a Sensory Garden, a tool library and the Camden County BikeShare program.
“The county has completed transformational projects over the last two years that are leading the way in sustainability throughout the state,” Gentek said. “Whether it’s utilizing our greenhouses to grow our own flowers for the park system or installing solar fields at the CCMUA, we are progressively moving forward.”
In the future, she will establish the first certified outdoor classroom in South Jersey and a Christmas tree farm, where residents can ‘rent’ a tree during the holidays and return it to be replanted, thus reducing the waste of cutting a tree that might end up in a landfill. Furthermore, Gentek has worked with the board to facilitate significant energy efficiency upgrades in buildings throughout the county and introduced an LED lighting initiative that is saving taxpayers’ money while reducing the county’s carbon footprint.
Sustainable Jersey is a certification program for municipalities and K-12 schools that began in 2009. They already have over 75 percent of the 565 municipalities in the state participating in the program.