A year ago, Cherry Hill native Karen Wislocky founded a branch of the national movement Food is Free in Camden County as a way to both give back to the community and offer some of her own produce.
While down a team member this year, Wislocky continues to provide free food in the county for those in need at a stand outside her Haddon Heights home. Her front yard has become a small hub where other gardeners can also give away their tomatoes, green beans, lettuce and herbs.
Wislocky got into gardening in 2014 after moving to Wisconsin, where she became involved with community supported agriculture. The program enabled her to receive in-season produce from local farmers on a weekly basis, and she started her own garden growing Jersey tomatoes.
Gardening was therapeutic for Wislocky as she endured difficult times in her personal life. When she moved back to New Jersey in 2019, she took her skills with her.
“I was gardening a ton and had all this excess produce that I didn’t know how to get rid of,” she recalled. “I gave everything I could to friends and family and I still had more. … It became like, I don’t want to put another tomato in the compost bin, I want to put it on the table of somebody who actually really needs it, and even if they don’t need it, someone who will appreciate it.’”
It was while she was giving food away that Wislocky learned about the Food is Free movement, started by Texan John VanDeusen Edwards in 2012 to promote front-yard gardens that provide produce for the entire neighborhood.
“It ended up being like a Little Free Library of vegetables, where the whole neighborhood was growing things and were harvesting food together,” Wislocky explained.
She soon noticed there were no branches in New Jersey or Camden County, so she started one. But while her mission was to provide for people experiencing food insecurity, Wislocky acknowledged there were limits to what she could do by herself.
“There’s a bigger need here than just the occasional tomato,” she noted.
Transportation can be a barrier for the people receiving food, according to Wislocky. And another hurdle is getting the word out that her stand is available.
“If you’re working two jobs and have kids, you’re not hanging out scrolling on social media,” she offered. “You just don’t have time for that, and that’s predominately the way (I get the word out).”
Wislocky hopes free produce stands will become more common and that more people will get involved with the Food is Free organization.
“The ideal model would be maybe not having everyone have their own site in the front of the house like the original idea in Texas, but to have anyone who doesn’t have access or the financial wherewithal to offer their family fresh produce have a place within our county where they can get it for free,” she said.
To see what’s currently on the shelves of Food is Free Camden County, visit https://www.facebook.com/FoodisfreeCCNJ. To get involved, email firstname.lastname@example.org.