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Updated: Nov 20, 2022

Do you remember when childhood was fun and spent mostly outdoors? I sure do, but much has been lost in the city neighborhoods we loved as kids.

The EC was founded from the perspective of loss—the loss of natural play spaces for healthy child development and the loss of garden space to grow food. A multitude of child health conditions and a reduction, or total absence, of home-grown food is the result of these losses and the status quo we seek to change. Playtime, family health, and quality of life can be much improved by restoring what was lost in city neighborhoods. How can I be so sure? Besides the numerous studies done over the past 20+ years that support the need for our work, the passion is personal.

I was born and raised in Elizabeth, a few blocks away from the EC and I still reside nearby. While growing up, my family was your basic moderate, one-income, city family of five that lived on the second floor of a two-family house. Yet, I had a blast playing outdoors as a child and never lacked anything. I had access to green spaces on my block, trees to climb, seeds and rocks to collect, and piles of leaves in autumn. There were fresh vegetables to pick from the garden all summer long and (I confess) peaches, apples, and cherries to pilfer from neighbors’ fruit trees. These same neighbors also grew flowers in their front yards and knew all the kids on the block by name, and who our parents were if we got totally out of line.

Over the years I have watched lifestyles change as backyards became smaller and smaller, soil became cement, and children were deprived of natural play, growing restless and angry, while conditions like ADHD increased. Nature deprivation has had a far greater impact than we could have imagined years ago when outdoor play and food gardening were taken for granted. Without daily interaction with nature, the spontaneous learning and experimentation so instinctive and satisfying to children disappears. Some kids don’t know what they are missing, or have missed, and others are very resourceful. I have witnessed city children seek out soil and plants wherever they can find them for hands-on fun, including the large planter box on the square that held the annual Christmas tree. Talk about desperate! While there are other forms of play in our present world of tech and entertainment, child development without interaction with natural elements is not normal or healthy. There, I’ve said it. It’s not normal. Let’s do something about it.


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