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Natural Awakenings South Jersey

Our Shared Ground: A small group of thoughtful citizens committed to change

Jul 29, 2013 03:39PM ● By Linda Sechrist

Our Shared Ground, a non-profit organization dedicated to educating people about growing, harvesting, and preparing local, sustainable food, could serve as the proverbial poster child for Margaret Mead’s well used quote—“Never forget that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.” The dream of Executive Director Cynthia Quinton, the organization focuses on children, from nutritionally insecure areas, in southern New Jersey and Philadelphia, and their right to be surrounded by beauty and nature.

A little more than two years ago, Quinton decided to leave her long time position as development director of a local professional symphony orchestra to try something new. Troubled by the amount of urban food deserts and lack of healthy food choices for children in the city of Camden and communities throughout Burlington County, she turned her attention to creating a vehicle for regional nutritional awareness with the intention of influencing economic and social injustices. Much like a Piped Piper with a strong sense of commitment, perfect timing and an important message, Quinton and her dedicated Our Shared Ground staff, have inspired a community of individuals, organizations, institutions and foundations to become involved at two farm sites in Moorestown. The largest plot is located at the Burlington County Community Agriculture Center.

What began as a concept is now a reality thanks to donations of time and talents, finances, in-kind gifts, land, equipment and facilities donated by Domenica Foundation, Jeff Benjamin of the Vetri Foundation for Children, Master Chefs of France International, The Restaurant School at Walnut Hill, Mr. Coles Roberts of Emmors Roberts Orchards (Jersey Jerry Brand Apples), Archer & Greiner, the Burlington County Board of Chosen Freeholder’s, Sea Box Intermodal Concepts, Schmid-Dewland Associates, Burris Construction, DSAR Construction, Wegmans, and Matthew Milan, a renowned architect and environmentally sustainable design specialist who oversaw the deconstruction of the 4,000 square foot Jersey Jerry timber frame barn that Our Shared Ground plans to rebuild at some point in the not-to-distant future. “None of this would be possible without the wonderful generosity of so many people who stepped up to help us,” says Quinton

Our Shared Ground sells produce at the local farmer’s market held at the Burlington County Community Agriculture Center in Moorestown. “Although the money we make from the market doesn’t cover the costs of our children’s programs, having a presence there gives us the opportunity to meet so many people who understand our mission and appreciate what we are doing. We are happy to be able to promote the importance of the market, while encouraging people to support local farmers,” advises Quinton, who plans to raise additional monies through an artisan bread project.

The artisan bread project is a social enterprise that uses a mobile oven built by Turtlerock Masonry in Vermont. It will be under the direction of Donna Wallsin, a local pastry chef who approached Quinton with her dream of having an artisan bread business. “Hopefully, we will be fully operational by the end of July,” says Quinton.

Culinary programs will soon be taught by Chef Olivier Desaintmartin in the new kitchen, which was a combination of munificent acts by Schmid Dewland Associates, who donated the commercial kitchen inside the customized container contributed by Sea Box Intermodal Concepts.

Desaintmartin is a member of the Master Chefs of France, an organization comprised of chefs of an exquisite level of culinary ability. He is also the owner of the Philadelphia restaurants Caribou Café and Zinc. “We are so fortunate to have the endorsement of the Master Chefs of France,” enthuses Quinton, who is excited about the November 14 inaugural Master Chefs of France Fundraiser at the Community House of Mooreston. “It promises to be quite amazing,” enthuses Quinton. 

Of all the things that have come together to serve Our Shared Ground’s curriculum that includes agriculture and culinary adventure programs on their sustainable teaching farm, it is the children that make Quinton’s heart sing. “They are so eager and enthusiastic to learn. One day they are turning up their noses at the idea of eating leaves, the next day they are eating bunches of basil leaves and begging for more. They know that they can sample things on the farm because we don’t use any chemicals and plant only organic seed. The kids get excited at the idea of taking home a bag of produce to make a salad. For them, it’s all very special, and that’s what we are all about—surrounding children with beauty and making them feel safe and special,” says Quinton.

For more information, visit OurSharedGround.blogspot.com or call 856-229-3282.

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