Greetings from Dean Buttacavoli, New CFET Urban Farmer/Educator

I was asked by Mark Doorley, our Board President, to write a few words about myself and to talk about how I came to be working with CFET helping to bring environmental and food justice awareness to the WaterFront South Community and to the greater city of Camden.

So as I think about the series of life events which have brought me here, I feel as if I should go back to the time when I was just 15 or 16 years old. Around the same age as our EcoInterns and Assistant Farmers who help run our city farms and orchards. And while I was only in my early years of high school, I had big dreams and was constantly thinking about the way I wanted my life to unfold.

At that age, I was watching wildlife documentaries and nature shows such as Steve Irwin’s the Crocodile Hunter and the Jeff Corwin Experience. I found myself daydreaming about traveling to far off places around the world, exploring the planet’s most exotic wildlands. I began placing my identity in these TV shows and started telling people that I wanted to go to college to become a wildlife conservationist. On Saturdays, I would volunteer my time at a local seaside aquarium in Point Pleasant, NJ to gain experience in the field.

As I started learning more about wildlife, I quickly began to realize that there was a single commonality connecting our planet’s most magnificent lifeforms. Almost all of them were facing the serious and imminent threat of extinction. Whether from human encroachment and habitat loss or from shifting global weather patterns caused by global warming, the future of our planet’s wildlife was insecure. This was the first time that I started to grasp just how adversely us humans were affecting the natural world in which we lived.

When I went to college, I took up a major in Environmental Studies and starting taking classes discussing these problems. During my freshman year, I took one class in particular which steered me away from the topic of wildlife conservation and focused my attention to our current global food system. The course shed light on the many ways in which our food system was compromising the health and vitality of both our natural and human communities. Every time that I stepped foot into that classroom I felt that I had an “Ah hah” moment of clarity. A real eye opening experience. I realized that if I wanted to be a vehicle of change within the world that I lived, if I wanted to be a true “champion” of nature,  all I had to do was plant a couple tomato plants. Through gardening, I felt that I could directly reverse the ever threatening trends of global warming, habitat loss and pollution while also fighting human dietary illnesses, such as obesity and diabetes. The solution was just too easy and too delicious to pass up. And so that was what I did, I went home and planted a vegetable garden.

Throughout the next few years of school, I took part in everything gardening. I attended educational gardening workshops, backyard harvest potlucks, volunteered in the student community gardens on campus, and even helped neighbors to build chicken coops, hoop houses and cold frames. As I embedded myself deeper into the local food scene, I soon realized the powerful role that food was playing within my community. Food had this amazing unifying effect over city residents, helping them to set aside their own personal differences and bringing them together to work toward a single common good. Through growing food, a community could meet and satisfy their own needs while relinquishing their dependence on a system which corrupts the very life lines supporting their own well-being and existence.

And so now I find myself as an Urban Farmer here in Camden helping to build upon the tremendous efforts preceding me.  I hope to rebuild this community with food as the tool of my choice. It’s time to get others excited about growing healthy food. It’s time to show community residents and young people just how easy and satisfying it is to maintain a vegetable patch from seed to harvest. I want people to feel empowered when they pick up a shovel or a packet of pumpkin seeds. All of us should feel confident in our ability to provide for our family, friends and neighbors. Let us unify the WaterFront South Community around something we all love, Good Food!