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Jersey City Aims To Promote Healthy Eating With Vertical Gardens

JERSEY CITY, N.J. (CBSNewYork) - A new initiative in Jersey City, N.J. is trying to sow the seeds of good health.

CBS2's Vanessa Murdock reports the city's vertical farming program is the first of its kind in the U.S.

Mayor Steven Fulop told Murdock the program is part of ongoing efforts to improve food access and diets.

He says it's also a response to the coronavirus - while others programs had to go due to budget cuts, this was deemed important enough to keep.

"What we've seen in the last couple of months through the coronavirus is that vulnerable communities are people that have high blood pressure, heart disease, obesity, diabetes, largely related to diet and food access," said Fulop.

Jersey City will have a total of 10 vertical gardens at places like public schools, public housing complexes and senior centers.

City Hall and other municipal buildings will host them, too.

The gardens will be tended to by city employees and AeroFarms, the program partner.

"Our AeroFarms project is able to provide 20,000 pounds of greens annually," said Stacey Flanagan, director of health and human services for Jersey City.

That's roughly 100,000 servings, according to Flanagan.

"Our goal is to provide as much nutrition education in a way that would incentivize people to keep coming back," she said.

Those who want to get their hands on the greens will not have to pay cash, but they will be asked to take part in healthy eating workshops and health screenings.

"It's a shared responsibility," said Fulop. "The city's going to take it upon itself to provide the food and provide the education. But it also takes it upon the residents to change their habits and learn a little bit about what that means for their body."

The program costs $1 million over three years; Jersey City will foot the bill.

It's also a partnership with the World Economic Forum, which selected Jersey City as a partner in their Healthy Cities and Communities initiatives.

On Thursday, the mayor said construction should start within the next few weeks.

He expects the first harvest in September.

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