Jose German-Gomez is a retired corporate accountant, environmental activist, and master gardener. Even in the smallest of spaces, Jose is able to create lush, verdant green spaces that produce plump, delectable vegetables. After calculating that his own backyard garden produced somewhere in the neighborhood of 700 pounds of produce each year, Jose applied for a Pollination Project seed grant in 2017.
“If I can replicate this success in other families’ backyards, I can help them to alleviate the burden of expensive organic food that these families cannot afford,” he wrote in his application.
Since the time of his original grant application, Jose has created multiple community gardens in his community of Montclair, New Jersey. Each is a marvel of sustainability and space-saving design. For instance, in March of 2020 Jose and his team cleared a raccoon-infested corner of a parking lot near a dumpster. Just six parking spaces in size, the garden delivered 1,000 pounds of fresh organic produce to the local food pantry, Toni’s kitchen, within its first six months of operation.
The secret to his green thumb is in the quality of his soil, which is fertilized with a homegrown “compost tea” containing millions of live microorganisms. Jose uses every available space, including walls and fences, where potatoes and other crops grow in bags, climbing plants scale fences, and honeybees buzz around newly-installed neighborhood hives.
A year ago, in honor of his 64th birthday, Jose created a new project: The Little Free Pantry project, which distributes over 17,000 pounds of food per month. The Little Free Pantry movement is a grassroots crowdsourced solution to immediate local food needs. Whether it’s a need for food or a need to give, mini pantries help feed neighbors, nourishing neighborhoods and building communities. Currently, there are 10 Little Free Pantries, each of which is open 24/7.
Jose’s projects now span multiple counties, mobilize the support of over 500 unpaid volunteers, and have generated partnerships with 19 community organizations.
All told, his work has fed many thousands while planting innumerable seeds of compassion and belonging, proving that small things can be mighty indeed!