That abandoned building you pass daily can turn into a food co-op, or the parking lot covered by weeds down the street can be transformed into a site for a weekly farmer's market, if folks take advantage of a grant program that has an application period running for the next several weeks.

The New Jersey Economic Development Authority on Sept. 27 opened the application process for a competitive program that will eventually distribute grants ranging from $75,000 to $125,000.

Up to 20 grants will be distributed to county and local governments, or redevelopment agencies, in New Jersey's designated food desert communities, that come up with a way to "leverage distressed assets" in order to improve food access and food security.

"Like an overgrown parking lot, or a vacant building," said Tara Colton, executive vice president for economic security at NJEDA. "Is there a vacant field that no one is using, that people have long clamored to turn into a garden?"

The deadline for applications is Nov. 25. All applications will be reviewed after the application period has closed.

The NJEDA is hosting two information sessions for potential applicants:

  • Monday, Oct. 3, 2 p.m. to 3 p.m. Use this link to register.
  • Thursday, Oct. 13, 11 a.m. to 12 p.m. Use this link to register.

NJEDA released its official list of 50 food desert communities in February, based on income, poverty level, health attributes, safety, walkability, and availability of a nearby supermarket. The communities will eventually share up to $240 million in funding over a handful of years.

"We're building out a number of programs and finalizing the regulations that will govern the larger pool of funding that we'll have available, to be able to roll out a number of initiatives," Colton said.

The food desert list includes parts of 57 municipalities and touches every New Jersey county. Approximately 1 million New Jersey residents live in an NJEDA-designated food desert community.

Food desert community list (ranked by EDA in order of calculated need)

* indicates the entire municipality is being proposed

1. North, Central and South Camden/Woodlynne (Camden)
Atlantic City/Ventnor (Atlantic)
Newark South (Essex)
Newark West (Essex)
Camden East/Pennsauken (Camden)
Trenton West (Mercer)
Newark North and Central (Essex)
Newark East (Central)
Salem City (Salem)
Passaic City (Passaic)
Trenton East (Mercer)
Bridgeton/Fairfield Twp/Lawrence Twp* (Cumberland)
Paterson South (Passaic)
New Brunswick (Middlesex)

Paterson North (Passaic)
Irvington Township (Essex)
Asbury Park (Monmouth)
Jersey City South (Hudson)
East Orange (Essex)
Penns Grove*/Carneys Point* (Salem)
Elizabeth (Union)
Orange/West Orange/Montclair (Essex)
Jersey City Central (Hudson)
Perth Amboy (Middlesex)
Lindenwold/Clementon (Camden)
Plainfield (Union)
Pleasantville/Absecon (Atlantic)
Red Bank (Monmouth)
Lakewood North (Ocean)
Jersey City North (Hudson
Woodbine Borough* (Cape May)
Long Branch (Monmouth)
Millville/Commercial Twp.* (Cumberland)
Prospect Park/Haledon/Hawthorne (Passaic)
Keansburg (Monmouth)
Paulsboro (Gloucester)
Lakewood South (Ocean)
North Bergen/West New York/Guttenberg (Hudson)
Fairview Borough (Bergen)
Egg Harbor City* (Atlantic)
Burlington City (Burlington)
Linden/Roselle (Union)
Vineland City (Cumberland)
Phillipsburg (Warren)
Bayonne (Hudson)
Bound Brook (Somerset)
Union City (Hudson)
High Bridge Borough (Hunterdon)
Montague Township* (Sussex)

Dino Flammia is a reporter for New Jersey 101.5. You can reach him at

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