Engineering Students Take on Camden’s Food Desert

Plagued with poverty, homelessness and crime, Camden, NJ has occupied a dark corner of the Garden State. Not only does 38 percent of Camden’s population live below the poverty line, the city has repeatedly ranked as the most dangerous in the nation for the past 10 years. To make matters worse, Camden is a food desert—with only one supermarket available to feed its 80,000 residents.

The Engineers without Borders Camden Project is working to counteract this problem by partnering with local farmers to grow fresh produce on abandoned city lots.

“They often build on lots that do not have a water source nearby, so our job is to create a structure that will capture rainwater, store it into a tank, and distribute it,” said Chris Sacaleris, Camden project co-lead and mechanical engineering junior.

Their distribution methods range from fully automated drip irrigation systems to manual hoses, depending on the needs of the farmer. Each system requires a pump, which is powered by a solar panel to make it sustainable for years to come. 

Founded in September 2011, the Camden Project takes on one project each academic year to continuously further its mission of alleviating the city’s food desert.

“The project that is in the works this year is similar to previous years,” said Eshil Patel, the other project co-lead and biomedical engineering senior. “The idea is to have a shed for rain collection and a pump powered by a solar panel. This year, because of the specific demands of the farmer, we have decided to use drip irrigation to allow for an easier and quicker watering.”

The 15-member team consists of students from all disciplines who lead the project from beginning to end. Throughout the process, they gain invaluable skills ranging from project leadership to community engagement.

For mechanical engineering student Keri Rickman, EWB has awakened her interests in philanthropy, sustainability, and accessibility. The Camden project, in particular, has made her more aware of, “health and wealth discrepancies and the impact of fresh, non-processed foods on the mind and body.”

Students not only develop valuable skills, but a sense of community as well.

“Being able to see my skills grow as we contribute to putting in rainwater systems is unbelievable, but the honest gratitude and humanity we are shown from the people of Camden can't be topped,” said Adam Murphy, a mechanical engineering senior who has been with the Camden Project since his first semester at Rutgers.

Interested in getting involved with EWB-USA Rutgers or for more information visit ewb-rutgers.com or email us at ewb.rutgers@gmail.com.