From Trenton, to Camden, to Newark, Clifton, Paterson, and beyond, the Garden State is no stranger to the growing movement of urban farms. So why was I surprised when I found a microgreen farm in East Orange? Where I grew up, in Texas, everyone who farmed had big pieces of land—so that was my point of reference. Until I met Chelsa Hernandez, that is, and heard her story about how Coeur et Sol came to be.
The Road to Farming
Hernandez grew up on five acres in Hunterdon County, where her family raised Nigerian dwarf goats and showed them for the local 4-H club. She had a small garden in her childhood. As she got older, though, like most teens, she grew apart from her interest.
On a trip to Paris years later, when she was a retail manager for a clothing company, Hernandez saw how important food and sustainability are to Parisians. She read the book The Market Gardner, by Jean-Martin Fortier and an idea was born. On her flight home, she started to write down her ideas and dreams of one day being an urban farmer.
After leaving her retail management job in April 2017, Hernandez soon went to work for City Green, an urban farming organization in Clifton. She was in charge of a half-acre lot, where she taught the creative side of agriculture. This is where she learned the importance of urban agriculture and the curb appeal it must have. She said, “Urban farms must be pretty to look at in order to draw attention and conversation.”
Location, Location, Location
After long commutes to and from Manhattan, Hernandez saw the need for community and beauty in the empty lots that are increasing in numbers in many towns, including East Orange. She could have gone back to Hunterdon County but said she chose East Orange because of the need for community and beauty within it. Hernandez wanted to give her neighbors a sense of pride in a locally sourced product and company. She thought, Why wait to find the perfect piece of land when you can take an empty lot and turn it into something beautiful? After some careful research, Hernandez found what she was looking for: an empty lot for sale in the middle of what others might have overlooked. After some tough negotiations with the owner, Hernandez leased a quarter acre and started her dream endeavor.
Hernandez knew she could not wait for a CSA program or a farmers market to find her. She had to go out and make it happen for herself, and that she did. She called chefs at local restaurants to get the word out about her microgreens. Coeur et Sol urban farms was picked up by The Corner, and soon after by Le Salbuen, both in Montclair.
Passion and Inspiration
As a chef, my passion for food and healthy ingredients is inspired by people like Chelsa Hernandez. With every bite of microgreen, you can taste the love and care she has put into giving every customer the best of Coeur et Sol urban farm.
“Joy is never lost, just forgotten,” said Hernandez. “You can always find it in the leaves.”
—By Jeff Holmes