Michael Devlin


Mike Devlin is the director of the Camden City Garden Club, which supports the city’s gardens with organizing services, education, materials, and food distribution—part of a nationwide trend.

Nick Romanenko

While New Jersey is known as the Garden State, gardening isn’t something that’s commonly associated with Camden. But Mike Devlin had a vision for the city—a green vision—and he has helped foster one of the fastest-growing urban gardening movements in the nation. 

While studying law, Devlin CLAW’79 found that he was more passionate about lettuces than litigation, and eventually turned his energies to gardening—first in his own yard and then with the Camden City Garden Club, which he founded in 1985 and now serves as its executive director. 

Today, the club supports a wide array of healthful food initiatives, particularly for young people: from a children’s garden to a mobile market delivering produce to needy neighborhoods to a job-training program for youth. The garden club also supports the rapidly growing network of community gardens.

Camden is one of the worst “food deserts” in the nation, according to the United States Department of Agriculture. In a place where many are struggling to make ends meet, “people don’t have much of a cushion,” Devlin says. Given the offer of materials, instruction, support—and the unused potential of Camden’s 12,000 vacant lots—residents have jumped at the chance to supplement low incomes with healthful food.

A study by the University of Pennsylvania Center for Public Health Initiatives found that the Camden gardens produce roughly $2.3 million worth of food every year. And because most growers share their surplus zucchini with their neighbors, those vegetables have fed about 15 percent of the city’s population.

It’s part of the untold story of Camden, one where residents like Devlin are quietly working to strengthen the fabric of their communities. “It doesn’t have to be a failure story here,” Devlin says. His hands are deeply creased, and there’s dirt under his fingernails. “The kids deserve something better.” And that’s why, 40 years later, he’s still in Camden: “To give them some hope.”

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