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Wild Ones New Jersey Gateway Chapter looks for a home in Hudson County

The nonprofit organization aims to promote environmentally friendly landscaping with native plants

Native plants are key to local ecosystems which include insects and other wildlife. Photos courtesy of Ferrer.

Wild Ones New Jersey Gateway Chapter, a nonprofit organization aimed to promote environmentally friendly landscaping through the use of native plants, is looking for a home in Hudson County. 

The Gateway Chapter encompasses six counties in North Jersey, including Bergen, Passaic, Essex, Middlesex, and Union counties in addition to Hudson. 

Wild Ones formed in 1977, when nine people attended a natural landscaping workshop offered by the Schlitz Audubon Center of Milwaukee, Wisconsin and became intensely interested in the new concept of landscaping with native plants. Their enthusiasm blossomed into Wild Ones, now a national nonprofit organization with a mission to educate and share information with members and community at the “plants roots” level and to promote biodiversity and environmentally sound practices. 

‘Healing the Earth, one space at a time’

Gisela Ferrer, a former West New York resident with a penchant for the environment, is the founder of the Wild Ones New Jersey Gateway Chapter. She lives in Sussex County, but still considers West New York her home. 

“That’s where I grew up, where I worked, where I had students, and where I saw the need for more greener space,” Ferrer said in an interview with the Hudson Reporter. “So even though it’s a half an hour away, I always say I sleep in Sussex and I live in Hudson.”

Even though she grew up in an urban environment not necessarily known for large swathes of lush landscaping, Ferrer has always been interested in green spaces and nature. Her natural inclination toward the environment sparked her to start this regional chapter of Wild Ones.

Ferrer has even adapted their slogan for the urban and dense North Jersey environment. The saying by Wild Ones typically goes “Healing the Earth, one yard at a time,” but Ferrer prefers to say ‘Healing the Earth, one space at a time.”

“Not everyone has access to a yard,” Ferrer said. “Growing up in West New York in an apartment building, I didn’t have a yard, but we did have space. We had a balcony. Nowadays, there’s rooftop gardening, the front of our doorsteps. There is space we can enrich, and there are so many people doing it, they’re just choosing the wrong plants.”

Native plants are not only pleasant to look at, but support the local environment.

Promoting awareness and providing resources

Ferrer wants Wild Ones to be a resource to the community help enrich spaces with plants that are native and not invasive. She hopes the nonprofit can provide information those interested whenever they need it.

What Wild Ones does is it becomes a resource for the community,” Ferrer said. “We would like to have demonstration gardens so that people can come out and learn things like the way to compost or the way to turn a lawn into a living oasis. This is what Wild Ones does. It helps the community build a greener, more efficient, and sustainable way of gardening.”

Landscaping with native plants is key to a healthier environment. Providing resources and information supporting this is vital to the cause, as many are uninformed of the nature of some plants.

“Native plants offer an eco-service to our planet by feeding wildlife,” Ferrer said. “So instead of, for example, when they opened the park on 60th and Boulevard East, you can see what they did there is beautiful. But once you realize what they planted, they didn’t know it at the time, it’s barberry, which is a very invasive plant that goes into our woodland and is destroying the ecosystem there.”

She continued: “Those berries also do not offer our birds the same amount of nutrients that they need. So the birds are going there eating those berries and they’re pooping all over the place. These plants grow rapidly because there’s no other animal that’s eating them because they’re not from here, they’re from Asia. So they haven’t evolved together.”

Ferrer’s granddaughter Olivia shares a love of nature with her grandmother.

Looking to open demonstration gardens

Ferrer would like to see Wild Ones become the go-to resource when it comes to environmentally friendly landscaping advice.

“We need to be able to offer the citizens and the community, that if they’re planting something to give us a call,” Ferrer said. “We’ll help you. We’re free. The organization runs on membership, but the service we offer is free to anyone. So if you become a member you would access to old luminaries, webinars, journals, private plant sales, and so forth. But you do not need to be a member to benefit from us being accessible.”

To meet that goal, Ferrer is looking for a space to open a demonstration garden filled with native plants. 

“We would like to find a location, a town that would partner with us and offer us a space where we can have demonstration gardens,” Ferrer said. “It could be a school. For example, it could be Stevens Institute of Technology offering us a space on their campus that we could have people coming in every so often enjoying the flowers, the butterflies, the birds, and also learning.”

While she has reached out to West New York to inquire about opening the gardens there, Ferrer is open to any municipality that will take on Wild Ones.

“I would have loved to have done it in West New York growing up as a child there,” Ferrer said. “When we arrived from Cuba, that was where we settled and that’s home. I would love to do it in West New York. I haven’t heard from the Commissioner, although I did speak to him. But I’m open to any space that we can get our hands on so that we could start having demonstration gardens. My goal is to have at least one in every county we serve.”

Native plants help the environment, while non-native and invasive plants can cause damage.

Reaching the everyone in the community

Ferrer also wants to ensure that she is reaching everyone, especially the Hispanic community in Hudson County that she herself is a part.

“My personal goal is to reach the Hispanic community and do workshops in Spanish for them,” Ferrer said. “I feel we have a lot of talents and lot people that are caring and connected to the Earth that come from our culture. And they don’t have a way to express it, living in an urban area. So I want to find spaces.”

According to Ferrer, she has seen how gratifying the demonstration gardens can be, and wants to seriously provide outreach to members of the Hispanic community interested in the environment and native plants.

“I always remember I did school gardens when I worked in West New York as a supervisor,” Ferrer said. “I remember one day, going through all these problems trying to set up a raised flower bed on top of asphalt to grow flowers. We went through all this and I was like, ‘Is is worth it?’ Then I had a program with the children from the early childhood program and they all came. This little girl walked up to me and said ‘This is the best day I ever had.’ And I was like, ‘Yeah, it was worth it.’ I want to do the same thing for the Hispanic community, I want them to think this is the best day they’ve ever had.”

For updates on this and other stories, check www.hudsonreporter.com and follow us on Twitter @hudson_reporter. Daniel Israel can be reached at disrael@hudsonreporter.com.

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