Ariana Arancibia is the new director of Rutgers Gardens and Campus Stewardship, and she tackles issues of social justice and equity.
It expands access to the gardens for surrounding communities and makes them a welcoming place for people of color and other marginalized communities who have historically not had equal access to nature and public green spaces.
The daughter of Argentinian immigrants, Arancibia also wants to serve as a role model for other children with similar backgrounds – letting them know that there is a place for them in the field of environmental science.
“I want to engage with new communities who may think that traditionally this space wasn’t for them,” said Arancibia, who recently returned to New Jersey after living in New York City and working for NYC Parks GreenThumb at in recent years.
She sees a direct connection between the challenges she wants to overcome in the 130 acres of Rutgers Gardens and the recent racial calculation in the country.
“There is a huge Latinx population in New Brunswick that does not have access to beautiful green space, and that in itself is an injustice,” she said. “Historically, we don’t talk about these things. We pretend they don’t exist, that’s okay. I think the pandemic combined with the murder of George Floyd and the ensuing uprising has opened the floodgates so that we can say that we can no longer shut up or shut up about these issues. “
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Arancibia, who grew up in eastern Brunswick and received a photography degree from Rutgers University in 2010 and a minor in art history from the Mason Gross School of the Arts, took an interest in questions of environmental justice after college. She worked for a year as an assistant photographer before applying to AmeriCorps’ National Civilian Community Corps to visit other parts of the country.
For two years she helped build community gardens and worked in urban agriculture. It was an experience that made him aware of the injustices and inequalities surrounding the problems of access to food.
“It was the first time I was exposed to what food insecurity is,” Arancibia said. “There were people in the rural areas who were surrounded by agriculture, but they had no access to any fresh produce or food. They had to drive 45 minutes to an hour to the nearest Walmart to get food.
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After completing his service at AmeriCorps, Arancibia worked in an agricultural apprenticeship program before returning to New York to be closer to his family, including his brother, Juan Arancibia, also a Rutgers graduate. She has done compost collection, outreach and education with the NYC Compost Project hosted by the Lower East Side Ecology Center and worked for NYC Parks GreenThumb to support community gardens in all five boroughs – gaining experience in managing project and community organization and a better understanding of environmental justice issues.
When the position opened at Rutgers Gardens, located on Log Cabin Road in North Brunswick, she saw an opportunity to make a difference.
“I grew up coming here and felt it was a great opportunity to create more inclusion and accessibility to the space,” said Arancibia.
“Research has proven that access to nature prolongs your life and is an important part of your integrity as a human being,” she said. “When you don’t have access to nature, it’s like not having access to water, like not having access to food. All of this should be treated as being of equal importance.
This summer, she started looking for ways to improve access to the gardens, including translating her website, which is only available in English.
“For a Spanish speaker, that’s not helpful,” Arancibia said.
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She also wants to expand outreach and strategic engagement efforts, which have traditionally focused on local garden clubs and botanical associations.
“These relationships are important and meaningful and have built what the garden is now, but these people know the gardens,” she said. “I want to focus on the people who don’t know.”
To reach more residents in the area, Arancibia wants to have tables at community events in New Brunswick, distribute bilingual flyers and have Spanish speakers available to talk about the gardens. She hopes to build a base of volunteers to support this awareness effort.
Arancibia is also working to raise accessibility awareness and coordinate with faculty organizing an event to draw attention to the lack of transportation options to the gardens, which the university is considering in its long-term planning. term.
“The gardens are so close to New Brunswick, but so far away for residents and students who don’t have a car,” she said. “I’m trying to understand where the barriers to entry are and how we can move forward. “
Laura Lawson, acting executive dean of the School of Environmental and Biological Sciences, said Arancibia was hired to make the gardens more visible to residents of Rutgers and neighboring communities.
“A lot of people describe the gardens as a hidden gem and we don’t want it to be hidden away,” Lawson said. “We want people to use it and we want it to reflect the diversity of the community as a whole. The Gardens already have deep connections to horticultural research and education at Rutgers. There are so many opportunities to expand it and make it more inviting, usable and accessible. “
Arancibia’s ultimate vision is to see the garden used by a wide range of communities for various activities, similar to its experiences in Prospect Park in Brooklyn where quinceaneras, birthdays, barbecues, jam sessions and picnics in family were held on weekends.
“Depending on which side of the park you were on, you would see different uses of the same space and that is beautiful to me,” she said. “I want it here, however it might turn out, because exposure to nature and building a relationship with it is what changes generations.”