When someone starts a new job, “getting the lay of the land” generally is a figure of speech.
But for Erica VanAuken Colace, the new executive director of Grow It Green Morristown, it’s for real.
She’ll be overseeing the Early Street Community Garden, the Urban Farm at Lafayette, and a collaboration with a greenhouse at the College of Saint Elizabeth in Morris Township.
“I started last week during the ice storm, so I have not done a deep-dive tour yet,” Colace said on Monday.
She who was chosen from a field of 50 applicants to succeed Abby Gallo, Grow It Green’s first executive director. Hired in 2014, Gallo has stepped down to devote more time to her young family, said Grow It Green President Christine Volinsky.
Colace comes to Morristown from the New York-New Jersey Trail Conference.
As an outreach and education director for the New Jersey Highlands Coalition, she advocated for the Highlands region and its importance to the state’s aquifers, and worked with NJ Keep it Green to secure long-term funding for preservation programs.
“She’s very smart, very capable, and very committed. I think she will do very well” for Grow It Green, said Elliott Ruga, policy director for the New Jersey Highlands Commission.
Colace also has taught science to students and adults with disabilities at the Meadowlands Environment Center. She is a graduate of the Institute of Environmental Studies at Ramapo College.
“We’re very excited to have new enthusiasm in the position. [Colace] brings a lot of background in environmental nonprofits,” said Volinsky. “It’s a very exciting time. We have a great team, and a great community. Everything we do is really wonderful!”
On May 12, 2018, Grow It Green will unveil a slew of improvements at the Early Street Community Garden, which has doubled its community garden plots thanks to a $200,000 campaign.
The Urban Farm will continue providing educational programs for hundreds of schoolchildren, and donating produce to area food banks, Volinsky said.
Grow It Green also will strive to grow an endowment to perpetuate these programs, and to expand projects at the college greenhouse, where the nonprofit started a collaboration last year.
“We have great hopes for doing lots of different things there,” Volinsky said.
Colace, a native of Newton in Sussex County, is excited about the possibilities.
“I thought this would be a great place to put my skills to work, and help the organization continue on the path to success,” she said.
Colace will manage about a dozen seasonal and full-time employees, and a $200,000 annual budget, Volinsky said.
The public can meet Colace on Tuesday, Feb. 27, 2018, from 6 pm to 8 pm at an open house at Grow It Green’s office, at 14 Maple Ave. in Morristown.
Colace’s experience with nonprofits and the environmental community should prove invaluable, said Samantha Rothman, who co-founded Grow It Green Morristown in 2009.
“We’re super excited to have her join our team,” Rothman said.
Volinsky said Gallo is helping Colace learn the ropes. The outgoing director “helped us professionalize our office and day-to-day operations,” the board president said.
Rothman also expressed gratitude for Gallo’s contributions.
“Abby… came to us in a time of big transitions, getting our sea legs. Now we’re really in a position to be impactful in the community. Erica, with all her nonprofit experience, will be able to steward us into the next phase.”