02 March 2012

Kingston, NY Rivals Detroit in Commitment to Urban Farming

Dig Kids "hires" Kingston teens to
work in community gardens
Urban agriculture is a major buzzword in horticultural circles these days. What began as small community gardens in inner city areas has blossomed into a full blown industry. Detroit of all places, the poster child for urban decay, is leading the greening revolution in which entire city blocks are being reclaimed from their urban prairie status.  It is kind of symbolic in a way. There seems no stopping plants from popping up whether planted on purpose of by "accident." The term urban prairie refers to expanses of city spaces abandoned, their buildings left to rot or eventually being torn down. What is left is an eerie landscape with roads, sidewalks and even street lights in place but no sign of human activity for blocks on end. After a time nature creeps in. Seeds deposited by rodents, birds and other urban wildlife germinate and small plants begin to grow. Following the small plants into the "concrete plains" are small trees and shrubs now able to get a foot hold in the asphalt and cement loosened up by the smaller predecessors of grasses and annuals "weeds."Aerial views of photos taken of neighborhoods in  http://www.denverinfill.com/images/blog/2008-12/2008-12-27_detroit3.jpg  and revisited in the 1980's illustrate the mass exodus that has taken place. Entire neighborhoods now gone save for the street lights sidewalks and avenues. Photos taken today in the same area show nature reclaiming what was there in the first place............plants.

Detroit has taken advantage of many empty lots by allowing adjacent homeowners to acquire them free of charge if they maintain them. This land grab allows homeowners to sometimes double the size of their lots without the accompanying increase in tax assessment. What this does is  it gets urban wasteland, often dangerous gathering places for thugs, off city hands and into the care of local homeowners. The result is a reversal in the downward spiral of home values. In many areas of metro Detroit the average price of a home is eight thousand dollars!

In commercial areas of the city similar things are happening. while lots are not being acquired by adjacent building owners many are being turned into community gardens. To go one step further urban farming is a big trend in the Motor City. City farmers are providing crops for farmers markets, restaurants and even school lunch programs. In Washington DC for example one urban farming operation took over an abandoned building and began growing mushrooms for sale to upscale food joints in the trendy DC suburbs.

So where does this leave urban farming for the Hudson Valley? Alive and well in Kingston! Currently there are 19 community gardens within Kingston City limits. The cool thing is many of these gardens are at elementary schools. Remember a reality TV show in which an English chef tries to change the food culture of a America's most obese city in West Virginia? Kids in elementary schools could not even identify an onion or tomato. They thought all their food came from boxes or cans or burger joints. 

The showpiece for urban agriculture in Kingston is the South Pine Street City Farm. Yes a farm in the city. Currently being run by Jessica lark as an organic farm they are now building a greenhouse to be heated by compost! The farm is a 1/4 acre lot of land donated by Binnewater  Ice company and is a collaboration between non profits, small business and one farmer who "wants to see her new hometown bloom" according to official farm information.

Rebecca Martin, Executive Director of the Kingston Land Trust is responsible for putting together a complete listing of Kingston City Gardens. They are color coded on the map as to community, school or special garden projects. There are two rooftop gardens included in the listing. One is at The Center for Creative Education at 20 Thomas Street and the other at the 721 Media Center on Broadway. however the 721 Media garden is longer active and no information was available as to when and if the garden would resume.

The Kingston Land Trust is also planning on offering a gardening program for kids this spring called  "The Dig Kids"  with a grant from  the Columbia Foundation and a donation by Family of Woodstock. The five month program, which runs from May through October pays five Garden Mentors" a stipend to work weekends and after school (10 hours per month) at the program's garden site at the Everett Hodge Center on Franklin Street in Kingston.  To be selected city of Kingston Youths must be 14 – 19 years of age but each selected ‘Dig Kid’ will choose a “Jr. Gardener” 13 or younger to assist them throughout the growing season.
The Pine Street Farm comes in to assist by allowing the Dig Kids to sell their crops to the public at the Pine Farm's own market.

Presentations at the Hodge Center for 2012 start in Mid May with a seed saving class on May 12 by Ken Green of the Hudson Valley Seed Library.
Other presentations include cooking What You Grow by Diane Reeder, Executive Director, The Queens Galley a food kitchen in uptown open to anyone.
The feature event is a Dig Kids BBQ and garden walk on July 28th. The event begins with a BBQ including foods grown by the kids and ends with a walk to the Pine street Farm.

It appears Kingston is leading the Hudson Valley in implementing the urban agricultural revolution in the Hudson Valley. Kingston is a city of 22,000 residents and has no less than 19 inner city gardens. That may sound like a lot but at a ratio of one garden per 1100 residents one can easily see the potential of this number of gardens growing exponentially larger. 

Garden advice you can dig!

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