Rebecca Alexander loves plants and foraging, makes her own balms and medicinals, but never had a garden of her own bigger than a flowerpot. Now she’s thrilled pushing a bulging wheelbarrow filled with dirt to prep a four-foot-by-ten-foot plot of land for her first spring in the Kingston YMCA Community Garden, the seedling neighborhood garden planted more than a decade ago which has grown organically into the Kingston YMCA Farm Project.
The garden is on the corner of Susan and Summer streets, 30 raised beds tucked into a quiet residential neighborhood behind the Y parking lot not far from my apartment. I discovered it on one of my first Kingston walks, when I was a stranger to the city and exploring alone without a map. The garden was in season and the beds brimming with greenery — flowers and vegetables, zinnias and zucchini vines mixed in with strawberry patches and painted rocks in a warm, homey blend of personal choices.
There were benches and a brightly colored shed and friendly-sounding people chatting as they tended their gardens late one afternoon. The space felt playful, incredibly peaceful, and loved-up in a way that hit me like a hug that I wasn’t expecting but really needed.
So I was happy for Rebecca Alexander when she told me that she had just paid the $30 membership fee for the growing season from April 1 to November 30. That’s $3.75 a month. Less than a head of lettuce for the priceless pleasure of digging in the dirt, growing her own organic crops, and sending down roots in one of Kingston’s beloved community gardens.
In 2013, KayCee Wimbish joined the staff of the Y to develop urban farming that would utilize the land and “grow a healthier Kingston.” The Community Garden was the only thing there. Today, she’s directs the YMCA Farm Project, an integrated network that includes a third of an acre community-based farm on the property, farm stands that are open nine months of the year, multiple bilingual farm-based education programs, and most recently a play ground on the land that opened last year, all made with natural materials and planted with native perennials.
The nine member YMCA Youth Farm Crew from Kingston High School was there last week learning how to prep a bed and doing it, alongside KayCee, education director Susan Hereth, and youth supervisor Pat Pellicano, who all include “… and farmer” in their professional titles.
Earlier this month the whole team built garden beds at Barmann Park. The students get paid to learn and work nine hours a week at $13.50 an hour.
The Barmann Park Garden on Greenkill Avenue, the South Pine Street City Farm at 27 South Pine Street, the George Washington School/Community Garden on Wall Street, and the Rondout Community Garden across Route 9W on Murray Street are all long-established gardens run by volunteers.
Cindy Muro has been the volunteer steward of the George Washington School Garden since 2007 after she left her job running the greenhouses at the Mohonk Preserve. The South Pine Street City Farm (southpinestreetcityfarm.org) is sponsored by the Kingston Land Trust on a quarter-acre of land donated by Binnewater Ice Company across the street. Neighborhood children helped paint the rainbow fence that encloses the 20 beds of the triangular Rondout Community Garden.
Although deadlines have passed for reserving plots for this year, there are still beds available. KayCee Wimbish (firstname.lastname@example.org) or Cindy Muro (email@example.com) can help steer you to the right contact. The South Pine Street City Farm (southpinestreetcityfarm.org) is reported to be going through a transition, but spaces are still available. Get in touch with Joe Zenie (JZenie.firstname.lastname@example.org) or the Kingston Land Trust (/kingstonlandtrust.org) for more information.
If you don’t have tools, no problem. The Kingston Library has wheelbarrows, shovels, garden bed rakes, buckets and cultivators for free to borrow, use, and return. All you need is your library card.
In 2020 during the Covid-19 shut down, a group Kingston residents and gardeners concerned about access to healthy food during the pandemic came together to form Live Well Kingston (livewellkingston.org). Grow Well Kingston, a subset of the larger organization, is another resource for community gardeners.
In The Waste Land, T.S. Eliot famously condemned April as “the cruelest month, breeding/Lilacs out of the dead land, mixing/Memory and desire, stirring/Dull roots with spring rain…” But any gardener knows it’s the most exciting month of all when the soil is waking up and the land comes alive again.
In the YMCA Garden, sweet-pea seeds are reaching up and up, breaking the ground under covers that protect from the frost. The rows of garlic are already a foot high. The gardeners are gathering, building beds, turning the soil, preparing for planting knowing the joy it will bring.
On a day in April, Rebecca Andersen leaves her design studio in the Fuller Building, walks across the YMCA parking lot and around the corner to the Community Garden, where she plunges her hands deep into a bag of peat moss, excited by the promise of the spinach or radishes or lettuces or beans or tomatoes or whatever she’ll be harvesting by summer.
There’ll be new friends and healthy food on her table and fresh flowers, too. She’s already reset her clock to the steady rhythms of the seasons, and felt the comfort of being in nature and the spirit-lifting excitement that a community garden can bring.
The only thing that could be cruel about April would be for her to have missed any of that.