In August of this year, I enjoyed visiting the Kingston YMCA Farm Project in Midtown Kingston, NY, for the first time. Despite having lived in the area for many years, I had never visited the Farm Project as honestly, I didn’t even know it existed. The urban gardens at the Farm Project are a hidden gem seated right in the heart of the city of Kingston. Founded in 2014 and sitting on half of an acre, this farm plays multiple roles within the community. The mission of the Kingston YMCA Farm Project is to “educate, nourish, and connect the Kingston community with their urban farm.” The Kingston YMCA Farm Project achieves this by making farm-fresh, organic produce accessible to the immediate community and by offering farm-based education and youth development.
Kingston’s Midtown area has been labeled a “food desert” with little access to healthy whole foods and fresh fruits and vegetables for its residents. Food deserts exist across the country, typically in impoverished neighborhoods. While healthy food options in these deserts are limited, often there is an abundance of sugary and highly-processed foods, known contributors to our nation’s obesity epidemic. One of the inspirations for founding the Kingston YMCA Farm Project was to provide fresh, healthy food where it is needed the most in the community. The Farm Project sells its organic produce at a farm stand in the YMCA lobby throughout the year and accepts several nutrition assistance programs.
The Kingston YMCA Farm Project also offers many educational opportunities for the community. Hosting farm-based events and community workdays, they educate local families about all aspects of food production and farm care, from planting seeds and transplants to plant care and harvesting to preparing and enjoying the produce. This gives families knowledge of where their food comes from, how it is grown, and an appreciation for the effort needed to get the food to the plate.
Educating local youth is an integral part of the Kingston YMCA Farm Project’s mission. Working with preschoolers through high-schoolers, they provide kids with a place to work, explore, and play on the farm. Their youth development program takes it a step further by offering 14-18-year-olds the opportunity to work on the farm and run the farm stands as part of the Youth Farm Crew for an hourly wage. Through this program, teens gain valuable employment experience, job readiness skills, and knowledge of the entire food production process. Participants also visit local farms to gain further knowledge by listening to professionals in the agriculture field. The hope is to teach these youth about local food systems and food justice, putting them in a better position to bring about change. Educating youth on growing and preparing fresh, healthy food for themselves and their families starts these kids on a healthy living path.
According to its website, the Kingston YMCA Farm Project also has a strong commitment to racial and economic justice and is working towards a more equitable food system for all. During my visit in August, the youth within the YMCA Farm Project’s programs had installed a “Say Their Names Memorial” to shed light on Black lives lost to racial injustice. The exhibit, placed on the fence in front of the greenhouse on the property, featured photographs of lives lost among blooming flowers and plants.
The YMCA Farm Project also offers a community garden on an adjacent lot for local Kingston residents. Families can purchase a gardening plot within the community garden and grow their own produce. I was amazed at the variety of produce and flowers I saw among all the garden plots. I delighted in the many unique varieties that were being grown for different ethnic cuisines. The plots were stunning and obviously well-tended and loved.
I was impressed with my visit to the Kingston YMCA Farm Project, and as I walked the grounds, I was overcome by a feeling that it is an extraordinary place. Fulfilling the needs of the surrounding community and offering valuable educational opportunities for the city’s youth. We could use more places like this within our nation’s communities. I hope that the mission to provide fresh, healthy, local food catches on and spreads with the help of the Kingston YMCA Farm Project and other organizations like them.
In October, I returned to the YMCA Farm Project and once again walked the grounds. Even though the garden beds weren’t teeming with as much fresh produce as they were in August, they still looked beautiful to me. On the surface, these beds may look like they contain only soil, but actually, they hold so much more. Within each bed is the promise of tomorrow—a tomorrow where fresh, healthy food is readily available to all within our communities.
Source: The Kingston YMCA Farm Project