Thursday, August 23, 2012

From Vacant Lots to Community Gardens

By Case Wyse
Pathstone Community Improvement of Newburgh
From the rubble of vacant, neglected, and under-utilized land, Newburgh Community Gardens in New York are gently picking up steam as raised beds become the signature of cheap, delicious local food. The gardens are made possible by a collaborative effort among Pathstone Community Improvement of Newburgh, the Newburgh City Council, and the hard work of numerous AmeriCorps volunteers and local residents.
Dutch Reformed Church garden

The official process started when Pathstone Community Improvement of Newburgh applied for a grant through the city council.  As part of the application process, soil tests were conducted at each of the potential garden sites. This data was appended to the maps created earlier with the help of the Orange County Office of Planning and Development.  After site selection, public events were held seeking community input and interest.  From this information, a plan detailing the intended owners and stewards of each garden was drawn up and presented to the city. All this work paid off when the Newburg Community Gardens got the green light.     

Recently, Newburgh welcomed the addition of two more public gardens cultivated from the efforts of several dedicated organizations.  The garden at the Dutch Reformed Church is adjacent to the city library and sits before a monolithic set of pillars characteristic of Newburgh’s aging architectural wonders. Immediately following and during the installation of this garden, the community began to take notice and offer assistance. 

Boys at San Miguel work on garden
Though the program is still in its infancy, community enthusiasm continues to encourage other organizations to take responsibility for managing a garden bed.  In the case of San Miguel Academy, a single bed was insufficient. On the corner of Farrington and Lander, a former high-crime risk center in the city, there is now a beautiful series of raised garden beds constructed and maintained by recent graduates from the academy.  These beds offer the unconventional classroom for educating future generations to properly maintain fruits and vegetables. The rising trend towards local food means that developing an urban agriculture skill set could ensure a wholesome meal and job security in the future.

Armory Garden's green team
Along with San Miguel Academy, a number of other community organizations have undertaken the responsibilities gardening. At the Newburgh Armory Unity Center more than 30 garden beds stand ready for the 2013 growing season.  In the two years since its inception, the Armory Garden has hosted everyone from the first-time gardener to the life-long green thumb.  This diverse range of gardeners and organizations provides the social system which underlies the future success of Newburgh’s community gardens.  Plans currently under development include a food dispersal network in which produce from each of the gardens could either be donated to local food pantries or sold at the local farmers market, a city-wide composting program, and a nursery capable of supplying all the vegetable starts necessary for gardeners across Newburgh.