Here the potatoes rise high, nestled in their hay mulch. The Italianischer lettuce splays out. She wears her oak leaf scarves, her fronds wave in the breeze. Lettuce's other cousins, the Romaines, send their crunchy greetings. The spinach, Swiss chard, Red Russian and Lacinato (aka Dinosaur) kale are laden, their bounty atop their healthy stocks. The fennel bulbs' frilly tops wave to and fro... The sugar snap peas offer themselves for the picking in this not-so-still life scene. Am I describing a Renaissance painting? Am I writing poetry? Am I describing a scene in July at the Kingston YMCA Farm Project? Yes. Yes. And, yes.
This is also the scene unfolding next door at the YMCA Community Garden, at the Clinton Avenue Methodist Church community garden, and at the Thomas Chambers Garden, adjacent to the basketball courts to the Rondout Gardens Municipal Housing site and at countless other sites. This is a modern day renaissance and it is happening right here in Kingston NY. Cornell Cooperative Extension’s (CCEUC) Creating Healthy Places project supports several community gardens, including the Thomas Chambers garden. This garden exists through the generosity of the City of Kingston, which has graciously agreed to allow positioning the garden on City property, and the City of Kingston Parks and Recreation is working with CCEUC to oversee the project. Countless area volunteers also provide assistance, most notably the Master Gardeners and the Bruderhof Community.
These places, composed of carefully tended vegetables, are an environmental change from a public health framework.
There is so much more happening here than a bit of vegetation: positive unseen things.
Much research exists about the transformative power of community gardens, of the human spirit's and psyche's response to green, growing things. As the plants grow up, drug dealing goes down. Of course, this is not necessarily instantaneous but flourishes with time. People become invested in the place where they live, rooted along with their vegetables.
Not mere "wuwu" silliness nor sentimentalism but a subject of serious inquiry, the promotion of wholesome living fits in with the “broken window” theory : fix what is broken and make it better. As quality of life goes up, crime goes down. Community Gardens and Urban Farms seriously improve quality of life and prevent crime.
Our behaviors and responses are integrally interconnected with the places and spaces we inhabit. The beauty of human ingenuity and creativity is our ability to influence these landscapes, externally and internally.
As I pluck a zucchini for Muriel, a neighbor across the street from the YMCA, she tells me that kids have stopped swinging from and breaking the trees. Groups of people no longer congregate at night making a ruckus. Respect is growing here.
The beauty of these sites of urban food production is beyond the aesthetic, it is tangible and concrete: people are receiving cleanly grown food from these sites. All those named here are located in "food desert" areas. It is common for people to rely on the local gas station as their grocery store. Here, we are talking with corner store owners to provide healthier options. We are learning to grow our own food. Our children are experiencing fresh vegetables, from seed to harvest. We socialize in the garden and at the farm stand.
CCEUC’s Creating Healthy Places project partners with the YMCA Farm Project to bring these fresh vegetables to the surrounding neighborhood through the Mobile Farm Stand.
You can purchase vegetables from the Kingston YMCA Farm Project on Tuesdays from the bike-powered mobile market from 3:30 to 3:45pm at the Oncology Support Center at 80 Mary's Ave, from 4 to 5pm at Yosman Tower on Broadway, and from 5:15 until about 6:15 at the Kingston Library. On Thursdays, the Farm Stand is stationary at the YMCA of Kingston and Ulster County at 507 Broadway, from 4 to 7pm, where you will be greeted by the Dig Kids, youth learning farming and entrepreneurial skills. For more information about community gardens please visit: www.creatinghealthyplacesulster.org
 James Q. Wilson’s "broken window theory" is referred to in Malcolm Gladwell's book, Outliers:The Story of Success (Little, Brown and Company, 2008) in which Gladwell analyzes how environment affects extremely successful people.
 Making Healthy Places: Designing and Building for Health, Well-being, and Sustainability
Andrew Dannenberg, Howard Frumkin, Richard Jackson (Island Press, 2011)