When one thinks of Kingston, one might think of historical sites and buildings, arts, music, culture, wealthy and downtrodden neighborhoods… “city-type” stuff. But how many think of slow, quiet growing time in a sunny veggie garden? How many people think of John Deere? Or kids playing in the dirt? Urban farmer KayCee Wimbish does.
South Pine Street City Farm founder Jesica Clark has handed over the proverbial pitchfork to Wimbish as Clark moves eastward to till Dutchess soil.
“The stars have aligned for us and just as I needed someone to take on the project, there she was, ready to get into urban farming,” said Clark of Wimbish. “I think her main challenges will be some of the same stuff I was up against when I started: getting used to that scale, where every plant is precious and deserves to be doted upon, and defending those precious plants from the a new set of urban pests, such as squirrels.”
The Kingston Land Trust’s “Dig Kids” urban gardening education program for teens and young adults will now be overseen through Family of Woodstock’s Kingston Cares program. Wimbish will be spearheading a new farm project at the YMCA, with a mission to educate and empower young people by putting their hands in the ground and on the vines to develop vital gardening education and skills to grow and produce fresh, healthy food to sustain themselves and their community.
But first, the money to get this thing started needs to be raised, says Wimbish. On Saturday, May 18, a fundraiser will be held at the Shirt Factory, 77 Cornell St.Pocatello is playing, along with the Rosendale Brass Band. Suggested donation is $10-20. The party starts at 8 p.m.
The second fundraiser is on Tuesday, June 11 at Boitson’s, 47 North Front St. There will be appetizers, a cash bar and music on the patio. Tickets for the event are $20. Donations can be made online at http://www.kingstonymcafarmproject.org and interested parties may “like” the farm project on Facebook and keep up to date: http://www.facebook.com/KingstonYMCAFarmProject
Kingston Times: What’s your professional background?
KayCee Wimbish: I am a teacher by training. I have a master’s degree in education from the Bank Street College of Education in New York City. I taught elementary school in New York for six years, mostly second grade. During my summer vacations, I worked on farms. I currently teach English as a Second Language at Ulster County BOCES. I teach in an amazing vocational program where I teach an English Language intensive in the fall and then co-teach a Certified Nursing Assistant Class in the winter and spring.
KT: What’s your agricultural background?
Wimbish: My first agricultural experience was as an intern at the visiting students program at Hawthorne Valley Farm in Columbia County. Students came to the farm and spent a week participating in seasonal farm activities and chores. I loved it and wanted to spend my free time helping out in the greenhouse and then in the fields. After this I went back to New York City to teach, but spent summers on different farms. I finally decided I wanted to do a full season on a farm to find out if I really loved it or if it was escapism. I started at Hearty Roots Community Farm in 2006. I worked there for seven years. Hearty Roots uses the community supported agriculture model and has drop-off locations upstate and in Brooklyn. I did a variety of jobs there including pick-your-own manager, managed wholesale and restaurant accounts and the general field crew. For four years, my partner, who I met working at Hearty Roots, and I owned and operated a pasture-based livestock farm. We raised turkeys, chickens for eggs and meat, sheep and cattle.
KT: Why Kingston?
Wimbish: We moved to Kingston for a number of reasons. We are buying a house and Kingston is much more affordable than where we were living in Dutchess or Columbia counties. We wanted to be somewhere where we don’t always have to get in a car. I love the walkability and bike-ability of Kingston. We wanted more educational opportunities for our son. We felt strongly about living somewhere with diversity.
KT: What do you see in Kingston?
Wimbish: I have had a crush on Kingston for many years. I love how the buildings and neighborhoods look and I love that you can see mountains or the river from most places. I love the view of the mountains from Broadway. Kingston seemed like the perfect-sized place to be able to get involved easily and make some new things happen. And there is so much already happening in Kingston. The O+ festival is one of my favorite events. I love the Yoga House. I love that there is a Salvadorian restaurant and you can get dried peppers and chilis in bulk.
KT: What are your goals here?
Wimbish: My goals are to grow food in Kingston and excite others to do the same. My goals are to be a part of creating a more sustainable city that has a good quality of life for everyone. I want to be a part of creating more bikers and walkers in the city, and one way to do that is to just get out there on my bike, pulling my kid behind me. I want for other children to experience dirt on their hands and what it tastes like to eat a fresh-picked strawberry. But I guess my most immediate goals are to keep up the amazing work that Jesica Clark has done at South Pine Street City Farm and to get the Kingston YMCA Farm Project up and running.
KT: What work are you doing with the YMCA? Tell me about that project.
Wimbish: I am working with the YMCA to start the Kingston YMCA Farm Project which is going to be an urban, educational farm on the YMCA’s land. We are in the fundraising phase right now and hope to raise enough money by the fall to build a fence and begin building the vegetable beds. In 2014 the farm will start production. The 200 kids involved in the Y’s after-school and summer camp program will become farmers. They will be trained in all aspects of vegetable production: seeding, transplanting… weeding, harvesting and ultimately eating what they grew. They will be learning new skills, working outside with nature, being physical and growing food for themselves, their families and the Midtown community. We hope to increase people’s access to fresh, nutritious, chemical-free produce by making it available and affordable.
Growing food has been such a powerful and empowering experience for me; I want to share it with others; especially young people who can start making positive choices about what they eat at a young age. We want to be a part of the growing movement that educates young people about where their food comes from and the energy it takes to get it on their plate. We also want to be a part of making real food available to everyone regardless of income, neighborhood, and ability to travel. Good, clean food should be a right, not a privilege.
KT: Tell me three wacky things about yourself, like can you lick your own elbow or walk on your hands or something magical?
Wimbish: Well I can stand on my hands and do other tricks. My partner and I had an acrobatic troupe called the Agrobats; we only performed at farm parties. I was a very strict vegetarian for 15 years and then started raising animals for a living. I found I am extremely good at eviscerating chickens and have even walked a woman through how to do it over the phone.
My name, KayCee, is my initials spelled out. My real name is Kristine Courtney. Wimbish is a very uncommon last name and I am definitely the only KayCee Wimbish out there.
None of those are really wacky, but oh well.