Over the past seven years, I have had the opportunity to meet and work with some amazing people. But none as dear and few as great as Farmer Jesica Clark.
I met her years ago, when she approached me to help as a consultant to the Kingston City Hall Victory Garden back in 2007, a project that was a 10×10 foot raised bed organic garden on City Hall grounds – pretty unprecedented – with the support of then Mayor Jim Sottile and former city clerk Kathy Janeczek who sadly passed in 2009.
Jesica was a young first generation farmer , who was working as the head farmer of Phillies Bridge Farm Project in Gardiner, NY – and I was so pleased to have her support and to pick her brain on how to make this project successful then. Allyson Levy of Stone Ridge also volunteered at that time, who has since become a master gardener through the Cornell Cooperative Extension program and is co-owner of Hortus Conclusus. With such help, I couldn’t go wrong.
When I took post at the Kingston Land Trust as Executive Director back in 2010, Jesica got in touch with me again – as she was moving to Kingston and was looking for land to farm hoping for 10 acres. All I had then to offer was a small 1/4 acre parcel in the midtown area thanks to Binnewater Ice who had donated the land and a partnership with the wonderful Diane Reeder and the Queens Galley.
The space came with a free water source, and I convinced her that creating a ‘farm’ on a small parcel could help Kingston to learn the benefits of urban farming.
She ran with it and moved away from her desired farm space and within a few weeks, Jesica had a three year business plan and a fundraising platform on Kickstarter. Very soon after, we negotiated a lease, a sublease – and she raised almost $6,000.00 to make the ‘farm’ concept a reality. The South Pine Street City Farm was born.
…and it was completely Jesica’s invention. A space that grew over 150 varieties of vegetables with an educational component. In addition, she took on the task of developing ‘The Dig Kids – an Urban Farm Program” with me that in the past two years has successfully worked to transform the Everette Hodge Center garden and new garden plots at the Van Buren Street playground that not only educated each of us, but also dozens of children and their families in farming practices with the invaluable help of Megan Weiss of Kingston Cares who is someone else I hold in the highest esteem. She started a farm stand (that Hugh Cummings built for free) selling her beautiful produce to the community three days a week at the farm, got involved with the Kingston’s Farmers market’s in uptown and midtown – and also developed a farm to table program providing vegetables to local businesses all over Kingston.
Jesica is one of the most hardworking people I know. But on top of it all, she has a deep understanding of how things work and is a savvy business woman. What’s more is her ‘can-do’ attitude that makes the impossible possible, with a personality that all of us have simply fallen in love with.
But her vision in being completely sustainable through farming a larger parcel is her dream – and she found such a space across the river. Although I am very happy for her, it is also with great sadness for me to see her leave Kingston. She and her husband Daniel Clark (of Prime Print Shop in Poughkeepsie, who has also been essential and generous to our efforts) are the kind of residents that you lose with a heavy heart.
Jesica Clark has put Kingston on the map on the Urban Agriculture front – something that is critical for us in this current climate. She has helped to remind us all something that our grandparents knew but has been lost in only two generations. We must grow our own food, help one another and do so with grace, beauty – and simplicity.
Her additional gift to our city is that she attracted another first generation farmer to Kingston – Kaycee Wimbish and her family – who will take over the South Pine Street City Farm, the Dig Kids Program and work towards a new and larger farm at the YMCA. Because of Jesica, we will continue to pursue urban agriculture to benefit our community and continue to be a model for other Hudson River cities.
Thank you, Jesica. For all of your hard work and in helping to make us more healthy and thoughtful citizens.