If you’ve ever wandered off the path of Huguenot Street, you might have stumbled across a sanctuary of greenery, packed with juicy tomatoes, tall sunflowers and supple squash.
What is this mystical, Narnia-esque place? It’s the New Paltz Gardens for Nutrition (NPGFN).
The NPGFN is one of the oldest, continuous community gardens in New York. Spanning nearly five acres, the Gardens contain more than 125 individual 20-by-30 foot plots. These plots are a gardener’s blank canvas, free to grow vegetables, flowers, berries and/or herbs.
One of the founding members and former Mayor of New Paltz, John Vett, organized to have the Gardens adjacent to the Wallkill River where it floods every year. Being a floodplain, the NPGFN’s soil is wonderfully fertile.
When the NPGFN was founded in 1976, New York was in a deep recession, plagued by unemployment. To combat this problem, New York State gave block grants to municipalities so they could establish gardens that would grow food to feed the needy.
“Little by little, the recession receded and people started to really like the idea of gardening and they were just gardening for themselves,” said President of NPGFN Jaimee Uhlenbrock. “In 1981, it was incorporated in New York State as the NPGFN, and at that point it was just a community garden.”
Since then, NPGFN has transformed into a self-sustaining community garden, complete with running water for irrigation, a separate line of potable town water, two sheds and an electric deer fence. However, this came with some roadblocks. The NPGFN faced environmental challenges, problems with deer and toxic algae from the Wallkill River. Thankfully, the Gardens’ board took these challenges head-on with ample solutions.
“I always like to say that the garden is one of the jewels in the crown of New Paltz,” Uhlenbrock said. “Not every community has a community garden, and it really does bring people together.”
To celebrate the end of the growing season, the NPGFN held their annual potluck on Saturday, Sept. 7.
“It was like what the first Thanksgiving was,” Uhlenbrock said. “Everybody comes with what they can bring, they share it, they sit down and they eat together.”
The table was full of roasted butternut squash, zucchini bread, platters of vegetables, coleslaws and elaborate salads.
“I ate way too much,” Uhlenbrock joked.
The NPGFN is a volunteer-run organization that depends on everyone’s cooperation to remain stable. Members must help clear vacant plots, and maintain the common areas, tools and the deer fence. Unfortunately, Uhlenbrock has expressed some dismay with the level of dedication.
“I would like to see more community involvement on a regular basis, and that’s not just here. That is every community garden,” Uhlenbrock expressed.
To bolster community involvement, one of the gardens’ board members suggested that they hold workshops. However, Uhlenbrock has her reservations on this idea, for she is worried that workshops will only attract a small crowd.
If you are interested in rolling up sleeves and getting a little dirty, the NPGFN will host their last community work day along with a catered lunch on Saturday, Sept. 21 from 10 a.m. to noon.
For additional information about NPGFN, visit their website at www.gardensfornutrition.org.