Kingston Community Leaders: Susan Hereth, YMCA Farm Educator | Community Pages | Hudson Valley | Hudson Valley; Chronogram

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Kingston Community Leaders: Susan Hereth, YMCA Farm Educator

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PHOTO: DAVID MCINTYRE
  • Photo: David McIntyre

What organization(s) are you involved with in Kingston and what is your role?

I work full time at the Kingston YMCA Farm Project as the Education Director. The youth development program is my focus. I am also an adjunct lecturer and internship coordinator at SUNY New Paltz for the Geography Department.


Where do you go in Kingston to recharge?

About 12-15 years ago, I got my first hive of honeybees. Because they are in my yard, I don't have to go far to recharge. Watching and stewarding the bees is incredibly humbling and meditative-it deeply connects me to the rhythms of the natural world. The Hudson River is a top choice when I need a boost with some "river time."


What is the biggest challenge facing Kingston?

Wowza. There are so many issues impacting our small city these days, where does one start? How about with people learning to work together better? If we shared our strengths, identified overlaps and gaps, let go of egos, and learned to compromise more, I think many challenges could be much more easily overcome for the betterment of the city as a collective.


What is the most woke thing Kingston could do?

The most enlightened thing that Kingston could do would be to listen to the youth in the community, uplift their voices, and craft a future for the city that they feel engaged in.


Where is your favorite place to go in Kingston for a bite or a beer? What do you like about it?

You can probably find me at Boice's Dairy at any given moment of the day. Conveniently, it's located between my house and the Kingston YMCA Farm Project. I could have a small chocolate shake for breakfast, lunch, or dinner. During the busy growing months, I mostly move between my house and the farm, so I'd say picking fresh veggies to snack on while I'm at work makes my heart sing and is deeply connecting to my work, passions, and our city. When I do have some time to head out, Boitson's is my favorite place because it feels like comfort food. I love being able to walk to The Anchor and appreciate their social justice efforts toward nonprofits in Kingston and their solidarity with our immigrant community. Turn Up The Beet is my go-to for good conversation and a healthy bevie in a reusable jar with no straw needed!


Why does your organization’s work matter?

The Kingston YMCA Farm Project's work matters because our mission is to educate, connect, and nourish the community with our farm. We do that by growing food in the heart of Kingston for the community, providing farm-based educational programs for local kids, collaborating with partner organizations for greater collective impact, and, through our youth development program that employs and supports teens within the City of Kingston, using sustainable urban farming as the context for learning. We're "growing a healthier Kingston" in all forms possible. Investing in and empowering our youth, the next generation, for me is a direct path to creating the change I would like to see in the world.


What challenges/pain points does your organization face?

Maybe our challenge is that we're Kingston's best-kept secret. :) Logistically, because we are a nonprofit, we also have a lot of juggling: the need to plan well, remain sustainable, be flexible, and fundraise to run our programs. We have wonderful foundational support and a solid base of supporters, but we also have to remain fresh on everyone's busy plates (pun intended). Our mighty staff of three adults does it all-farming, educating, supporting and supervising teens, harvesting and selling our produce, planning and running events, collaborating with community partners, writing grants and fundraising to keep us moving forward. That can sometimes be a challenge. But I have deep faith that everything will work out and is as it's meant to be.Â


What is one service/offering/event your organization offers that the community might not know about?

We have a weekly farm stand at the Y in Kingston every Thursday, 3:30-6pm, for most of the year. If the produce isn't grown by us, we partner with Hudson Valley Farm Hub to provide fresh local vegetables in Midtown Kingston. We accept SNAP, WIC, and Senior Farmers Market Nutrition Program checks so that we can insure food access to all in our community. We also have a free bi-weekly "veggie prescription" farm stand in partnership with Institute for Family Health funded by a Farm Fresh Food grant from the Community Foundations of the Hudson Valley. We have year-round youth employment and youth development programs for ages 14-18 that range from farm crew to cooking to beautifying Kingston to outings in the Hudson Valley.


Why do you love living in Kingston?

I love that so many people in the City of Kingston care and roll up their sleeves every day to make the world a better place. I enjoy the city's size-the walkability and sense of community-that people know each other and care about each other. I love the surprises from the natural world like bears in Midtown, bald eagles circling overhead, or dozens of migrating monarch butterflies. I love the hidden gems like O+ murals or the Tropical Ice stand on the corner. I love that we are a community (or at least the people I spend time with) that embraces our LGBTQ+ community and immigrant neighbors. I love that we are a river town on the Hudson.


If you could change one single thing about the city, what would it be?

If I could change one thing about the city it would be to try to bring some sense of civility back by sending everyone to driving school to re-learn the rules of the road, put down their phones, and to chillax when they are behind the wheel. I would do everything I could to encourage people to walk or bike (hint: we have a new GreenLine and a solid plan for Broadway!) to cut down on traffic, lower the city speed limit, and fix some of the notorious intersections around the city-well that's really three things but all deeply related.


Where do you see Kingston in five years?

I'm not much of a predictor, but I hope Kingston keeps its heart, soul, and grit.


What is it about sunflowers you love?

I particularly love sunflowers this year because our BARK youth crew (Beautifying and Restoring Kingston) planted them around Midtown, and they have brought a lot of surprise and joy to residents in the city. I think they are a metaphor the teens in our city-they surprise people, shine bright, and are beautiful. The sunflowers to me are a visible result of the work of teens who wanted to make a positive impact in their community. Sunflowers represent optimism.


From a biodiversity and ecosystem-benefits perspective, these varieties provide good food for pollinators and birds, and they follow the sun.


What's the most important lesson we can learn about farms and food?

We use the farm as the context for learning and supporting all the people who come into contact with our work. We've seen kids who claim to hate vegetables completely change their ideas after spending time with their hands in the soil and being a trusted component of our work on the farm. The most important lesson we can learn about farms and eating is that food is medicine for the mind, body, and spirit. At the Kingston YMCA Farm Project, we work with a lot of school aged children each year (ages 3-18). I would say the lesson is to deeply realize the impacts that planting a seed, watering a plant, being trusted with a responsibility, harvesting a crop, being part of a group that prepares a recipe, sharing a meal together, working with a team to accomplish a task, or selling fresh food to your community has on someone.

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