The second Saturday of the month is a busy day for Downing Park Urban Farm in Newburgh. On regularly scheduled "Field Days" visitors are welcome to tour the developing farm in the heart of the city which includes a demonstration garden and according to their website, is “a place for the residents of Newburgh to learn more about urban farming and provide a pathway to self-sufficient methods of food production and sustainability within the city.” Urban farm centers are an incredibly useful tool to familiarize people with food production, especially for populations living in cities where a simple trip to the weekend farmers market can be an eye-opening cultural experience.
The farm's Field Day experience is a series of demonstrations and workshops on farming and environmental topics. I started the day with a demonstration by master beekeeper Rodney Dow of the Glynwood Center in nearby Cold Spring. A series of beehives sit on the corner of the farm near Carpenter Avenue and Rodney used sage smoke to prepare a hive, opened it, and removed a portion while explaining the honey-making process. He passed around pieces of propolis, a resinous mixture that bees create and use as a sealant within their hive. Also known as “bee glue,” propolis is known for its anti-cancer properties and its varied uses including dental remedies and wart removal. Rodney uses it to create tinctures.
The next demonstration came from Bryan Quinn of Beacon-based One Nature, a landscape and environmental company that focuses on regenerative design, scientific consulting, landscape construction and also operates a native plants nursery. As a restoration ecologist, Brian spreads the message that humans can take an interest in the restoration of our planet. He explained to the audience the environmental impact of what we know as the typical “American lawn” and how making the change to native grasses and plants can create a sustainable landscape that increases biodiversity while at the same time requiring less watering and maintenance. He pointed out the farm’s buckwheat section behind us and explained that the roots from these grasses reach deep into the ground and can help fix the carbon below. A discussion followed about how familiar landscapes that we typically consider to be attractive and increase or maintain the value of our homes may not be environmentally sound.
Farm Manager Marcel Barrick wrapped up the Field Day experience with a tour of the farm. A portion of the landscape was covered in pieces of cardboard, a method explained earlier by Brian to kill grass, without chemicals or digging, before turning it into a low-maintenance plot. In progress is remediation of the former greenhouse site using native, deep-rooted wildflowers to loosen the soil. A tank was filled with rainwater and the farm’s demonstration garden containing buckwheat and beans was situated on a slope at the rear of the property. The farm is a work in progress and it's exciting to see the development of this big project up close.
Downing Park Urban Farm: www.downingparkurbanfarm.org
Glynwood Center: www.glynwood.org
One Nature: www.onenaturellc.com