Breaking a Sweat at the Newburgh Armory Community Garden


When I arrived on the scene at The Newburgh Armory Community Garden I was amazed at the amount of people I saw with shovels and pick-axes in their hands. What was particularly inspiring was the large turnout of teenagers. It was a chilly, early, Saturday morning and students from The Newburgh Free Academy’s ROTC program were at the garden site working to excavate the land and build beds. This was no small job but these high school students appeared happy to sweat and get their hands dirty.


The ROTC leader was Colonel Seward. The Colonel was not what one may envision when picturing a military officer. For one thing he smiled and laughed a lot and he had such an easy way about him. If he hadn’t been introduced to me as The Colonel I would have definitely taken him for a philosophy professor before a soldier. But I am sure this is due to my own short-sightedness. Oddly enough it is the same short-sightedness that the main stream media has in respect to The City of Newburgh.
Armory Collage 1Too often The City of Newburgh appears in the news as a scary and dangerous place, in which all of Newburgh’s youth are gang members, shooting it out on the streets. Rarely do we hear about all the good that is happening in this unique and vibrant community. Here were teenagers, showing up on an early Saturday morning to do some hard labor and they all looked pretty happy to be there. One young man named Ivan, a sophomore at NFA had shown up to work that day with a dislocated elbow (no he did not get it in a fight or being mugged) and when I asked him why he had come he said, “Because it’s fun.” He then proceeded to have one of his friends relocate his elbow back into place.

IMG_9679The ROTC is a community service organization run by military services. However, only about 4% of the kids who participate in ROTC actually go into the military. And within that 4% most go into the National Guard or the Reserves with the sole purpose of being able to afford college. The ROTC at NFA is run by the Air Force out of The Stewart Air Force Base. Although some parents force their children to join the ROTC most join of their own volition. When I asked Sade, a sophomore at NFA why she was out here on a chilly Saturday morning she said, “Well my parents made me join the ROTC but I ended up really liking it. It’s fun to come out here and work.”

IMG_0193I woke up Saturday morning thinking, “I can’t believe I volunteered to help build this garden.” I was tired, my back hurt and I had a cold coming on. I felt like a child going to her first day at a new school and fearing that no one would sit next to me in the cafeteria. Luckily I was wrong instead I arrived and was greeted by Deirdre Glenn, the President and CEO of the Armory Unity Center, she introduced me to two other women and pointed to the fresh hot coffee, donuts, juice and water and told me to help myself. I have to say Dunkin’ Donuts’ Munchkins with hot coffee really hit the spot before and after picking up a shovel to dig. At lunch time Deirdre supplied pizza for all of the volunteers.

I was then greeted with a big smile by Case Wyse and Jarna Maniguet all of whom seemed happy to see me even though I hadn’t gotten their information exactly right for my last article. Not knowing what I was supposed to be doing, besides eating donuts, I asked Case and Jarna where I would be most needed. I was hoping they were going to say, “Eating donuts.” But instead they handed me a shovel and I joined the rest of the troops excavating the soil. I wish I could say that I rocked at digging and swinging a pick-axe but at best I was mediocre.

Armory Collage 3The earth was tough and the cinderblocks to build the bed walls were heavy, but luckily there were a lot of young people there so that people like me could take donut and coffee breaks without hindering the progress of the job. When I left at 1:30PM there were still tons of people working and new NFA students arriving for their shifts. I asked Case how long he thought he would be there at the garden and he said, “I think I will be here until 3 in the morning.” I’m hoping some of his determination and the NFA student’s stamina and passion wear off on me. I know one thing, I was inspired by all of these volunteers and I met a lot of interesting people I plan on staying in touch with. Some of whom are doing other amazing community services in Newburgh.

IMG_9583The gardens at the Lyceum at the Dutch Reformed Church, and the La Vida garden need helping hands. Spring clean up has started but there is still work to be done and they need volunteers. All three gardens will be having their opening day on May 11, 2013, starting at 12 noon to 1:00 pm at the armory, 1:30 to 2:30 at the garden at the Lyceum at the Dutch Reformed Church, and 9:00 to 11:00am at the La Vida garden. If you are anything like me and looking for inspiration in Newburgh come on down to The Armory on South Williams Street on Saturday April 27th from 9:00 am to 2:00pm and/or Sunday April 28th from 11:00 to 2:00. Even if you can’t use a shovel or a pick-axe, come out and show moral support or at least eat a donut and have some coffee.



Photos courtesy of Erica Shires

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