Kingston Land Trust: At the Intersection of Stewardship and Social Justice | Outdoors | Hudson Valley | Chronogram Magazine
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Kingston Land Trust: At the Intersection of Stewardship and Social Justice 

Last Updated: 10/13/2021 10:51 am
click to enlarge Members of Harambee and the Kingston Land Trust celebrate the 2019 acquisition of the Pine Street African Burial Ground.
  • Members of Harambee and the Kingston Land Trust celebrate the 2019 acquisition of the Pine Street African Burial Ground.

In 1990, archaeologist Joseph Diamond and historian Ed Ford did an archeological survey of the City of Kingston. In a basement on Pine Street, they found human remains of African origin, leading to the rediscovery of a long-forgotten burial ground, where enslaved Africans had been interred over a period of 150 years. By the mid-19th century, a lumberyard had been built over the graves. Over the next century and half, the threat of development loomed over the plot, including after the 1990 discovery, when it was almost paved over as a parking lot. Finally, in 2019, the cultural coalition Harambee and the Kingston Land Trust (KLT) partnered to purchase the site, collaboratively writing a progressive conservation easement to be held by the KLT with ownership of the land in the hands of Harambee.

Traditionally, land trusts are primarily concerned with conservation—protecting big open spaces, historic farmland, vulnerable wetlands, and old-growth forests for reasons ranging from ecosystem integrity to legacy view sheds. The work to save the Pine Street African Burial Ground is just one example of how KLT is expanding on the traditional purview of a land trust. Founded by a group of volunteers in 2008, the nonprofit seeks to layer the priorities of reparative justice, food and housing security, recreation, and stewardship on top of land acquisition. KLT isn’t simply concerned with conserving land, but also with the questions “for whom are we conserving this?” and “to what end?”

click to enlarge Kingston
  • Kingston

“We are more focused on protecting land that has also a social significance and thinking about the history of the land and how to prioritize shifting who actually has agency, authority, and a relationship with the land,” says Greg Shaheen, KLT Conservation and Stewardship Manager.

Facets of Work

The work of Kingston Land Trust falls into six overlapping categories: land protection, land stewardship, land matching, land for food, land for homes, and land in Black hands.

click to enlarge A six-acre plot dubbed the Wilbur Uplands were purchased and protected by KLT in spring 2021.
  • A six-acre plot dubbed the Wilbur Uplands were purchased and protected by KLT in spring 2021.

“Land protection is one of the main roles of a land trust—acquiring land to protect it in perpetuity,” Shaheen explains. “Whether that is to preserve nature or prevent poorly planned development, whether it is a cultural or historical site, whether for farming or permanent public access.” Land protection efforts include the acquisition of the African burial ground as well as the purchase of a small neighborhood forest on Gross Street along the Kingston Greenline, where educational gardens are being developed. KLT’s most recent success in this arena of conservation was the 11th-hour acquisition of a six-acre plot in the hamlet of Wilbur earlier this year. “This effort is an example of well-planned open space protection that will allow the public to appreciate and engage with the remaining natural areas that make Kingston and its setting unique,” Shaheen says. KLT is currently fundraising to purchase six forested acres contiguous to the Wilbur property. (You can donate to that effort here.)

KLT’s prioritization and facilitation of land stewardship grows out of an underlying belief that having a relationship to the land is deeply nourishing and beneficial—both to the individual and to nature. “We are working to connect the community with the land,” Shaheen says. “The human impact and urbanization impact on land have been so extreme since colonization and even more since urban renewal. We feel like there is a role for humans to play here to engage the land and bring it into more of an ecological balance.”

click to enlarge A section of the Kingston Greenline that runs along Kingston Point.
  • A section of the Kingston Greenline that runs along Kingston Point.

The main prerequisite for reestablishing a relationship with the land is access, so part of KLT’s work includes making trails, adding benches, and building spaces for people to gather together and engage with nature. The Kingston Greenline, a joint initiative with the City of Kingston and Ulster County, is a major access victory. The system of trails, linear parks, and complete streets offers a scenic corridor for commuting, relaxation, and recreation that connects Kingston’s natural, historic, cultural, and commercial assets. If you are interested in trail monitoring, stewardship, or other support, consider signing up to be a trail ranger.

As part of their land for food initiative, the Kingston Land Trust is part of the Grow Well collective that supports urban agriculture in Kingston and is working with organizations like Rise Up Kingston and Future Fruits to carry out a community-led process of designing perennial edible spaces and planting fruit trees throughout the city. “These are places for the community to gather and feel a sense of ownership and connection with the land,” Shaheen says. By establishing perennial sources of food that don’t have the resource draw of an annual veggie patch, KLT is educating about ecological gardening while building a layer of food security for the community.

click to enlarge A meeting convened by the KLT to envision public fruit trees along the Kingston Greenline at Rondout Gardens.
  • A meeting convened by the KLT to envision public fruit trees along the Kingston Greenline at Rondout Gardens.

KLT has to balance short term and long term consequences in service of their core mission. “We want to be aware that if you make spaces nice, it’s going to raise [property] values, and attract newcomers,” Shaheen explains, of projects like the Greenline and public parks. “What we don’t want is for our work to contribute to the displacement of the very people we were trying to serve and work with, the people that have a relationship with this land.”

To this end, Kingston Land Trust is working on initiatives that focus on collective land ownership by the community that help prevent displacement. The KLT has worked toward the establishment of a Community Land Trust (CLT) in Kingston. A CLT owns land on behalf of its community, making it possible for low-income families to own homes, supporting long-term stewardship, creating permanent affordability in neighborhoods and the accrual of community assets. The KLT is now supporting a separate community group that is working toward this goal of establishing a CLT.
click to enlarge A meeting convened by the Land in Black Hands Steering Committee
  • A meeting convened by the Land in Black Hands Steering Committee
Land in Black Hands is another KLT program committed to developing Black land access, ownership, stewardship, and sovereignty in a cooperative context. Another way to give access to land is through the land matching portal on the KLT site. Through this tool, people looking for land to use (landseekers) and landowners with property they are willing to open up can each create profiles and search for matches based on location and shared land-use interests.

“One of the themes throughout our work is recreating the commons,” Shaheen says. The commons are the collective, shared resources of a community, from land, air, and other natural assets to the intangibles of culture, religion, and rituals. In the commons, resources are engaged and managed communally and non-hierarchically. Lately, the Kingston Land Trust has been working to reflect that non-hierarchical approach in their own internal organizational structure, with a shared leadership model that embraces shifting responsibilities and decision by consensus.

click to enlarge KLT workshop (with Spanish interpretation) at a KLT-protected forest sanctuary on Gross Street along the Greenline.
  • KLT workshop (with Spanish interpretation) at a KLT-protected forest sanctuary on Gross Street along the Greenline.
“Right now a big part of the work is stepping back and ensuring that we’re all on the same page,” Shaheen says. “As a staff we've been having regular retreats, returning to the question of our values individually and then seeing where they overlap. One value we share is collaboration, and we believe this should be reflected in the structure of our organization. This can in turn help us disrupt patterns of power and exploitation that play out on the land."

Kingston Land Trust is a nonprofit supported by donations and grant funding. You can donate here or support the organization by applying for an open position or volunteering.

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