There is always a certain level of tension in the community between "old Hudson" and "the newcomers," but rarely does it rise as close to the surface as it did on Thursday night at the meeting of the Youth & Aging Committee of the Common Council. The bone of contention: the raised-bed garden at the Youth Center and the educational program built around it.
At the start of the discussion, Committee Chair Wanda Pertilla and Youth Commissioner Daryl Blanks introduced a theme that was taken up again in Mayor Scalera's "Garden drama" letter in today's Register-Star. Blanks said there had been "too much of people writing letters to the editor instead of sitting down and discussing it," ignoring the fact that discussion of the garden had been referred to the Youth & Aging Committee, and Pertilla has been postponing committee meetings because Youth Director Trudy Beicht, who is on sick leave, has been unable to attend. Pertilla similarly criticized the attention paid to the garden issue in the press and on blogs, calling it "just hurtful" and alleging that "characters were slandered on the Internet." She pointed out that Stephanie Monseu, whose circus program at the Youth Center had been cancelled at the same time as Kids in the Kitchen/Yoga Buddies, had submitted a "beautiful letter" arguing for the continuation of her program. "That," said Pertilla, "is how you do business."
Although united in their opinion that the community response to perceived threats to the garden was inappropriate, Pertilla and Blanks, who sat--and often spoke--with his back to the audience, sent contradictory messages about other aspects of the discussion. Pertilla said more than once that she supported a cooking program at the Youth Center, while Blanks declared, "We're not going to turn the Youth Center into a culinary institute." Although Pertilla seemed favorably disposed to the circus program, Blanks complained that "the same programs were being proposed again" in spite of the fact that his "focus is on new programs." Blanks stressed that his "philosophy is to bring in different things," while Pertilla lamented the fact that an ongoing dance program, which has been in place for a few years, has never gotten the kind of attention and publicity that the short-lived Kids in the Kitchen/Yoga Buddies program was getting.
While describing the "rousing success" of the gardening/cooking program, Kari Rieser, coordinator for the Childhood Obesity Program which funded the garden, said that the program generated more interest than "tossing a ball." Alderman Sheila Ramsey (D-Fourth Ward), who is on the Youth & Aging Committee, took issue with what she felt was Rieser's implication that sports--the traditional fare of the Youth Department--had no benefit. When Carole Clark argued for keeping the garden in close proximity to the Youth Center, explaining that the community of children served by the Youth Center benefited especially from the experience of learning about food and from individual interactions with adults, Blanks took offense at the inferences Clark was making based on her experiences. "We're not in these children's homes," he said. Shortly afterward, Blanks left the meeting and the building.
Responding to Blanks' apparent denial that a need exists in Hudson for education about food and healthy eating, Rieser cited the 2010 Access to Healthy Food County Health Rankings, which indicate that only 30 percent of people in Columbia County have access to healthy food (the target value is 71 percent), and described Hudson as a "food desert."
The meeting, which began at 5 p.m., adjourned at about 6:35, not long after Blanks' abrupt departure. While members of the audience and the committee lingered in post-meeting conversations, Mayor Scalera, who has been at the center of the garden controversy, entered the building, clearly annoyed that he'd been told by a city clerk that the meeting started at 7 and, as a result, had missed the whole thing.
Although Pertilla stressed during the meeting that "a decision has not been made to move the garden," all indications are that the Youth Center garden will be moved to TSL. Whether that means relocating the raised beds there or creating a new garden is not clear.