Today's featured creator is Nora Painten, a Brooklyn-based farmer and self-professed food lover who is determined to transform abandoned urban spaces into food-bearing, community-sustaining pieces of land. Her Kickstarter project will help her do so with an 8,000 square foot lot in Brownsville, New York, revitalizing it as an educational resource and food source for the neighborhood.
I’m Nora Painten. I’m a farmer. I cook, I teach, I grow food in Brooklyn.
Describe your plans for the Brownsville lot — what will you grow? What are some lessons you imagine students being taught there?
We are creating a student farm for P.S. 323. We plan to break ground on the new garden in March. We will grow: tomatoes, peppers, hot peppers, carrots, grapes, collards, kale, tons of herbs, lots of different flowers (to name just a very few things). We will raise some hens (for eggs, and to play with) and have a bee hive (for honey and pollinators). Students will learn about all the elements a plant needs to grow, pollination, seasonality, and taste. I will encourage them to eat things off the vine and out of the ground. For me, a farm is a place to be constantly snacking. Their teachers will incorporate the garden into lessons. So for math: if we have 132 garlic bulbs to plant in a 10 x 4 bed, how many rows should we make? Economics via Farmers market training: go to the grocery store - what do carrots cost? What should we charge for our carrots so that we sell them all but also make a profit?Talk to us a bit about urban farming and education. Why is it important?
How to nourish ourselves is simply not taught. And it shows in society. Our major health epidemics — obesity, high blood pressure — stem from years of abusing our bodies. Farming not only connects you to your food, it requires you to use your body as a tool. On a more day to day level, how can we expect our kids to use their brains in the classroom if we are feeding them overly sugary and salty foods in school cafeterias? We have to teach kids early to appreciate the taste of freshly picked and simply prepared produce, before they become addicted to the artificial satisfaction of fast food. It is especially important in neighborhoods like Brownsville where access to fresh, healthy food is limited. If we can get at kids at an early age and turn them into life long healthy eaters, they will grow into adults with purchasing power who will demand high quality fresh produce and farmers markets in their neighborhoods.
Don’t be discouraged by the prospect of having to work with city government. In fact, some of my biggest advocates heave been city agencies. Look for sunny empty lots everywhere. Check out these great resources: 596 Acres and Oasis NYC. Look for grant opportunities and follow my blog, where I will be chronicling my whole process.
How's your Kickstarter project going?
The Kickstarter is going great. It has definitely consumed my life for the past month. I have seen a lot of support from friends, family and strangers (my new farm family). We got some of our biggest donations from folks we didn’t know. And people from all over the world, as far away as Australia. We’ve also gotten donations from restaurants and organizations, not just individuals. I also have a new part-time job helping to develop a cooking and nutrition program for parents and teens moms at a local Brownsville high school, which will be another great outlet for our fresh veggies next year.
Your rewards are amazing — very interactive and spirited. They really encourage people to get involved. Can you talk to us a bit about the process of brainstorming them? Is there one particular tier you like best?
I brainstormed the rewards for a while. Before we launched, I sent a list of the rewards I was considering out to a key group of folks who I felt had experience with this kind of thing. I got and took a lot of advice. I am really excited about cooking this private dinner on the 17th at 61 local (an awesome pub in Cobble Hill, Brooklyn and big supporter of the project), which is the reward for the $320 donation tier. I also can't wait to take people's pictures with the chickens. I am really excited about designing our farm t-shirts and getting them made. I hope all of our backers will come out to see the farm this summer and witness what they helped build. We are going to have classes for kids and adults. It's going to be a really fun place to hang out.
Any advice for other potential creators — in general or specific to urban farmers?
Have someone to help you and advocate for you — a partner, a family member, a friend. My fiance has been instrumental in helping me reach out to folks. Our combined network is much more powerful than just my own. Also, I now have a twitter account as a result of all this (I'm probably the last person on earth to get one) and I do think potential project creators should get one before they start! Be vigilant about thanking key individual donors, don't be afraid to work your connections or ask your friends to spread the project on their networks, or at their workplaces.