Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Adopt-A-Farmbox: Empowering Brooklyn to Grow Its Own Food

Lately, it seems as though so many people talk about fresh, local or organic food that everyone must have access to it. In fact, there are neighborhoods in New York City that can be characterized as “food deserts” — areas with little or no access to food needed to maintain a healthy diet.

This is where Adopt-A-Farmbox comes in. A new project of Bed-Stuy couple Aki and Ronald Baker through their sustainable design company Baker Design and Build, it partners with schools and community organizations to donate farm boxes: plots of soil enclosed by 100 percent recycled wood in which to grow food.

“If we can empower people about food, what they eat and how that’s going to bring change into their lives, we can encourage them to take charge of their health, their community and their environment,” said Aki, a nutritionist and yoga instructor.

The boxes are custom made, depending on the size and layout of the space they are intended for. If the boxes are built at a school, they fit into the classroom structure. “We know public school teachers have a lot to do already — what we’re trying to do is make it easy for teachers to be able to integrate it easily into the curriculum they already have,” Baker explained. “Kids need to be able to think about [healthy eating] in every aspect of their lives.”

Baker Design and Build will donate all the materials to build and sustain the farm boxes, including the wood for the box structure, organic soil, organic seeds and plan layouts. They also provide consultation on seed placement optimization, soil composition, vegetable and fruit varieties, educational program integration and a standard based curriculum.

Currently, the project is in its early stages, with boxes being built and funds being raised to build more. Adopt-A-Farmbox will soon have a presence at the Brooklyn Brownstone School, P.S. 11 Purvis J. Behan Elementary School, P.S. 307 Daniel Hale Williams Elementary School, the Green-Hill School and LaunchPad creative gathering space, all in Brooklyn. They have one school partnership in Queens and one in Manhattan.

Right now the first boxes are at Community Counseling and Meditation’s Georgia’s Place in Brooklyn, a supportive housing facility for the mentally ill. There are four boxes there, Baker said. She explained that once the boxes are built and the soil is put in, the soil has to settle. Seedlings for new boxes will be started in February and taken outside to plant in April. During the fall and winter, workshops will be held in health, nutrition, farming and composting.

In the meantime, the Bakers are fundraising to cover the cost of the boxes through Kickstarter, an all-or-nothing based fundraising web site, which awards a project money only if it is fully funded by pledges. Adopt-A-Farmbox’s goal is to reach $10,000 by Sept. 11. As of Wednesday afternoon, 48 backers had pledged a little more than $3,500.

Money will also be raised through a party on Sept. 11 in collaboration with theCOMPOUNDbrooklyn, a social experiment designed by a collective of artists, activists and local businesses, in which they throw parties in order to raise funds for good causes. “Back-to-School @ theCOMPOUNDbrooklyn with Adopt-A-Farmbox” will be at 1281 Atlantic Ave. from 3 p.m. to midnight on the 11th.

Baker said they are also talking to council members to secure more funds for the project.

“[The response] has been overwhelmingly positive [so far],” Baker said. “Our hope is to empower people … using food as a catalyst for social change. Food is something that connects us together. We all have to eat.” 

Photo courtesy of Adopt-A-Farmbox

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