By Chioke Brown
NCCU Staff Writer
the Durham VOICE
Residents of Northeast Central Durham can be on the lookout for more fresh vegetables – thanks to a new urban garden that got its startup money from online fundraising.
Bountiful Backyards, a Durham-based worker-owned cooperative, which has already started more than 125 gardens, used the online crowdfunding site Kickstarter.com.
The “Angier Avenue Neighborhood Farm” kickstarter campaign closed at 4 p.m. Monday (Jan. 30) with a total of $11,641 in pledges, exceeding its goal of raising $10,000.
The funds will be used to purchase an empty lot in Northeast Central Durham on the corner of Maple St. and Angier Ave. The land will be the future site of an Urban Farm for the community.
Urban Agriculture and “Urban Farms” have been used in cities across the globe to provide affordable food, employment opportunities, and education in farming techniques for urban residents.
“The Urban Farm is not just a cute concept. If done correctly, it’s very possible to make money,” said Keith Shaljian, one of Bountiful Backyard’s co-founders. “We can make these vacant lots a community resource again, as opposed to just something for some real estate company to speculate on.”
Making use of the many community relationships that they have acquired over the course of five years, Bountiful Backyards was able to reach out to the Durham community as well as people in other parts of the United States through email blasts, Facebook wall posts, word of mouth and an actual fundraising event at downtown Durham’s live music venue, The Pinhook.
“I received an email from Bountiful Backyards,” said Ellen Cassilly one of the many people who contributed a pledge for funds on the kickstarter page. “I am familiar with the work that they do and appreciate it.”
Because Bountiful Backyards is not a non-profit organization it was difficult for them to use the normal channels to acquire the funds necessary to purchase a plot of land.
“There’s not a big cooperative culture in North Carolina” said Shaljian. “The grant thing can get tricky for us. The ones we’ve applied for, it has always come down to them telling us ‘even though this proposal is great, you are a for-profit company and we can’t do it.’”
Difficulties securing money through grants or loans when they were funding their first Urban Farm, Two-Ton, convinced the owners that they needed to look in other places for funding the future edible landscape.
Kickstarter.com, a website started in 2009, only three years after Bountiful Backyards began, provided them the opportunity to get the funding that they needed without leaving them swimming in a pool of debt.
The website, which was originally designed to help get funding for creative people such as musicians, Indy record labels, creators of independent films, other media and food, requires that its users file an application prior to creating a kickstarter page. The application needs to include a video, a description of what the funds will be used for, and a goal that shows the amount of money that will need to be reached to fund the project.
The concept of Kickstarter is based on something called crowdfunding which allows individuals to pledge donations to projects that they see on the Kickstarter website.
Each project is given its own page with a space for videos, images, and a description of what they plan to do with the money that they raise. They are given a limited amount of time to raise the funds.
On the right of the page the project owners present their potential funders with rewards for different pledge amounts. Once the goal is reached and the kickstarter project has run out of time, the project owners are then obligated to provide their funders with the rewards that correspond with their pledge amount.
The Bountiful Backyard Kickstarter page offered 8 different pledge reward amount categories ranging from $30 all the way up to $3000.
“The $50 reward [category], which was about the average donation, was like a packet of wildflower seeds that can fill an area about the size of a kitchen table,” said Shaljian
Bountiful Backyards has shown that it may be possible for other organizations to work off of a similar crowdfunding model and be successful at raising money for their community projects.
“I don’t know of anybody else in Northeast Central Durham who has used crowdsourcing,” said Shaljian “but I really think it’s a great way to avoid some of the labors that go into traditional grants or even bank loans.”