Urban garden project harnesses the power of the Internet
Thursday, April 1, 2010; 1:52 PM
When Katie Aldworth, 32, isn't juggling plates of house-made charcuterie and wild mushroom consomme as a waitress at the Poste Moderne Brasserie in Penn Quarter, she spends long afternoons taking soil samples, pulling weeds and laying compost for urban gardens.
Aldworth is the founder of Beet Street Gardens, a project aimed at creating sustainable vegetable gardens for community service organizations in the Washington area.
To raise money, Aldworth used Kickstarter.com, a Web site where people share project ideas with complete strangers in hopes of securing backers.
Projects seeking funding on Kickstarter include a documentary about the Calvin & Hobbes comic strip and a theater production of "A Christmas Carol" in the Klingon language from "Star Trek." Organizers must reach 100 percent of their funding goals by a deadline, or all the funds raised are returned.
To encourage people to give more money, project creators offer prizes depending on the amount of money donated. Launched last April, Kickstarter has helped fund more than 750 projects in the United States. The site takes 5 percent of the funds if a project meets its fundraising goal.
Several years ago, Aldworth ran the outreach program for Helping Individual Prostitutes Survive, a refuge for sex workers in Washington, and she often dreamed of having a garden there, she said. Aldworth said she saw gardening not only as a way to teach participants more about nutrition but also as therapeutic.
Aldworth had gardened before, but she didn't get into what she calls "serious gardening" until she started volunteering at the Washington Youth Garden last year, spending 25 hours a week finger-deep in soil. Speaking to colleagues at nonprofit groups across the city, she learned that many organizations wanted to have gardens but did not have the funds or the experience to start them.
Last fall, Aldworth came up with the idea of founding Beet Street to help those groups. A friend told Aldworth about Kickstarter, which pushed her to turn her idea into action, she said.
In about a month of online fundraising, Beet Street Gardens raised $6,121 -- 111 percent of Aldworth's original goal.
Aldworth learned quickly the networking power of the site, she said, as people outside her circle of friends and relatives donated money, pledged supplies and offered to volunteer. "Okay, this is a money thing, but it really became a community thing," she said.
Aldworth will create two gardens for Sasha Bruce Youthwork, an outreach organization that provides safe environments for homeless youths; two gardens for Pathways to Housing, an organization that finds homes for the homeless; and a garden for the refuge for sex workers. A fourth partner organization is also being considered, she said.
Aldworth has received encouragement from the restaurant where she works, which uses produce from a garden of its own.