My name is Eman Rashid and I am the founder of Brooklyn Seeds, a kids' nature and gardening program. We teach children about organic food, native plants and the importance of gardening not just for us, but for our native and endangered wildlife. We don't grow rows of lettuce and basil and tomatoes. Our school gardens are wild! There is an extinction crisis, with over 1 million species on track for extinction in the next few decades. 150 species are lost every day! So kids in our program learn which plants are beneficial for our native birds, butterflies, bees, beetles and other wildlife- and then we grow them!
When I started the program, I learned about and taught conventional gardening methods. I bought affordable and pretty plants at great prices, not realizing I was contributing to the extinction of native wildlife with my purchases of non-native plants. This directly leads to the extinction of animals that depend on native plants. I was taught in many of these gardening books that any animal on my plant was a pest. Aphids on your kale? Kill them. Larvae on your dill? Squash them! Snails in your garden? Salt them and watch them dehydrate to death! The experts told us and we listened! But I started to question the experts when I noticed ladybugs eating the aphids. And that larva was a Black Swallowtail butterfly caterpillar! And that snail was an essential food for native birds!
But I also questioned how businesses were run, how unethical it was that executives at companies make so much money- while people who do the day-to-day work make so little! I decided to do the right thing! So I don't pay minimum wage, or a living wage. Instead I pay a thriving wage- at least 25% higher than a living wage. I base pay on need, not on greed, so our pay ranges from about $27 - $35/hour. A parent should never have to think about whether they can pay an electricity bill or put food on the table!
We don't just teach kids about plants and animals. We practice compassionate communication teaching methods. When kids are having a hard day, we don't give them a time out. We give them a time in. When a child is crying, we don't tell them to stop. Instead, we ask them why and really listen. We don't boss kids around. Instead, we use music, humor and movement to help kids listen and make learning fun and memorable. How can we constantly tell kids to be kind when adults are often unkind to them, telling them what to do every minute of the day without giving them choices?
We also have an after-school program where kids learn about nature. After-school businesses are quite profitable! I knew I could make so much money if we had one adult working with 8 or 10 children. But that ratio of adults to kids meant kids wouldn't get much-needed attention. They wouldn't get to talk about their day, figure out their feelings and feel heard and validated. Instead, they'd be herded like sheep. So I decided to have a healthy, child-centered ratio of one adult working with about 3 or 4 children. The kids learn about nature in a compassionate environment- compassion toward each other, but also compassion for all the living plants and animals around us.
Brooklyn Seeds is not a non-profit. But we operate like one. Some of our kids struggle with various issues like ADHD, parent separation and loss, a stressful home life, and other challenging and sometimes traumatic situations. We train staff to listen and to validate. Several of our children need one-on-one care, but we have never turned a child away. At least 25% of the kids in our program are on FULL scholarships, no questions asked.
We also hire from underserved and undocumented communities. These are communities which have historically dealt with the economic exclusion that comes with systemic racism, classism, homophobia and transphobia. Our staff often need their own support system, and we provide it- whether it's a mental health break or extra support and time to process a tough family situation.
I've been told that this is not a good business model- that I should pay less, have less staff, bring in more "typical" kids and "typical" staff, have less scholarships and more fully paying families. Maybe I could finally stop hopping from one apartment to another? But there is something very wrong with our system, with current business models which favor profit over people. We think of children as a way to make money. We think of people who work for us as expendable. We think of our fellow human beings as "labor" rather than our community, our brothers and sisters and friends.
During COVID, I had to take out loans to continue paying folks and to keep the business running. I also put our gardening suppllies on credit cards, and had no money for an accountant so I did everything myself!
And now I need your help! I want to take the next step and actually start a NON-PROFIT so we can apply for grants and fund these good business practices. But our new non-profit can NOT legally take on the debt of this business. We need to raise $76,000 so we can pay off the COVID debt and start the non-profit with a clean slate.
When you give to this campaign, you are helping to continue the practice of treating every child we teach and every adult we employ as a worthy human being, not just as a source of someone's profit. You help teach kids about native plants and animals and the extinction crisis. You help train folks who are excluded from our current economic system. You help fund children excluded from other programs because their parents don't have the money to pay.
Help us take the next step. Please give what you can.