2014-01-10 / Community

Farmer Kickstarts An Idea

By Katie McFadden

Local gardens were not spared by the wrath of Sandy. Nor were local farms. The salty floodwater wiped out plants and shrubs and crops. Now, Jeffrey Bruney, an urban farmer, is hoping to prevent crops from being wiped out during future major storms by developing the first ever hurricane-resistant farm.

Bruney is originally from the Caribbean but has lived in New York for the past 13 years, including three years in Far Rockaway. While living here, Bruney came across a garden run by the Battalion Pentecostal Church on Beach 67th Street. The garden has been in operation for almost 20 years. He started helping at the Rockaway Garden and turned it into a modern farm. The vegetables and herbs from the garden were used to give healthier options to the more than 300 low income families who frequent the church’s food pantry.

“Jeffrey was instrumental in helping with the garden with other volunteers. With him working, he brought a lot more to the garden project than we had in the last 18 years,” Pastor Cockfield of the Battalion Pentecostal Church said.

When Sandy hit, the Rockaway Garden was wiped out. After the storm, Bruney was inspired to put an idea that he had in his mind for seven years into action. Bruney is no stranger to strong hurricanes wiping out crops in the Caribbean. “Being from the Caribbean, I have firsthand experience of what happens after a hurricane. There are no veggies available and the little that we do have is imported and costs three times the price. All my life I’ve seen this happen,” Bruney says. He is an advocate of food security and feels strongly about giving people access to affordable nutritious food, including in America, where obesity is a major problem. “This is a passion that I have and I’ll play whatever role I can play for food security,” Bruney said.

To Bruney, that means making sure residents have access to vegetables even following a hurricane, which means making sure they don’t get wiped out during the storm. After years of research, Bruney came up with the idea of creating a hurricane-resistant farm and Sandy gave him the inspiration to finally turn his idea into something real. Although hurricane-resistant green houses have been developed, Bruney says these are not affordable options. The hurricane resistant farm would be the first of its kind and would be able to be created using inexpensive, local materials.

Bruney calls his two-part hurricane-resistant farm the Kubuli Farming System, with the name derived from Waitukabuli, or the local name for Dominica. Bruney has obtained a plot of land from the Dominican government and is set to build a prototype of his system in the hurricane-prone area to put it to the test against the elements during the upcoming hurricane season.

Bruney uses the farming methods of hydroponics and aquaponics, meaning the crops are grown without soil and rely mostly on nutrient-based water. The first part of the system includes rafters. This device is made to be flood and wind resistant. The rafters, about four-feet wide, 100-feet long and three-feet deep are made of concrete. They are filled with water and crops are planted into styrofoam which floats on top of the water, while the roots are immersed in the pool. Before a hurricane approaches, the water is drained to the bottom of the rafter and the plants recede low into the device. It is then sealed off with plywood and the plants are protected inside from wind and floods.

The second part includes portable planters. With this system, crops are planted inside inexpensive materials that are available locally. In Dominica, they will be planted into bamboo pipes, while in places where bamboo isn’t readily available, PVC pipes will be used. The crops that are planted into these pipes will remain outdoors, however when a storm approaches, the pipe with the plants can be easily moved into a hurricane-resistant shelter, so they are out of the way of strong winds and damaging rains. After the storm is over, the portable planters can be moved right back into place.

The two systems complement each other and Bruney says the system can be built anywhere in the world. After testing it in the Caribbean, Bruney wants to bring the first farm back to Rockaway at the location of the Rockaway Garden on Beach 67th Street. He also hopes that the system will be used in other hurricane-prone parts of the world including the entire eastern seaboard, the Caribbean and parts of Asia, like the Philippines, which was recently hit by Typhoon Haiyan. “I look forward to leaving a mark in the agriculture industry globally,” Bruney says.

With the idea in mind, Bruney is ready to build a prototype in Dominica and put it to the test. Dominica is right in the path of many hurricanes and Bruney says there hasn’t been one year in which a hurricane hasn’t impacted the small island. He is set to head to Dominica this month to get started on the project. In February, he will clear the land to prepare it for the system and will start construction by March. The construction includes the development of a storage shed, a water intake system, hydroponic and aquaponic systems, a plant nursery and a Vermicompost system. By the end of April he hopes to start planting and gearing up for the start of the hurricane season on June 1st.

From June until the end of August, Bruney will have cameras set up to document the progress of the system. Confident that there will be an adequate hurricane season that will put the system up to the test, Bruney already has a victory party planned for August 29th, to celebrate the hopeful success of the project.

Although he’s already set on making his idea become a reality, Bruney is concerned about the funding for the project. He’s putting in some of his own funding, but he doesn’t have enough to cover all of the materials, equipment, supplies and construction costs, which will cost about $12,000 for the basic system. Bruney wants this project to be funded by those who support and believe in it, which is why he has started a Kickstarter campaign. Those who make a donation will receive awards ranging from their name on a “We Built Kubuli Farms” wall, starting at $5, to a five day vacation for five on the island of Dominica for a $5,000 donation.

Bruney started the Kickstarter campaign on December 21st and has 40 backers who have donated up to $2,286 so far. However Bruney is still far from his $12,000 goal. He has until noon on January 20th to raise the full $12,000, or he won’t receive any of the funding through Kickstarter.

If interested in supporting his cause, the campaign can be found by going to Kickstarter.com and searching “Kubuli” or “Hurricane-Resistant Farming.”

If Bruney doesn’t get the funding through Kickstarter, that doesn’t mean he won’t pursue the project. He will resort to taking out a loan if necessary, but that’s not his desired option. “This is a project I want everyone to be a part of. This is not something for me, it’s something for the world,” Bruney said.

Whether he’s able to get the funding or not, Bruney is ready to get the ball rolling. “One way or another, I’m going to do this. I’ve spent seven years on this idea. I cannot not do this,” he said. “I’m excited about finally starting something I’ve been planning for so long. It feels good to finally go do this.”

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