Tag Archives: FIT Alumni

IT’S THE GREAT PUMPKIN, LEONA WILSON

Hue loves autumn for all its myriad splendors: pumpkin muffins, pumpkin pie, pumpkin soup, pumpkin-scented candles…. But all that pumpkin has to come from somewhere. And as Leona Rocha Wilson, Fashion Design ’72, discovered, they’re not that easy to grow.

Wilson, who lives in Maui, accepted a handful of seeds from the USDA Cooperative Extension System Office, as part of a program to teach local gardeners about the difficulties that farmers face. Those who grew the largest pumpkins would get to display their bounty at the county fair in October, alongside exotic chickens and tropical fruits.

“Across the country, farmers are closing up, digging under, selling to developers,” she says. “When the farmer gives up farming, that soil becomes housing. And somebody has to grow the food that we’re consuming.”

She was already an experienced gardener, growing rare trees called koai’a to sell the wood. She dug 3-by-3-foot holes underneath the trees and planted the seeds in the corners. She kept a journal to track their progress.

Leona Rocha Wilson measures one of her pumpkins.

As soon as the vines began to unfurl their enormous leaves, she worried she had planted them too close. Every day she watched and worried. But each one grew in a different direction. “Even plants want to survive,” she notes, her voice full of wonder. “Their survival skills were amazing.”

Once the pumpkins began to grow, she also had to cope with fruit flies. If a fruit fly stings a pumpkin, she says two things can happen. One, the larvae eat the pumpkin from the inside and the pumpkin implodes. Two of hers “melted” in that way. Sometimes, the flies produce a gas inside the pumpkin, and it blows up! Thankfully, that didn’t happen to her.

From eight seeds, she was able to grow five pumpkins with a combined weight of 500 pounds. After presenting them at the county fair, she donated them to a local church, where they will become pies and roasted pumpkin seeds for Thanksgiving.

Her final conclusions? “It was fun. And now I have an added respect for farmers.”

THE RURAL LIFE IN QUEENS, PART TWO

As part of her effort to live off the land as much as she can, Ruth Harrigan ’87 keeps four chickens in her backyard.

“My kids asked for a dog; I got them chickens,” she explains.

Ruth Harrigan petting a hen. “They’re mostly feathers,” she says.

She buys one-day-old chicks from a farm in Ohio; they only cost $2 each, but it’s an extra $35 to ship them via a special USPS carrier who deals only in livestock. Local farms also sell chicks, but they don’t guarantee the sex–and New Yorkers are only allowed female chickens. She’s willing to pay extra to avoid a Moses scenario.

As opposed to bees, which can be tricky to take care of, chickens are a breeze. They’re gentle and they live off food scraps–watermelon rinds are a delicacy, apparently.

Chickens are also great for gardens. They scratch at the ground all day, aerating the soil, and they eat the grubs that prevent things from growing.

Not to mention that each chicken produces an egg every day or every other day. The eggs are tastier than your typical supermarket variety.

“The white, normally slippery, is textured,” she says. “The yolk is bright orange. Even the local eggs I buy aren’t this orange.”

These eggs sure get eaten: Harrigan has four kids. Plus a cat, who (surprise!) gets along with the chickens just fine.

“All my friends want chickens now because of me,” Harrigan boasts. “Not that I’m pushing it or anything.”

THE RURAL LIFE IN QUEENS, PART ONE

At first blush (and even after numerous blushes), New York City does not seem like a good place to keep bees and chickens. Hue believed that too, until we met Ruth Harrigan, Fashion Buying and Merchandising ’87.

Harrigan keeps 12 beehives near her home in Douglaston, Queens, and five more in Staten Island. She also has four chickens as pets (more on that in the next post). This summer, she showed Hue said beehives and chickens.

Ruth Harrigan fakes a forest fire.

She approaches the beehives from the back. Apparently, they only leave the hive in one direction, so there are no bees where she’s standing. She fills the bee smoker with pine needles and lights them on fire. A tan stream of smoke pours upward and diffuses, and the bees, sensing a forest fire, crawl back into the hive.

Then she pulls out a frame to show off the honey.

The golden honey is concentrated in the lower left quadrant.

The structure of the man-made hives makes it easier to harvest the honey, but it’s not necessary. Recently, she left some empty cardboard boxes next to the hives, and a feral hive took up residence inside. “For me, catching a swarm is like saving $100,” she says, referring to the cost of buying a new colony.

This beehive was formed in an empty cardboard box.

She’s found a number of uses for the honey. First off, the neighbors eat it to help mitigate their allergies. Prevailing wisdom suggests the pollen content of local raw honey acts as a kind of inoculation for people with a pollen allergy. Supermarket honey can’t do that. “Pasteurized honey has no pollen–it’s just sweet syrup,” she says.

Second, she sells it as HoneyGramz, cute 2-ounce bear-shaped bottles with a gift message. And third, she puts it in her line of skincare, Mee Beauty. Sadly, the intoxicating scent of real honey fades quickly, so the products don’t smell like honey. Buyer beware: any beauty product that smells like honey relies on an artificial scent.

Based on customer demand, though, Harrigan is adding a honey scent to her body wash. “It’s the most natural fake fragrance you can get.”

HOW TO CONVINCE STRANGERS TO GIVE YOU MONEY

Hue loves it when FIT alumni follow their dreams. So does Kickstarter, the “crowdfunding” website that helps entrepreneurs gather seed money for their artistic projects.

Amy Lombard, Photography ’12, succeeded in her Kickstarter effort to publish a book of photos of Ikea showrooms, complete with customers who look like they live there.

On August 5, FIT’s Office of Alumni and Faculty Relations put on Kickstarter School: Bring Your Project to Life, a panel discussion of three alumni who have launched successful Kickstarter projects, plus Nicole He, Kickstarter’s Art, Fashion and Photography Project Specialist, and Sass Brown, Assistant Dean of FIT’s School of Art and Design.

Here is their best advice. (Or you can watch the video of the presentation.)

1. Start by surfing Kickstarter.com and backing lots of interesting-sounding projects. Even $1 will get you email updates about each project. Not only will you learn what makes a compelling pitch, but you’ll also learn to avoid common pitfalls.

2. You’ll need to choose little prizes for each donation level. The most popular giveaway will be your actual product, but think of desirable tie-in products and other offers that help funders feel like insiders. For a $20 donation, Heather Huey, an FIT Millinery alumna whose photo book project was funded, offered a shoutout on her collaborator’s popular Tumblr page.

3. You’ll have to choose a length of time for achieving your funding goal (if you fall short, you get nada!). He (we mean Nicole, not some mysterious as-yet-unmentioned man) recommends 30 days. Less isn’t enough time to build momentum; more and the momentum flags.

Stefan Loble, Entrepreneurship, raised almost ten times what he planned to for his line of easy-care pants. For him, Kickstarter was a way to take pre-orders and get paid before he went into production.

4. There will be delays. Keep your backers in the loop with regular updates.

5. Make a video to promote your project. But don’t worry if it’s amateurish. He thinks some of the most compelling videos have been just a guy mumbling into a camera.

6. Get critical feedback on your page before launching. Not just from friends – from people who will tell you what they really think.

7. Be ready. Have a prototype done. Convince would-be funders that all you need is money. (There are failures out there. Beware the doom that came to The Doom That Came to Atlantic City!)

8. If your project does get funded, be ready to go into production!