(B.F.A. Film/Media Arts '98)
Kris Schumacher (B.F.A. Film/Media Arts ’98) is a co-founder of Next Door Organics, an urban/suburban farming company that provides a weekly service for Brooklyn residents. Each week, subscribers can order a customized box of farm-fresh produce, herbs, and flowers, as well as other local pantry items such as bread, pastries, and eggs, which they pick up the DeKalb Market on Flatbush Avenue (or at four other Brooklyn locations) or have delivered to their door. “When I went to Pratt in the ’90s there wasn't the sense of importance surrounding sustainability in food that there is now,” says Schumacher. “For me, it goes back to my childhood and the importance of being a good steward to the land and using all of the resources we have responsibly.”
Schumacher hails from North Scituate, Rhode Island, a small town outside of Providence, where a local farmer farms many of the products he sells. “We lived on a 100-acre farm that my father purchased when I was seven years old and converted into a sustainable wood lot,” he explains. “I was raised with a wood-burning fireplace instead of a furnace, and solar panels instead of a hot water heater, which was probably the root of my idea for Next Door Organics.”
Schumacher’s CSA (Community Supported Agriculture), which he founded just two years ago, now has about 100 local subscribers. To get the produce he distributes each week, Schumacher partners with other local farms and distributes produce from a number of places besides the DeKalb Market. He and his two partners are also bringing a network of small urban plots of land in and around New York City into the venture. To those who allow their backyards, brownfields, or even school grounds to be farmed for Schumacher’s venture, the CSA provides a box of produce each week.
So, how did a Pratt filmmaker turn into a farming entrepreneur? Schumacher came to Pratt because he wanted to study film at an art school. He considered the Rhode Island School of Design too close to home, but was “blown away by the industrial beauty of the Pratt campus” when he came to visit. “The film program was small and tight-knit at the time,” he recalls, “and we were exposed to some great creative work and innovative ideas. I have fond memories of sneaking into the tunnels beneath campus for film and photo shoots.”
At Pratt, Schumacher learned that filmmaking and entrepreneurship are closely linked. An assignment from the Pratt administration to make a film to be shown at Orientation proved decisive: “I'm not sure if it was shown,” he muses, “but the challenge of producing it helped set me on the track to where I am today.”
In his senior year at Pratt, Schumacher started working for Heavy Light, a post-production house serving the independent film industry. There he had a lead role in developing several new digital services that were used in successful films such as Open Water, American Splendor, and Super Troopers. “I found that the creativity in understanding customers and building a business was something that really appealed to me,” he explains. “After 9/11 it was a little tense in the city and it seemed that the time was right to get out for a while.”
So he enrolled in the MBA program at Babson College in Massachusetts, which is known as the top school worldwide for entrepreneurship, and received his degree in 2004. “To me there is a great synergy between what I learned at Pratt in terms of understanding and communicating with an audience and what I learned at Babson about figuring out how best to meet your customer's needs and building a business to do so,” says Schumacher.
Today Schumacher lives with his wife, Pratt alumna Elizabeth Saurel (History of Art ’95–’98), and their two small children, in Nassau County, Long Island, where Next Door Organics grows much of its produce. “Art is still a passion of mine,” he says.
What’s next for Schumacher? He is installing a hydroponics farm on the roof of his shipping container at DeKalb Market, and this summer he’ll be selling tomatoes, as well as other sustainable and ethically sourced food not just to his subscribers, but also to the public at large.
He is also working on another startup company, SandCrate.com, which he says will provide a tool for artists and entrepreneurs to work together in order to create businesses.
Text: Adrienne Gyongy
Photo: Josh Cook