Learning To Love What’s Natural
David Brownstein talks about Current member Wild Earth
Compiled by Jodi La Marco
Wild Earth offers nature-based programs for kids, adults, and families. From parent-tot programs to winter overnight teen camping trips, the 501(c)3 nonprofit’s innovative approach to learning is all about cultivating character, confidence, passion, and perseverance in its participants.
What inspired you to start Wild Earth? When did you launch?
I started Wild Earth with a group of other parents and community membersin the summer of 2004. We started it because we noticed that kids weren’t really exploring the woods anymore, and that people were getting overly connected to devices and disconnected from nature and each other. The promise of technology connecting us was actually disconnecting us. We wanted to remember how wonderful it is to feel that deep connection to place. We started with a small summer camp, largely because the things that were out there at that time didn’t feel like great experiences for kids.
What do you think kids are learning from Wild Earth’s programs?
What we’ve seen over the years is that kids who are coming out of this program are taking more risks in an appropriate way. They’re learning to take responsibility for their actions, and to be able to react to challenging circumstances. We’re not raising naturalists. We’re raising resilient, future adults who are going to be able to meet what life brings them.
What makes your business unique from competitors?
We never say no to anyone for lack of money. Everyone is welcome. We work on a whole community model, meaning that we ask people to pay a program fee that partially supports others who need support. We will provide discounts and financial aid of over $100,000 this year to make sure our programs are accessible to everyone of all financial means.
How would you like to see Wild Earth grow?
Our primary area of growth right now is with urban and underserved youth. Instead of just working with individuals and families, we are working with organizations as well. We work with the Boys & Girls Club of Newburgh, Astor Services, Kingston City School District, Youth Shelter Program of Westchester, and Hudson Valley Farm Hub. These collaborations help Wild Earth reach underserved groups.
How does your business fit into the larger movement to revitalize the Hudson Valley?
We have a business sponsorship program, so we do a lot of co-marketing for local businesses that support Wild Earth. For instance, Jack’s Meats sends us $500 a year to support our camps, so we co-market them on our website. We encourage people to support local businesses, whether that’s Rock and Snow to get your camping and outdoor gear, or the Mudd Puddle or Karma Road to get your nutritious lunch or cup of coffee. Mudd Puddle provides a discount to camp families during summer camp, and they also provide free drinks to all of our staff during summer camp.
What measures do you and your business take to support the local economy?
We leverage our reputation to help smaller organizations through our marketing and outreach capabilities. We also collaborate with other organizations and other people who are doing good work in the community. It’s not available this year, but we offer an herbal intensive run by Dina Falconi. She’s on our Board of Directors, and she’s a recognized expert. Dina runs the program but markets it through Wild Earth. It’s very much a part of our curriculum. We also market programs for HortusConclusus.The owners, Allison and Scott, are actually the parents of a kid who has gone through Wild Earth for the last eight years and is now a teen instructor.
What is your favorite part about what you do?
One thing that is really near and dear to my heart is that today’s campers and participants are tomorrow’s instructors and community leaders. We probably have 80 employees over the course of the year. At least half ofthe people who are working at Wild Earth have participated in our programs. I like the fact that we have a mentoring culture. I also love that we are really working hard to pay fair wages to people who are doing work that they love. It’s not just providing the programming, it’s also about creating an organization that compensates people for work they love doing.