Claudia Capuano’s passion for feeding people goes far beyond a restaurant’s table; it’s about teaching people to feed themselves, too.
Before the COVID-19 pandemic, Capuano worked alongside Jasmine Dauparas to manage La Scala Italian Restaurant, 312 Main St. in Lafayette. After Indiana Gov. Eric Holcomb made the call for restaurants to begin offering carryout and delivery only, La Scala owner Kirsten Serrano said they made the best of the situation for as long as they could but ultimately decided to close temporarily to weather out the worst of the pandemic.
With the restaurant closed, Capuano said she began thinking about what she could do to keep feeding the community. She’s no stranger to starting from the ground up.
“Basically, I moved to Greater Lafayette in 2010 with an organization called Worldwide Opportunities on Organic Farms, and I met a great many farmers in the area thanks to my host family,” Capuano said. “And after my three-month stint was over, I started working on another farm, and I kept farm hopping, which built great relationships with other farmers and employees.”
She moved back to Lafayette in May 2019 and took up her job at La Scala.
“Knowing (Serrano) is a professional farmer and nutritional coach along with (Capuano) and I’s background in farming, too, I called (Capuano) in the middle of the night and said, ‘We have jobs! We are going to build people gardens,’” Capuano said.
Together, Capuano and Dauparas cultivated the idea for Bota-Nanny, a local service designed to build area residents raised and container gardens, while also offering to take on the labor of cultivating the gardens.
“We built this plan to feed people, because that’s what we like to do,” Capuano said. “I like the idea of food being accessible to anyone, especially now. If we were outside the COVID-19 area, this might work a little differently, but the goal is to make food and gardens accessible to everyone.”
Serrano said she has been happy to partner with her staff members in the technical and nutritional-education aspects of the business.
“Claudia is the perfect person to be heading this up,” Serrano said. “The silver lining of this horrible debacle we are all in is that people are paying attention to their local supply chains.”
The raised beds will be 3 feet by 5 feet and 10 inches tall, Capuano said, aiming to use a small footprint to get the product in the hands of people while not overwhelming first-time gardeners or small yards.
Working with local farms to gather seeds as well as soil for the gardens, Capuano said the project helps to continue supporting those suppliers, too.
Capuano said she knows now she was naive to think she and Dauparas would see only a few orders for their Bota-Nanny services.
“Before we even launched our menu, we had several inquiries, and within one week we currently have 12 raised beds in the works, with more in waiting,” she said. “So it’s all hands on deck.”
But the best part of the Bota-Nanny service? Capuano said for every 10 raised beds they produce, Bota-Nanny will donate one raised bed to someone in need.
“We are currently working with the Lafayette Transitional Housing Center to find good homes for gardens that will be tended to at a low cost by volunteers,” she said.
Looking at the light at the end of the COVID-19 pandemic tunnel, Capuano said she would like to keep Bota-Nanny going into the future, but for now, she’s happy to have her hands busy.
“I can’t be on the front lines of this pandemic, but I can grow food and I can make it obtainable,” she said. “If I can keep this moving forward, that would be great. This is sort of our contribution to the hectic situation we are all in.”
For more information about Bota-Nanny and its services, go to bota-nanny.myshopify.com.