Nimai Larson spoke with Corey Towers about moving to the sticks versus the street, exploring underground caves, finding relics beneath the earth, raising a hive of bees on his roof and watching a penguin undergo a CAT scan.
I was curious about the details of my cousin’s travels all across America — from a humble farm in Tennessee to the stride of living and working in New York City. Catching Corey Towers between trips to Texas and California, I was able to discover a little more about his experiences bonding with calves, camping in the Grand Canyon and building a brick oven to bake bread. He truly encapsulates the classic American spirit — dynamic, rugged, independent and adventurous.
Its construction was mostly milled wood and stone from the land. If a heavy winter wind would strike with all the windows shut, a candle may lose flame.
You recently took five years out of your busy life in the city to commit to the slow, honest work of cultivating a farm in Liberty, Tennessee. What acted as the catalyst for that decision to uproot and move? What was the hardest part? What was the most magical moment on the farm? Would you ever consider living on a farm again?
A boyish amount of insanity and a need for adventure led to starting a farm. Focusing is the hardest part about farming, for me. There was so much to do — every day, something would go wrong, the weather always changing, priorities were constantly lost. However, some days everything got done and the animals were happy while the sun set. It was the most satisfying feeling.
It is hard to choose just one magical moment — there were underground caves on the property to explore, calf births and relics buried in the ground. To me, the most magical thing was a beautiful sunset after a long day of work and eating from the garden. It was so good.
Another farm in the future is possible, but probably just a few chickens, a garden and maybe a dairy goat or cow.
Ahhhh, the simple magic of a hard day’s work! What part of the farm — the garden, the animals, the house — did you feel a special attachment to? Was there one crop that you enjoyed cultivating the most? Did you feel close to any one animal in particular? What challenges and triumphs did you experience with the farmhouse?
I was pretty attached to everything at first; even old, rusty, loose screws became relics. Unfortunately, building attachments often got in the way of maintaining a balanced mini-ecosystem.
The crop I enjoyed the most was okra. Growing okra was always rewarding. It’s such a beautiful plant, even when dead and grey. The plant grows very fast; the pods can go from perfect softness in morning to tough and woody by evening, so it’s nice to visit the okra everyday. And it’s delicious. Remarkably, its nearest cousin is hibiscus, a common shrub in my hometown of Miami.
Among all of the animals on the farm, I did bond with a Jersey calf that eventually became a milking cow. Our relationship wasn’t exactly blissful, but we worked things out. She had sharp horns and weighed about 900 pounds; if she wanted to kill me, she could have.
Yeah… I consider the farmhouse standing upright with electricity and water a daily triumph! Everything else about it was a challenge. It was a tiny house, built in the 1930s with little additions built onto it over time. Its construction was mostly milled wood and stone from the land. It was a good house; many simple renovations were done to make it habitable after 30 years of vacancy, at least for humans. However, if a heavy winter wind would strike with all the windows shut, a candle may lose flame. That was part of its charm — baby goats and sick ducks could walk around and drilling into the floor by mistake was okay.
Sounds like Thoreau’s cabin on Walden Pond! I remember walking into a bookstore in Williamsburg and seeing your face on the cover of a zine called Put An Egg On It. The people behind that zine had visited you at the farmhouse and eaten fresh, wood-fired pizza from an oven you constructed with your own hands. What were some of your favorite things to cook on the farm? What are some of your favorite things to cook now?
Cooking with a brick oven was a passion that I wasn’t expecting to have. The whole process of setting up the oven and then baking foods as the temperature gradually fell taught me a lot about how to respect what to cook and when, but making bread was the best. Salads with 25 different greens were pretty great too, but really, it was all about the bread. A beautiful baguette was very rewarding.
In my Brooklyn apartment now, I mostly make a few versions of a bibimbap. It’s the best way to get all my nutritional needs in one meal. Generally, I include dark greens, rice, garlic, cabbage, carrots, mung beans, eggs, and then whatever other things look yummy and thats about it!
You’ve successfully raised a dozen chicks and a hive of bees on the roof of your apartment. Would you ever consider building another brick oven or starting a little garden now? Do you like the idea of urban farming?
I definitely think there should be more farming in American cities, including farming towers and other large scale methods, anything to blanket the concrete! I don’t see myself doing any urban farming, at least not in the near future. For me now, farming is an influencer in my day-to-day life, but not a hobby or practice. But I will say, a rooftop brick oven would be fucking great.
The anticipation of returning to the canyon cliffs can never be spoiled; the grandness of it is more than what I can imagine. I feel deeply American there.
Before your adventures on the farm, you were the photo editor for Teen Vogue. After your return to the professional world, you started doing animal portraiture for The Animal Medical Center of New York and even product photography for Hewlett-Packard. Can you describe some of the unconventional events, people, or animals you’ve had the opportunity to photograph?
The top secret manufacturing facilities for supercomputers at HP were pretty interesting. One computer ran tap water pipes through the machine to displace the heat — it provided an entire office building with hot water.
As far as unconventional witnessing opportunities… for one photo shoot, my team and I watched a penguin get prepped to go through a cat scan. That was bizarre. I’ve photographed some gruesome surgeries and got to look inside of people’s bodies. Shooting the infamous Westminster Dog Show was intense; watching so many people trying to communicate to another animal was crazy.
However, often it’s the homes of strangers who hire me to take portraits of their beloved pets that are the most interesting to me.
Fitness is a shared passion between you and me. I was recently listening to a podcast about developing fantasy-based crushes on the people running next to you on the treadmill. How real is that for you? Have you ever been approached at the gym?
There have been some approaches, invitations, and even flashes, but I kinda treat the gym like a library rather than a locker room. I do get crushes every now and then, but the stories I create in my head are definitely half the fun of my workout. Without them knowing, I get very internally competitive. I can’t be weaker than the other person!
You’ve spent some time in the Southwest region of America. First, to cook at a fancy restaurant in the North Rim of the Grand Canyon, and most recently, a return camping trip where you lived out of a tent under the vast, starry night sky. What attracts you to that part of the country? Did you feel closer to yourself and to the land when camping?
The scale of the landscape always overwhelms me, and from the north rim side of the park you’ll spend hours driving through forests until walking the final few steps out of the woods and on to the edge of an abyss. Surrounding the canyon are Native American reservations and the small desert towns that get lost in the glorious skies, rocks and mountains of the West.
The anticipation of returning to the canyon cliffs can never be spoiled… the grandness of it is more than what I can imagine. I feel deeply American there, like a devout Boy Scout.
New York feels like a port to the rest of the world — to me, it’s more global than American. A perfect example of this is recently finding out that my great grandfather came to Ellis Island from Hungary and opened a photo studio near where I live in Brooklyn. On a global scale, it’s a small world after all.
Curated by: Nimai Larson
Conducted by: Email
Edited by: Morgan Enos
Published: March 1, 2018
Total questions: 8
Word count: 1358
Reading time: Five minutes
Albert Bierstadt, America, animal, anticipation, approach, bee, bibimbap, birth, boy scout, Brooklyn, cabbage, calf, canyon, carrot, CAT scan, challenge, construction, Corey Towers, egg, farming, flash, Florida, Grand Canyon, gym, Henry David Thoreau, Hewlett-Packard, hibiscus, hobby, manufacturing, Miami, mountain, mung bean, Native American, New York City, Nimai Larson, okra, penguin, portraiture, practice, Prince Rama, priority, relic, reservation, rice, rooftop, sky, stone, surgery, Teen Vogue, Tennessee, treadmill, uproot, urban, Walden Pond, Westminster Dog Show, Williamsburg, winter, wood
About the curator
Nimai Larson is the drummer of the international psych-dance band Prince Rama and lived in the urban wilds of Brooklyn for 7 years. She is now exploring the “rural wilds” of life outside of the big city — teaching kids how to cook vegan, running, and relaxing out in the country. Who knows what’s next…
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