Is the future of farming in public schools?

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Originally published in Issue 13

By Jennifer Prescott

On a chilly February 26, excited student greenhouse ambassadors of PS84 in Williamsburg, Brooklyn greeted a host of city and local dignitaries arriving to tour and cut the ribbon for the launch of their amazing 1,500-square-foot hydroponic greenhouse classroom rooftop facility. As New York City Council member Stephen Levin observed, “it’s 34 degrees out and we are in this beautiful greenhouse growing food!”

Principal Sereida Rodriguez-Guerra—observing the student ambassadors guiding each guest on a tour, with thorough explanations of each hydroponic system—was understandably proud of the students and the school community as she reflected on the last 4 years of work steering the development of the greenhouse along with NY Sun Works. “These guys”, she said gesturing to the students, “dressed in black and white, look at them, just listening to them, and this is just a small portion of our children. Our children have been working the green classroom, they know the hydroponic systems, they know how they work, and they’re just as excited to be up here and do it at a bigger scale, but I really really want to thank Diana Reyna, because we both grew up here in WIlliamsburg, and for her to believe in our vision, and really rallying everyone up to stand behind us and see this through, thank you so much.

The festivities continued as Principal Rodriguez-Guerra then introduced Brooklyn Deputy Borough President Diana Reyna to the podium. Reyna has been a significant force in galvanizing the will and funds for the traditionally underfunded public school’s educational programs in her borough. She is fighting for “21st century technology and skills” for these kids. And to be sure, Borough President Adams and Deputy President Reyna recently allocated 2 million dollars to NY Sun Works for the development of 12 classroom greenhouse/labs over the next year.

“These are the scientists, the lab researchers, these are the academic visionaries and entrepreneurs that we need to invest in, and so we want to make sure they don’t fall short,” Deputy Borough President Reyna said at the opening. “Within each school district, we’ve mapped out what the options are so that when you graduate PS/MS 84 that you will have a high school to go to to have this same [greenhouse classroom] learning experience and a more challenging and rigorous curriculum within your own community, making sure that everyone understands that you will compete globally, and you will be prepared to do so.”

Technology and farming for the future is exactly what PS84’s greenhouse science lab represents. The systems include a large NFT (nutrient film technique) system for leafy greens, Dutch bucket systems for vine crops like melons, tomatoes and cucumbers, a state of the art aquaponics system, tower gardens for herbs, a vertically integrated growing system (a NY Sun Works proprietary design), and rainwater catchment and evaporative cooling systems, making the lab as environmentally friendly and efficient as possible.

NY Sun Works greenhouse/labs also include STEM and environmental science curriculum that can be integrated with existing science curricula at the discretion of the school. In addition to building an understanding of all facets of sustainability—pollution, contamination, bio-diversity and conservation—students that participate in a NY Sun Works greenhouse/classroom lab gain valuable experience in urban farming as they learn science.

Advocates for the development and expansion of the “Brooklyn Project” (as NY Sun Works has come to call it)—including council members Antonio Reynoso and Stephen Levin, as well as Borough President Adams and Deputy President Reyna—do not shy away from addressing the social justice issues these greenhouse labs help to address. For families with often limited access to healthy food, sharing urban farming knowledge with their families and community represents a powerful shift in the urban landscape with regard to the value of food. At the opening, student ambassador Olivia proclaimed “my favorite part [of the greenhouse] is that we grow food to make people healthy.”

 


Jennifer Prescott, School Liaison & Program Support, NY Sun Works

Photos courtesy of Daphne Youree

NY Sun Works is a non-profit organization that builds innovative science labs in urban schools. Through their Greenhouse Project Initiative they use hydroponic farming technology to educate students and teachers about the science of sustainability.

www.nysunworks.org

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