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2023 Conference

Our 12th Annual Discovering Sustainability Science Youth Conference is back in-person this year on May 24th at the Javits Center!

The Youth Conference is an annual celebration of science where students at NY Sun Works partner schools come together to share the work they’ve been doing in their hydroponic classrooms. Students will present their successes to fellow Farmer Scientists in grades K-12. In addition to the student speakers, you can also expect to hear from experts and innovators in fields related to sustainability, hydroponics, and urban agriculture! 

This year, we welcomed over 900 registered student attendees from across NYC at the Javits Center, an iconic NYC institution with a unique twist on integrating sustainability into its urban footprint. With 6.75 acres of green space on their Hell’s Kitchen rooftop, they seasonally host both migratory and local wildlife, ranging from birds, to bats, and even insects! They also support a 1-acre rooftop farm, which produces up to 50 crops per growing season, and five honeybee hives which can even be monitored through their live bee cam!

In addition to students, guests from STEM and urban farming fields joined us for this exciting occasion, sharing their insights and wisdom with our eager farmer-scientist community. Speakers included Javits Center President and CEO Alan Steel, the Sustainable Forestry Initiative’s Director of Diversity in Career Pathways Jerri Taylor, NY Power Authority’s Environmental Justice Vice President Kaela Mainsah, Gotham Greens co-founder & urban farming entrepreneur Viraj Puri, and Executive Director of the Mayor’s Office of Urban Agriculture Qiana Mickie!

To read more about the students of the the 2023 Conference, click here.

To watch the full Conference recording, click here.


Session I – Grow: Students as Farmer Scientists Running Investigations In Their Hydroponic Classrooms

Introduction by emcees Sage Cormier and Melissa Laudenbach Opening Remarks by Alan Steel, CEO of the New York Convention Center Operating Corporation Caroline, Monica, and Nora: Let’s Learn, You Suckers! | West End Secondary School Justin: Why Water Quality Matters | PS 199 Jessie Isador Straus Arata, Eleanor, Isabella: Pollinators and Our Pollinator Garden | PS 333 Manhattan School for Children Aiva, Arianna, Shamiyah, Tyler: Growth of Our Plants | PS 181 Brooklyn Elliot, Ivan, Lillian: How Does Our Choice of Nutrients Affect The Plant Growth In a Hydroponics System? | PS 176 The Ovington School Alex, Armando, Yanitza: Be a Buddy Not a Bully | PS K721 Brooklyn Occupational Training Center Guest Speaker: Qiana Mickie, Executive Director, New York City Mayor’s Office of Urban Agriculture

Session II – Innovate: Students as Innovators Creating Their own Hydroponic Systems and Designing Solutions to Current Climate Challenges

Virtual Guest Speaker: Viraj Puri, Co-Founder and CEO, Gotham Greens Aedan, Alexandra, Owen, Sophia, Yangmo: Rainwater Catchment Project | PS 333 Manhattan School for Children Afrina, Nazifa, Rayyan: The Replacement for Rockwool | PS 214 Michael Friedsam Arianna, Emil, Gabby: Homemade Hydroponics | The Urban Assembly School for Green Careers Abdulmuiz, Joel, Simranjit: TAG: Tower Automated Garden; The Intersection of Technology and Agriculture | High School for Innovation in Advertising and Media Memphis, Miles, Milo, Naima: DIY Wick System | PS 9 Sarah Smith Garnet Valentina, Victoria: The Benefits of Vermicomposting in Hydroponics | Brooklyn Technical High School Virtual Guest Speaker: Adrienne Adams, Speaker of the New York City Council

Session III – Act: Students As Global Citizens Engaging In Community Events and Expanding The Learning Beyond Their Hydroponic Classrooms

Guest Speaker: Kaela Mainsah, Vice President for Environmental Justice, New York Power Authority Alyssa, Delia, Lyne, Weronica: The Effect of Ocean Acidification on (Shelled) Sea Animals | PS 84 Jose de Diego Roman, Samir: To Tree or Not to Tree: How Does the Amount of Green Space on School Campuses Affect the Air Quality? | Rachel Carson High School for Coastal Studies Caleb, Jade, Nasio, Nolan: Phytoremediation: Plants and Heavy Metals | East Orange STEM Academy Avery: Building Community with Hydroponics | Brooklyn Urban Garden Charter School (BUGS) Cassie, Samara: Sunscreen: More Harm Than Good? | St. Saviour High School Chloe, Eliana, Feroz, Jenna: From Hydroponics to School Stewardship | PS 199 Jessie Isador Straus Amira, Beatrix, Octavio: On My Plate: Where Does Your Food Come From? | West End Secondary School Guest Speaker: Jerri Taylor, Director of Diversity in Career Pathways, Sustainable Forestry Initiative

Guest Speakers

Alan Steel is the Chief Executive Officer of the New York Convention Center Operating Corporation, which operates the Javits Center on Manhattan’s West Side. Under Mr. Steel’s leadership, the Javits Center recently completed a historic expansion project that added more than 1 million square feet of state-of-the-art space, including a rooftop pavilion and a one-acre roof-top farm. Upon his appointment in 2012, Mr. Steel led the completion of a comprehensive renovation and operational overhaul at the Javits Center that included significant investments in energy efficiency. As a result, the convention center has emerged as a nationwide model of sustainability, partnering with research institutions and community groups to study and reinforce the building’s positive impact on the local environment. An avid environmentalist, Mr. Steel currently serves as chairperson of NYC & Company’s Sustainability Committee, as well as on the Board of Directors for New York City Audubon and New Yorkers for Parks and the Board of Trustees for The Climate Museum.

Qiana Mickie is the first Executive Director of the New York City Mayor’s Office of Urban Agriculture. The office leads the city’s efforts to increase access to and the production of locally fresh food, minimize our contributions to climate change, and spur economic activity through agriculture. Under Qiana’s leadership, the office aims to advance urban agriculture and equity to actively address climate, health, and food disparities in the city’s natural and built environment. For over 12 years, Qiana’s work has thrived at the intersection of equity, food systems, environmental justice and agriculture. Qiana is the former Executive Director of Just Food and often speaks on issues of racial equity, food/farm policy, and solidarity economy locally and internationally. She serves on the International Council of Urgenci and the Coordination Committee of the Civil Society Mechanism (CSM).

Viraj Puri, an entrepreneur, and innovator, co-founded Gotham Greens in 2009, a Brooklyn-based Certified B Corp. Under his leadership, Gotham Greens has grown to be one of the largest indoor farming companies globally with 500+ employees and 13 high-tech greenhouse facilities across nine U.S. states. Their products are available in 6,000+ stores and online across 45 states. Puri’s work has been featured in several books and journals, including “Innovation on Tap,” “100% Renewable: Energy Autonomy in Action,” and the UN Academic Journal.

Adrienne Eadie Adams is the Speaker of the New York City Council. Elected in January 2022 by her colleagues, she leads the most diverse and the first women-majority Council in New York City history as the first-ever African American Speaker. Elected to the City Council in November 2017, she is also the first woman to represent District 28, which encompasses the Queens neighborhoods of Jamaica, Richmond Hill, Rochdale Village, and South Ozone Park.

Kaela Mainsah is the Vice President for Environmental Justice (EJ) for the New York Power Authority (NYPA). Under Kaela’s leadership, NYPA’s award-winning EJ program leverages its expertise in energy and technology to serve historically marginalized communities in their service areas. NYPA has developed an in-depth multi-year relationship with New York Sun Works and has embraced the sustainable response to food justice through our Hydroponic Classrooms programming. Together we are empowering students with education and skills to make a difference in their communities and the world.

Jerri Taylor is the Director of Diversity in Career Pathways at the Sustainable Forestry Initiative, where she leverages proven tools and resources to build support programs for diverse young people as they navigate green careers. She leads the career pathways programming, the Green Mentor program, and the Green Jobs employer training efforts. Jerri also supports the Chief Sustainability and Diversity Officer in diversity, equity, and inclusion efforts across all SFI pillars. As an experienced K-12 school counselor, she has dedicated her professional life to connecting youth with resources and opportunities.


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