June 9, 2023
We’re wrapping up our coverage of this year’s annual Youth Conference, but we couldn’t forget to mention and shout out the heart of our work – the students! With a variety of intriguing presentations from students as young as 2nd grade, and as old as 12th, we truly appreciate all the hard work they did in preparing for this exciting event. We also want to commend the bravery it took to stand in front of an audience of over 900 peers and teachers, and present personal research and projects live! These students have truly done something remarkable, and we hope they will carry this experience with them into the future.
Kicking off the first session of student presenters was Javits Center President and CEO Alan Steel, who as an avid environmentalist, made great strides in aligning the signature glass architecture of Javits with sustainability initiatives like their rooftop pavilion and farm, as well as significant investments into the Center’s energy efficiency. This first session centered on Growing, with students focusing their work on adopting the mantle of farmer-scientists, and running investigations in their hydroponic classrooms. Students used creative solutions and the scientific method to repurpose plant suckers, examine water quality, and dive into plant pollinators. Additionally, audience members learned about plant life cycles, including how nutrient choices and even emotional stimuli can impact plant growth! Right after, we heard from Qiana Micke, the first Executive Director of the NYC Mayor’s Office of Urban Agriculture, who leads the city’s efforts to increase access to and production of locally fresh food, while minimizing our contributions to climate change.
Our second session emphasized Innovation, and inspiring students to act as innovators. This session was introduced by Gotham Greens co-founder and sustainability entrepreneur Viraj Puri! Viraj has grown Gotham Greens to be one of the largest commercially successful indoor farming companies, changing the way city-goers think about local and fresh foods.Students presenting during this section tackled designing hydroponic systems of their own, as well as imagining solutions to a variety of current climate challenges. Student topics included repurposing rainwater for greenhouse use using a rainwater catchment system, alternative growing substrates for soilless farming, homemade and automated hydroponic systems, and even the benefits of vermicomposting! Presenters in this group were particularly diligent about recording their observations and data, showing off their passion for science and creativity. And closing out this section will be New York City Council Speaker Adrienne Adams. Speaker Adams, as a true innovator, acts as the first-ever African American Speaker and leads not only the most diverse Council in NYC history but also the first women-majority Council!
Finally, we concluded with a session focused on Action and Change. We want our students to act as global citizens, and engage in community events at a local level, while thinking about greater challenges in the bigger picture. Introducing students who presented their activism-forward projects was Kaela Mainsah, Vice President of New York Power Authority’s Environmental Justice program. Kaela has been creating change for over 15 years in the worlds of environmental policy and engineering management, both in the US and UK. These farmer-scientists took their learning beyond the hydroponic classroom, with topics including the effects of ocean acidification on shelled sea animals, how green space on school campuses impacts air quality, interactions between plants and heavy metals, and the pros and cons of sunscreen! Additionally, students created community-focused projects such as using hydroponics to create in-school connections, and promote school stewardship, as well as awareness of where our food comes from. And last but certainly not least, rounding out our show was Jerri Taylor, the Director of Diversity in Career Pathways at the Sustainable Forestry Initiative. Through building support programs for diverse youth looking to navigate green careers, she leads multiple programs carving out new ways for the next generation to tackle today’s environmental issues.
Additionally, this year’s Conference hosted a variety of other exciting opportunities! Firstly, our inaugural Controlled Environment Agriculture (CEA) Career Fair hosted 16 organizations in education, sustainability, science, and urban farming from around NYC, connecting High School students in our workforce development program with scholarship, internship, and job opportunities. Additionally, a Student Art Show from West End Secondary decorated the glass halls of Javits splendidly, giving students attending the conference a beautiful welcome. And lastly, our new and improved Youth Press Team covered the Conference live, interviewing presenters and guest speakers alike for their newly published articles.
We are incredibly proud of all the hard work these students put in, performing their experiments and studies, preparing them for presentation, and climbing the steps of the stage to speak in front of a live audience. Additionally, we are deeply thankful for the teachers and parents who guided them along the way, providing insights and direction when needed, and otherwise allowing students to thrive and succeed. If you would like to watch these presentations for yourself, check out the full Conference recording!
September 21, 2023
This week is Climate Week NYC, one of the most significant occasions for New Yorkers looking to make a difference in the health and sustainability of our planet’s environment. Organized by the Climate Group, Climate Week offers sustainability advocates big and small an opportunity to join forces, drive climate action, and celebrate our victories while discussing challenges on the road ahead. This year, we kicked off Climate Week and back to school with a story by CBS News, covering our work in Brooklyn and the 60 new schools we’re adding to our community of farmer-scientists (bringing the total number of NY Sun Works hydroponic classrooms to over 300).
We’re thrilled to welcome these new partner schools to our program and the thousands of students who will now have the opportunity to explore the science behind climate change, and how their actions can shape the Earth’s future. But the need for this kind of education also highlights an important disconnect between young New Yorkers and the state of the natural world around us. Growing up in the concentrated concrete of NYC undoubtedly has a formative impact on students who spend the majority of their schooling years within the confines of the city. While there are numerous parks, gardens, and green public spaces that dot the landscape of the Big Apple, it should come as no surprise that students who may have never ventured beyond their borough have a tenuous connection at best with the health of our planet. This comes as no fault of their own of course, as many schools in historically underserved communities lack the resources to adequately provide students with a holistic climate science education while ensuring sufficient exposure to other subjects, and meeting their general logistical needs. These resource deficiencies also disproportionately impact Black and Brown communities, who have been left behind when it comes to mainstream climate resiliency efforts. We see this as a fundamental climate injustice, as low-income communities are typically where the impacts of climate change are felt first and most strongly. Through programs like ours, which build sustainability into existing educational foundations in neighborhoods like these, we hope not only students but their teachers, families, and friends will reap the rewards and foster a new sense of connectedness with the planet we call home.
To that end, our Executive Director Manuela Zamora joined Green Mentors at the 7th NYC Green Schools Conference, hosted by the Sustainable Development Solutions Network (SDSN) on Friday, September 15th as part of the United Nations 78th General Assembly (UNGA78). In collaboration with diplomats, educators, policymakers, and climate leaders, we shared our vision for the future of climate education, and learned from others how best to maximize the accessibility, compassion, and humanity of our shared goals. Sustainability is, by definition, an idea that spans a wide breadth of time, and naturally requires us to think long-term about our goals if we want to make lasting change. Climate education is a serious topic, and while we love discussing the beautiful plants and smiling faces that result from our hydroponic classrooms, we also want to emphasize the causal factors that have drawn us to build them. The young people of today are facing a unique challenge in the form of a climate-altered future, and it falls to us as leaders, elders, and residents of planet Earth to do our part in preparing them for it. Current climate action is of course equally necessary, but we also want to call attention to the future, and with the right level of intentional action, the bright possibilities that come with it.
This Climate Week has brought a host of celebratory occasions to the city, which we’re incredibly excited to share with you in the remainder of this week’s Newsletter. From the Prince of Wales to the President of Queens, to say we need all hands on deck would be a drastic understatement. However, the incredible work happening in our hydroponic classrooms and all around the city by organizations just like ours has inspired us to continue building our community of dedicated farmer-scientists, and empowering more students than ever to take a closer look at where their food comes from, where food and material waste goes, and what it takes to make many of the modern marvels we take for granted happen. Sustainability shouldn’t stop with Climate Week, and together, we can make a difference in New York’s future and beyond.
September 6, 2023
School is nearly back in session, which means students are mere hours away from their return to the classroom! This year, we’re teaming up with more partner schools than ever, reaching over 300 public schools across all five boroughs of the city. To support our ever-growing community of farmer-scientists, our Education Team has reimagined our approach to climate education curriculum, from our Farming Foundations units to the Harvest Program, with the goal of increasing the connection between the climate and our everyday choices. We additionally want to ensure our curriculum is not just up-to-date with current climate conventions but innovates upon existing approaches to find more engaging ways of instilling sustainable habits and climate change awareness in students across the city.
Our most ambitious and climate-focused curriculum expansion yet, Farming Foundations 2 builds upon the basics of sustainable hydroponic farming introduced in previous lessons. Students and teachers grow crops from seed to harvest using 14 brand new lessons, all while making stronger and more explicit connections to climate change and sustainability science. Not only do we want to make students aware of current climate challenges, we want to empower them to imagine creative solutions to them. For example, in a unit focused on seed germination, students are encouraged to examine how the level of heat applied to seeds impacts their germination. Once they’ve conducted their experiments, farmer-scientists will apply their newfound knowledge to the real world by answering questions about how rising global temperatures could influence the germination of seeds in high-heat zones, and how hydroponic farming may serve as one potential solution to this emerging problem.
The Harvest Program has been an important part of the hydroponic classroom experience for some time now, acting as a capstone to the cycle of plant life growing in each school’s hydroponic systems. This year, our Education Team has breathed new life into the Harvest Program with a new pre-harvest lesson aptly named the Honorable Harvest. Named for the ethical reciprocity found in the teachings of indigenous American peoples and coined by author Robin Kimmerer in her book Braiding Sweetgrass, the Honorable Harvest precedes the day-of Harvest Event with a curricular focus on gratitude, respect, and waste minimization. By incorporating this additional lens of thankfulness into the Harvest cycle, our hope is that students will gain a deeper understanding of and appreciation for our food, how we grow it, and where it comes from.
Additionally, we’ve revisited the original Farming Foundations, which was previously focused on the daily ins and outs of hydroponic farming. While we want teachers to have a simple, easy-to-use reference guide on how to maintain their hydroponic systems, it’s important that the climate impacts of urban farming are apparent as they learn about its practical benefits. These Climate Connections have been added to every Farming Foundations lesson, allowing students to consider the climate impacts of their actions as they learn about urban farming. We’ve also further differentiated much of our Discovering Sustainability Science curriculum, adding scaffolded supports to better meet the needs of our youngest students. Simultaneously, we’ve introduced new titles into our NY Sun Works Book Club for middle and high school, which offer teachers who want to dive deeper into our program more ways to get their class involved in our wider community.
As we continue to grow as an organization, we’ve made a concerted effort to not only maintain focus on our mission but to increase our emphasis on it. Over recent years, the world has continued to see more severe weather events and an increase in global temperature. Students need and deserve a comprehensive climate education now more than ever, and it truly is up to the adults and leaders of today to ensure an equitable, accessible, and sustainable future not only for the next generation of New Yorkers, but for everyone and everything that calls our planet home.
August 24, 2023
This week, we’re proud to announce that for the second year in a row, 33 high school students in our Workforce Development Program have officially graduated and attained professional certification in Controlled Environment Agriculture (CEA)! For the past several weeks, the young farmer-scientists from the High School for Innovation and Advertising in Media, East Brooklyn Community High School, and Thomas A. Edison CTE High School have been hard at work, spending their summer diving deep into the science behind hydroponics. As they prepare for entry into the perpetually evolving field of urban agriculture, these students have studied, practiced, tested, and have now officially gained certification in one of the fastest growing sectors of the green economy.
Originally launched in the Summer of 2022 with funding from the US Department of Agriculture (USDA), our CEA Workforce Development Program was the first of its kind in the city and helped connect students from Brooklyn and Queens with the Mayor’s Summer Youth Employment Program (SYEP). This program aims to address the need for youth workforce development programs in NYC, especially for students from underserved communities, and helps build a pipeline of skilled workers in hydroponic farming, a growing sector of the green economy in NYC and other major cities. Students at the High School for Innovation and Advertising in Media were paid via the city’s SYEP program, while those at the other two schools were paid through their school’s stipend program or other workforce integration programs.
Held in the students’ hydroponic classrooms, which are installed and maintained by NY Sun Works, the program uses experiential learning and practical assessments to help students understand and master building, operating, and troubleshooting a variety of hydroponic systems including the Nutrient Film Technique (NFT) system, the Vine Crop (or Dutch Bucket) system, and aeroponic tower systems. Students also master farming techniques including implementing pest prevention methods, identifying and solving nutrient deficiencies, and performing other water quality tests among other important marketable technical skills. To prepare them for entry into the professional world, students also journeyed to the NY Sun Works office on the Upper West Side to meet with our team and hone their career-building skills. Using workplace exercises including mock interviews and resume reviews, our goal was to help build confidence and familiarity with professional settings, so these future scientists and leaders can feel empowered to pursue their passions and achieve their highest ambitions no matter what career path they choose.
Congratulations to this newest class of farmer-scientists! We wish them the best of luck as they apply for jobs, colleges, or even return to their high school academics. We’re certain these bright young minds have even brighter futures, and are excited to welcome a new group of future climate scientists to our year and semester-long in-school CEA elective courses!
August 11, 2023
The New York City Council Dedicates $5.3 Million in the FY24 Budget For Urban Agriculture & Climate Education
Amazing news for climate education advocates everywhere: 28 members of the New York City Council, including City Council Speaker Adrienne Adams, have dedicated a monumental $5.3 million to bring urban agriculture and climate education to the young people of New York, through the installation of hydroponic labs in public schools across the five boroughs and support of the NY Sun Works programming in our current partner schools.
New York Sun Works Executive Director Manuela Zamora applauded the Council’s decision this month, saying, “I want to thank the New York City Council Speaker Adrienne Adams and City Council Members for making a $5.3 million collective commitment in the Fiscal Year 2024 budget that will bring hydroponic farming technology and climate education to our city’s schools, and help cultivate the next generation of scientists, urban farmers, and climate activists. This significant capital investment to build new labs, through the School Construction Authority, will allow New York Sun Works to provide access to a hands-on urban farming experience that empowers young people to take the reins on sustainability science, climate change, and food insecurity in their communities. We are also grateful to our local elected leaders who allotted expense funding to New York Sun Works to ensure that we continue to support over 100,000 students at established 250 partner schools with existing labs. This transformative commitment will help thousands of students across grades and communities improve their learning outcomes and enrich their academic career.”
A critical component of our program’s approach to implementing urban agriculture technology and climate education in so many schools across NYC is integrating sustainability practices into the local community. City Council members play a vital role in the health and well-being of the neighborhoods they represent, connecting with residents not only on a political level but also on a cultural and personal one. By supporting substantial investments in building educational infrastructure to support the next generation of New Yorkers, our elected officials also support the right of all students to a sustainable future. There can be no doubt about the fact that the students of today will need to navigate lives and careers in a climate-altered tomorrow, and so it falls to leaders like those on the City Council to ensure students have the knowledge and opportunities they need to thrive.
The City Councilmembers who are helping cultivate the next generation of scientists, urban farmers, and climate activists are Joanna Ariola, Alexa Aviles, Diana Ayala, Gale A. Brewer, Tiffany Caban, Eric Dinowitz, Amanda Farias, Jennifer Gutierrez, Shahana Hanif, Crystal Hudson, Kristin Richardson Jordan, Shekar Krishnan, Farah Louis, Christopher Marte, Julie Menin, Francisco Moya, Mercedes Narcisse, Sandy Nurse, Vickie Paladino, Keith Powers, Lincoln Restler, Kevin Riley, Rafael Salamanca, Pierina Sanchez, Lynn Schulman, Sandra Ung, Marjorie Velazquez, and Julie Won.
July 28, 2023
NY Sun Works is proud to announce our support for the recent Harvesting Knowledge Act, which was reintroduced by Representatives Adriano Espaillat (NY-13) and Don Bacon (NE-02) for the 118th Congress. In line with our mission and work with soon to be over 350 schools across New York City, this legislation aims to support urban agriculture education – a critical yet often overlooked curriculum that will jumpstart students’ interest and careers in sustainable agricultural technology.
“As we begin negotiations for the Farm Bill, nurturing student access to STEM education and urban agriculture will be critical to the health and sustainability of our future,” said Rep. Espaillat. “My bill aims to help prepare the next generation of leaders in agriculture by training our future biologists, nutritionists, and climate change scientists—especially in urban areas with limited access to farms. By increasing access to new technologies and skills today, our students and their families will have the resources they need to help secure a sustainable future in the face of the daily challenges of climate change.”
The Harvesting Knowledge Act would amend the Elementary and Secondary Education Act of 1965 to include indoor agricultural technology as an activity that supports well-rounded education, as well as provide grant funding for related projects. This bill will also provide a dedicated funding stream for urban agriculture education, focus on including hydroponic and aquaponic technologies in classroom education, and introduce hands-on activities to cultivate an interest in biology, nutrition, and sustainability subjects.
“As a kid who grew up on the farm, I am continually amazed at new indoor farming techniques and believe that giving students a hands-on learning experience in that area will continue to help hydroponics and aquaponics grow,” said Rep. Bacon. “These grants will help spread this to students who may never have had the opportunity to learn about this exciting form of agriculture.”
Since our organization’s inception, we’ve utilized cutting-edge urban farming technology to re-engage NYC students in their education, building key skills in observation, data analysis, and critical thinking while increasing their awareness of the climate challenges facing us today. This work is especially critical in an urban setting, where young people from low-income neighborhoods have historically faced increased barriers to entry when considering green careers and post-secondary education opportunities, as well as decreased access to healthy foods and the science behind what makes them so nutritious. These same neighborhoods often overlap with Black and Brown communities, which have also been excluded from similar early climate resiliency efforts.
“I am pleased to support this initiative to codify the use of hydroponic farming technology as a STEM teaching tool. This legislation also serves as an important step towards ensuring food access through sustainable farming, as hydroponic technology can provide immediate access to healthy, fresh, and nutritious food in every neighborhood of our cities,” said NY Sun Works Executive Director Manuela Zamora. “After more than 10 years of bringing hydroponic farming technology into New York City public school classrooms and working with students to grow food year-round as they learn about sustainability science, nutrition, and climate education, I applaud this effort to also train the next generation of farmers to meet the challenges of our time.”
We’re honored to continue to partner with leaders and public figures who understand the urgency behind implementing quality climate science education in our public schools and are deeply grateful to have a seat at the table for this critical conversation, now more than ever. Every child deserves a sustainable future, and it’s up to us as the leaders of today to empower our young people with the knowledge, passion, and opportunities they need to flourish tomorrow.
July 13, 2023
Last month, we shared another exciting collaboration with volunteers and their families from our long-time partners Bregal Investments (Bregal). Now in its sixth year, Bregal’s corporate sponsorship of our hydroponic classroom program has provided funding for a new in-school lab each year, creating new pathways to quality climate education for thousands of students around NYC. This year, a hardworking group of volunteers joined our team of hydroponic operations specialists in assembling the indoor farming systems necessary to bring nature back into the classroom. These systems will be used to support climate education at M047 The American Sign Language and English Secondary School, and past years have included lab builds at the K527 Urban Assembly Institute of Math & Science for Youth Women, Q014 The Fairview School, K059 William Floyd, X085 Great Expectations, and M500 Unity Center for Urban Technologies.
This new lab is also a first, in that The ASL & ES School is a public school geared toward students in the deaf community, including both hearing and deaf students, as well as hard-of-hearing students. This new partnership serves as a reminder both to us and to our communities that climate education must be a collective and inclusive endeavor. For meaningful change to be realized, it’s vital that all students have the opportunity to build and participate in a diverse, sustainable future. Additionally, builds like these are important because they symbolize a continued effort on our part to walk the proverbial walk, setting the example for students in our community who may feel daunted by today’s climate challenges. By making a difference in our local NYC communities, we hope students will feel empowered to rise to the occasion and use the knowledge they have gained in school to be the change they want to see.
We want to thank the volunteers from Bregal, as well as their families, for their enthusiasm and generosity in their continued support of our program. In addition to their annual funding contributions, they braved the intense summer heat to work hands-on with hydroponic systems, spending hours of their free time building a new way to learn about the climate, one indoor farm at a time. We also want to thank the teachers and school leaders at The ASL & ES School for welcoming our program to their teaching regimen, and look forward to a flourishing partnership that will introduce thousands of new students to the wonders of sustainability science!
June 22, 2023
With schools soon closing for the summer, and students departing from their hydroponic classrooms, we’re getting ready to build new labs in schools across the city once again. Last week, we invited Congresswoman Yvette Clarke of NY’s 9th District to her Brooklyn alma mater Edward R. Murrow High School to announce that through her generous support, we’re building 18 new hydroponic classrooms and 2 new workforce development programs in schools throughout her district!
During her visit to Edward R. Murrow, Rep. Clarke shared her thoughts on the importance of climate education with educators, principals, and students from her Brooklyn district, as well as insights from her time as a student on the school’s STEM track years ago. She also listened as students from Murrow’s Greenhouse Club shared how hydroponics have enriched their in-school experience, and how sustainability science has inspired them to continue their studies over the summer and beyond. Afterward, the student farmer-scientists guided guests including Rep. Clarke through their hydroponic greenhouse and indoor aquaponic systems, which host a variety of flourishing crops from basil and lettuce to marigolds and strawberries. They also demonstrated a few of the skills they’ve learned in caring for these systems, including water quality and pH testing, and how to harvest from the various systems types.
Through this $800,000 investment, we’re igniting the spark of lasting change in local communities throughout the 9th Congressional District. Using hands-on science and cutting-edge hydroponic systems, students in our program learn the importance of making environmentally responsible choices, giving them the tools and knowledge they need to successfully navigate a climate-altered future. Through cultivating a deep understanding of the science behind sustainability, we hope to train a generation of future climate leaders, scientists, activists, and more, who will be the change they wish to see in their communities. Additionally, our Controlled Environment Agriculture (CEA) Workforce Development Program will help connect high school students with potential careers, internships, and post-secondary education opportunities in fields related to science and urban farming. For students who come from low-income neighborhoods in New York, these new connections can make a substantial difference in overcoming comparatively significant barriers to entry.
Our mission goes beyond the walls of the hydroponic classroom, with a far-reaching approach that emphasizes students’ ability to share their passion for the environment with friends and family. By fostering a personal connection with sustainability science concepts through caring for plants of their own, we hope students will continue to consider their impact on the planet no matter what career path they choose to follow. We need sustainability-minded leaders in all fields, not just indoor farming and scientific study. Without politicians, activists, educators, and so many others, making meaningful changes to protect the climate would be virtually impossible. Every student in the over 300 schools we partner with has the potential to become the next Yvette Clarke by making a meaningful difference in the lives of those in their community. And while it will take each and every one of us doing our part to address the environmental challenges of today, after hearing from these student leaders, we’re confident in the future of sustainability science.
June 8, 2023
This year’s Discovering Sustainability Science Youth Conference was a roaring success! With so many spectacular student presenters and sustainability experts in attendance, it was of vital importance to document and analyze the important connections being made, and topics being shared during this celebration of science.
To this end, seven students from our hydroponic classrooms volunteered to adopt the mantle of junior journalists during the conference, and interviewed both fellow farmer-scientists as well as guest speakers. After the conference, each Press Team member wrote a thoughtful article detailing why they felt a Conference of this nature was so important. These talented young writers have shared their take-aways from this electric event, and we encourage you to read about their experiences, which include interviews with Qiana Mickie, Executive Director of the NYC Mayor’s Office of Urban Agriculture, Director of Diversity in Career Pathways at the Sustainable Forestry Initiative Jerri Taylor, and VP of Environmental Justice at New York Power Authority Kaela Mainsah.
Thank you to Giuliana Nagel, Anushka Gupta, Gabriela Waddell-Rodriguez, and Lucy Zary on our Junior Press Team as well as Laila Mansour, Madeline Keiger, and Nalani Morris on our Senior Press Team for their hard work in covering this event! Click on each Press Team member’s name to read their article.
May 3, 2023
The Youth Conference Media Contest supports our annual Discovering Sustainability Youth Conference by connecting students attending the conference with their peers in the city and audiences online! Whether you’d like to show off a recent harvest, or give us a tour of your hydroponic classroom, we want to see and share what you love about sustainability and climate science! Submit your entries via Instagram and Twitter, making sure to include our handle @NYSunWorks and hashtag #nysunworks. We can accept any form of digital or physical media, including written poems or haikus, videos or presentations, and photos of plants, systems, or even selfies.
By submitting your entry to our contest, you give us permission to share your content on social media, and on the big screen at the Youth Conference. Winners will be announced after the conference, with more information on prizes to come!
- Only schools attending this year’s Youth Conference are eligible to participate
- Entries must include both our hashtag and social media handle to be counted
- Entries should be submitted before Monday, May 22nd in preparation for the Conference itself
For questions and more information, contact Jake Bronstein, Social Media and Communications Coordinator.