NY Sun Works Awarded Competitive Federal Grant for Urban Farming Education

NY Sun Works is thrilled to be one of 12 recipients of funding from the USDA’s National Institute of Food & Agriculture (NIFA), via their Food and Agriculture Service Learning Program (FASLP). FASLP is dedicated to promoting agricultural knowledge and nutritional health of low-income children; fostering higher levels of engagement between farms and school’s systems; and helping K-12 students build leadership skills for agricultural and related careers. 

The two-year, $220,000 grant will enable us to implement our urban farming program in five South Bronx primary and secondary schools, including expansion to a new partner school, and to bring our Controlled Environment Agriculture workforce development program to two partner high schools. The grant also funds our collaboration with Green Guerillas, the iconic NYC community farming advocacy non-profit, to connect students at the five schools with local urban food producers and enable them to explore the intersection of community farming and food justice. 

Joining NY Sun Works as awardees are FoodCorps, Inc.; Friends of the National Arboretum; HealtHIE Georgia Corps; North Carolina State University; Old Grove Orange, Inc.; Pilot Light; Rural Action, Inc.; Sprouting Farms Corps; SUNY Oneonta; The International Rescue Committee; and University of South Florida.

US Secretary of Education Miguel Cardona Tours NY Sun Works Hydroponic Classroom

 “When I look at this classroom, I don’t see just plants — I see opportunities for students.”

US Secretary of Education Miguel Cardona

On Tuesday, August 16th, NY Sun Works was honored to welcome US Secretary of Education Miguel Cardona and Rep. Nydia Velázquez to the hydroponic farm classroom at one of our long-standing partner schools, Cypress Hills Community School in Brooklyn. This important occasion comes as part of a greater national conversation concerning helping schools recover from the pandemic. During their visit, NY Sun Works’ Executive Director Manuela Zamora and Director of Program Development Megan Nordgrén guided our distinguished guests through the benefits of a hands-on approach to learning, facilitated by planting, growing, and harvesting produce in the classroom.

A critical aspect of the evolving educational landscape is equal access to quality education, something that becomes increasingly important as we gain deeper insights into where and how educational disparities manifest. NY Sun Works’ program is dedicated to addressing these needs: our curriculum aligns with NYS mandated science standards and the NGSS and is designed by experts with years of teaching in classrooms of their own, with students of all learning abilities. We meet students where they are, especially students who are at-risk, require special accommodations, or are currently underrepresented in STEM fields. Working with our labs provides students not only with 21st-century skills they can take into post-secondary education or their careers, but measurable social-emotional learning benefits from growing and caring for plants in the classroom.

Hydroponic classrooms are more than just classrooms, however. They integrate climate education into their surrounding communities, allowing teachers and caregivers to grow alongside students. Educators who take part in our programming receive comprehensive support from our education and greenhouse operations teams to confidently teach about sustainability science and urban farming. In parallel, students are not only exposed to a new way of learning science but also encouraged to bring the science home by sharing the produce they’ve grown in the classroom with their families and the school community through our Harvest Program.

The need for climate and sustainability education in our school system has never been greater. NY Sun Works strives to help provide cost-effective, scalable, and sustainable solutions to educational needs in schools that need them most. Together with the support of leaders like Secretary Cardona, and elected officials who play a vital role in our cause, we can continue to execute our mission of empowering the next generation of climate and sustainability leaders with the learning opportunities they deserve.

High School Students Graduate NY Sun Works-Developed Professional Certification Program in Hydroponic Farming

NY Sun Works is excited to announce the graduation of the first group of students from its high school certification program in Controlled Environment Agriculture (CEA). As of Friday, August 12th, 32 students from Brooklyn’s High School for Innovation in Advertising & Media, East Brooklyn Community High School, and the Thomas Edison CTE High School in Queens completed training in seed-to-harvest hydroponic farming and career readiness. These certification programs provide students with valuable skills that prepare them for entry into the workforce as hydroponic farming technicians or for post-secondary study. 

NY Sun Works developed the program, which is the first of its kind in NYC, with funding from the U.S. Department of Agriculture, and implemented it in collaboration with the city’s Summer Youth Employment Program (SYEP). The program addresses the need for youth workforce development programs, especially for students in underserved communities, and helps build a pipeline of skilled workers in hydroponic farming, a growing green industry in NYC and other urban areas. “Giving students hands-on opportunities with hydroponics is critical to improve their physical health, mental wellbeing, and career readiness,” said Mayor Adams. “As Brooklyn borough president, I was proud to fund the creation of 70 hydroponics labs in schools to teach our children where their foods comes from. Through this certification program, students will be prepared for jobs in growing industries, and can enjoy the fruits of their labor.”

The program was held in each of the high school’s hydroponic classrooms, which are installed and maintained by NY Sun Works. With instruction provided by NY Sun Works hydroponic specialists and high school science teachers, students learned how to operate and assemble hydroponic systems; how the systems distribute nutrients to plant life; and built familiarity with standard troubleshooting techniques. Additionally, students gained key experience in managing water quality, performing nutrient testing and solving nutrient deficiency, and implementing pest prevention. Over the course of their six-week program, the students also completed routine practical assessments pertaining to these skills to ensure their certification prepared them for their graduation. 

Students were paid during their training through support from SYEP at the High School for Innovation in Advertising & Media and East Brooklyn Community High School, and the Summer Design Institute at Thomas Edison CTE High School. “At its best, SYEP presents youth with opportunities to explore potential career paths, strengthen overall work readiness, and build specific skills that employers value,” said David Fischer, Executive Director of the Mayor’s Office of Youth Employment. “NY Sun Works’ Controlled Environment Agriculture certification program delivers on all three fronts. Beyond providing youth a great experience, CEA helps position them for a range of future paths in education and the workforce.”

NY Sun Works strives to address both professional and educational needs in areas such as urban farming, sustainability, and environmental science through initiatives like the CEA Certification. Says Manuela Zamora, the organization’s Executive Director, “Engaging students in their formative years with hands-on science learning provides opportunities for both social-emotional development and professional growth. These are especially important for communities that have been historically underserved, and it is one of the many ways NY Sun Works continues to effect change where it’s needed most.”

NY Sun Works Informs White House Conference on Hunger, Nutrition, and Health During Preparatory Events

In September, President Joe Biden will be hosting the first White House conference on food issues in more than 50 years. NY Sun Works participated in two of the preparatory events to this conference aimed at gathering perspectives and policy recommendations from a broad array of stakeholders on strategies to end hunger, improve nutrition, reduce the prevalence of diet-related diseases, and to promote equity in the food system. Mayor Eric Adams convened the first event at Gracie Mansion in June with policymakers, industry leaders, academics and non-profit representatives. NY Sun Works Executive Director Manuela Zamora shared the organization’s work in 200 NYC schools, stressing the importance of educating our youth about food cultivation and nutrition, while increasing resilience through producing healthy vegetables in hundreds of classrooms. At a forum this week on Food Insecurity & Health in the Context of Climate Change organized by Congresswoman Nydia Velazquez who represents sections of Brooklyn and Queens, NY Sun Works joined other non-profits and farmers to provide input on a comprehensive roadmap to end hunger for the upcoming White House conference. As food insecurity continues to increase locally and throughout the United States, NY Sun Works is proud to be growing the next generation of farmer scientists and making fresh food available to our partner school communities. 

A Summer of Builds

As the school year has wound down, the NY Sun Works team has worked with our partners to close up most of our hydroponic farm classrooms for the summer break. One of the many benefits of growing food hydroponically is that the growing season matches the school year, so students can grow from September all the way through June, then put their farms to rest during the long summer break. Unless there are fish involved, of course! Our Greenhouse Support Team continues to visit schools with aquaponics year-round, as well as schools that use their labs for summer programming.

But the summer is not a quiet time for the NY Sun Works Greenhouse Support Team. Instead, our team uses the summer months to install new hydroponic labs and jump-start new partnerships. Our team is on target to build as many as 30 new farm classrooms throughout the city – from the Eastchester section of the Bronx to South Richmond Hill in Queens and all the way to Coney Island in Brooklyn. Our partnerships are also growing beyond the 5 boroughs to Union City, NJ, and Chappaqua, NY.  We look forward to getting these new labs – and partnerships – growing in the fall!

John P. Holland Charter School Celebrates Official Opening of Hydroponic Classroom

On Tuesday, June 14th, NY Sun Works joined students and staff at the John P. Holland Charter School, in Woodland Park, NJ to celebrate the official opening of their NY Sun Works hydroponic classroom. The classroom is funded by a USDA Farm to School grant as well as funding from Sustainable Jersey Schools and the PSEG Foundation, and has been a source of education and exploration for students and staff members alike since it opened earlier this school year. 

“We learned that through hydroponics plants can grow without soil,” Luis Rosa, a student at John P. Holland said. “This is helpful for people who live in cities or urban areas such as Paterson.”

“Even during this year of training, the garden has allowed our community to experience the growing process from seed to table throughout the year,” said school founder Christina Scano. “In its first seven months, we harvested over 60 pounds of produce in this beautiful space.” 

With over 12 crop varieties to date, and more to come, the school’s edible garden offers hands-on knowledge of STEM concepts and inspires healthy eating habits among their students and families. So far, the school has used the garden to make and share smoothies, pesto, salad and pickles. In the fall, they are hoping to grow pumpkins.

Students Share Science Research in NY Sun Works’ 11th Annual Discovering Sustainability Science Youth Conference

On Tuesday, May 24th, students from NY Sun Works’ partner schools came together virtually to share their science and environmental research at our 11th Annual Discovering Sustainability Science Youth Conference. A total of 68 student researchers, from kindergarten to 12th grade, shared their work. These research scholars presented their independent and collaborative projects to an audience of their peers, parents, and teachers across our 200 partner schools. Congratulations to all on a job well done! 

The students presented on a range of science and sustainability topics, including how ocean acidity affects plant health, the role of photosynthetic active radiation in plant growth, and how to grow food hydroponically. They also shared what they learned through their experiences in the hydroponic classroom:

“We learned that fresh produce can help bring a community together, and show students that fresh, nutritious food is just as good,” said students from Rachel Carson High School, whose project involved creating and advertising their own farmer’s market with food grown in their hydroponic systems. Students were also enthusiastic about how their greenhouse classrooms inspire them. “I believe that every school should have a greenhouse classroom,” Akaycia from Kennedy-King Elementary shared. “There are so many priceless educational benefits!”

Making the conference happen is a tremendous team effort. We’d like to say a huge thank you to our sponsors, Con Edison, Grodan, and New York Power Authority, for their financial support, as well as to the teachers, our video production team, and the amazing NY Sun Works staff, led by Becky on our Education Team, who did the hard work behind the scenes to make this event possible! Thank you! If you were not able to join on May 24th, please watch and share the Conference below:

PS 85 Ribbon Cutting: Great Expectations for a Wonderful Farm-Classroom!

PS 85 Great Expectations in the Bronx formally opened its NY Sun Works hydroponic lab in April!  Principal Medina was joined by Executive Superintendent Erika Tobia, State Assembly Member Yudelka Tapia, and NYC Council Member Oswald Feliz’s Chief of Staff Theona Reets to cut the official ribbon and to pronounce the lab open.  Funding for the lab was provided by the COFRA Foundation, in addition to a $5,000 Department of Education Office of Sustainability grant.  

Great Expectations, an elementary school serving nearly 800 students in the Fordham section of the Bronx, is growing beautiful and fragrant lavender in their hydroponic systems that students used to decorate the classroom in addition to tomatoes, herbs, leafy greens and beautiful lettuce.   

The lab has quickly become a place of joy and exploration for the students. Shared Ms. Montero de la Cruz, the hydroponic teacher, “a lot of them have discovered they like things they never thought they’d be eating. Many of them are saying now when they take their parents to the store, they’re saying, “I want to buy some swiss chard, hey, I want to buy some kale,’ so I’m glad that they’re taking that home to their parents to share with them.”  And one excited student exclaimed, “My favorite thing about this class is getting to experience the plants up close . . .I’m looking forward to learning more this year.”
Students aren’t the only ones who are excited about what the lab has to offer. NY State Assembly Member Yudelka Tapia of the 86th District stated, “We should be doing this in every single school that we have, and I am always going to be a big supporter of these types of programs that actually teach our children early what is a way of living a good life and for the future, and making sure that they pass that through to the members of our community.”

NY Power Authority and HANAC Cornerstone Celebrate New Hydroponic Lab At Astoria Houses

Last week, youth from Astoria Houses in Queens joined with NY Sun Works, funding partner NY Power Authority, and HANAC Cornerstone, a NYC-based community services organization, to celebrate the official opening of the new hydroponic learning lab at NYCHA’s Astoria Houses. The community hydroponic lab — the first of its kind on a New York City Housing Authority (NYCHA) campus engages youth and community residents in urban farming, environmental justice and sustainability programming, while providing fresh, delicious produce for community residents to enjoy.

“The Astoria Houses garden is a learning lab that integrates science and sustainability into a fun program that everyone will enjoy,” said Lisa Payne Wansley, NYPA’s vice president of environmental justice. “Families will learn about cutting-edge technology through sustainable urban farming and be inspired to ask questions, investigate systems, and design solutions. Learning about STEM concepts will open up opportunities for young people and others who want to benefit from being part of New York State’s emerging clean energy economy.”

The lab is an exciting joint initiative between NY Sun Works, NYPA, and HANAC Cornerstone. NY Sun Works handled design and installation and will also provide ongoing maintenance, curriculum, and harvest support. NYPA will organize community education events while HANAC Cornerstone will manage day-to-day operations and programming. Programs will be available to both students and adults and eventually expanded to include intergenerational offerings.
NY1 News was on site for the event. You can check out the coverage and hear what young farmer-scientists have to say about growing watermelon anand other farming fun below.

Funding Partner Green Mountain Energy Sun Club Joins NY Sun Works in Celebrating the Opening of Three Hydroponic Classrooms in NYC Schools

NY Sun Works was thrilled to celebrate the official opening of three beautiful hydroponic classrooms last week at the Brooklyn Urban Garden School (BUGS) middle school, PS 333 Longwood Academy of Discovery (serving K-5th grade students in the South Bronx), and the South Bronx Early College Academy (SBECA) middle school. All three labs were funded by Sun Club, the charitable arm of renewable energy provider Green Mountain Energy

“The Sun Club aims to raise awareness on the importance and benefits of sustainable practices,” said Mark Parsons, Green Mountain Energy vice president.

“These projects allow us to work with NY Sun Works to educate children on integrating environmentally conscious, accessible, and practical elements into their everyday lives.”

Sun Club Program Manager Johnny Richardson traveled up from Green Mountain Energy’s Houston headquarters to celebrate the ribbon cuttings with students, school staff, and parents. Also joining the celebrations were City Council Member Rafael Salamanca and a representative from the office of NYS Senator Luis Sepulveda at Longwood Academy, and policy advisor Evan Burr from the Office of the Mayor along with a representative from City Council Member Alexa Avilés for the BUGS opening. 

At all three events, students enthusiastically introduced their guests to the hydroponic systems, explaining how the systems work, the types of produce they grow, and what they love about growing food in the classroom.

Shared fifth grader Lexi from the Longwood Academy,

“It makes me feel like a scientist. When I grow up, I actually want to be a scientist.”

Check out the wonderful news story by Gilma Avalos from NBC News: