High School Students Prepare for Futures in Urban Agriculture

We believe New York City high school students are some of the luckiest young people in our country. With a host of iconic educational and professional institutions across a variety of fields and industries, the students of today have more avenues than ever to pursue and achieve goals that lie close to their hearts. However, it’s no secret that children and young adults from low-income communities are often excluded from these incredible opportunities. While technology and innovation have brought about fantastic change, this is one of the modern day’s great educational injustices. So what can we do to solve it?

Last year, we piloted our Controlled Environment Agriculture (CEA) Program, which took 32 students from three NYC public schools in Brooklyn and Queens and equipped them with marketable career readiness skills and official certification in seed-to-harvest hydroponic farming. Our goal is to open new pathways for young climate leaders to enter a growing sector of the green economy. With funding from the US Department of Agriculture, and culminating in an exciting event hosted by NYC Mayor Eric Adams at Gracie Mansion, our program was a resounding success, and we are pleased to announce that this spring we’re continuing to offer professional certification and training opportunities for tomorrow’s urban agriculture leaders. 

In January 2023, we were joined by eight eager elective classes of high school farmer scientists. During our new Controlled Environmental Agriculture elective, students are guided through hands-on studies and practical exams by their hydroponic classroom teachers, and supported by the expert Greenhouse Support Team at NY Sun Works. As a continuation of last year’s summer pilot, they’ll also have the opportunity to visit commercial hydroponic sites like Brooklyn Grange, as well as explore post-secondary education opportunities at community colleges such as LaGuardia Community College. Additionally, participants are invited to the inaugural CEA career and college networking event scheduled for May 24th at the Javits Center immediately following our annual Youth Conference, for professional networking opportunities. 

We are incredibly proud of the work students have put into pursuing careers in urban CEA, as well as that of our Education Team who has innovated this new approach to education and professional development. This program is the first of its kind in the city, and as we continue to grow, we hope to also continually deliver quality STEM and climate education opportunities to students and young adults with the drive to tackle sustainability issues. 

If you’re interested in bringing our CEA Elective Course to your school, or have any questions about it, please contact Education Specialist and Program Manager Hannah Luna.

Senators Schumer, Gillibrand, & US Dept. of Education Partner With NY Sun Works

NY Sun Works is honored to announce that we are the recipient of 2023 Congressionally Funded Community Project (CFCP) earmark funding, thanks to support from Senator and Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, and Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, as well as Rep. Yvette Clarke, Rep. Ritchie Torres, and Minority Leader & Rep. Hakeem Jeffries. Through this allocation, our representatives have reaffirmed their commitment to community building, environmental justice, and educational equity. We’re excited to bring 50 new hydroponic labs to schools in the South Bronx and Brooklyn and reach over 20,000 new students, empowering three congressional districts with new partnerships and opportunities for sustainability and climate science learning.

As we continue to expand our sustainability science program throughout the NY metro area, we depend on partners like Senators Schumer and Gillibrand to call attention to the need for additional resources and educational support in underserved communities across New York. From loud and proud leadership in the City Council to the House and the Senate, coordinating with leaders in the public realm is vital to our mission to systemically address localized inequities and channel resources toward neighborhoods and schools that need them most. Walking the walk is equally important as talking the talk, which is why factoring historic injustice into our approach is paramount to making effective change. 

We would like to graciously thank Senator Schumer and Senator Gillibrand for their generous support, and Representatives Jeffries, Clarke, and Torres for their efforts in securing this earmark funding on behalf of the young, future climate leaders of New York. This support from our elected officials helps ensure that we can meet the moment on climate change and help our young people secure the sustainable future they deserve.

Rep. Nydia Velázquez Joins NY Sun Works in Celebrating 20 New Hydroponic Classrooms

This week, Congresswoman Nydia Velázquez joined NY Sun Works in announcing the expansion of our climate science and sustainability education program in Brooklyn and Queens. Through new state-of-the-art hydroponic farms at 20 schools throughout New York’s 7th Congressional District, we’re teaming up to improve STEM education in NYC public schools, equipping tomorrow’s climate leaders with the learning opportunities they deserve today. Rep. Velázquez, NY Sun Works Executive Director Manuela Zamora, and Director of Program Development Megan Nordgren celebrated the $800,000 investment with principals from the 20 schools receiving new farm classrooms: J.H.S. 050 John D. Wells, P.S. 110 The Monitor, P.S. 67 Charles A. Dorsey, P.S. 132 The Conselyea School, P.S. 145 Andrew Jackson, P.S. 151 Lyndon B. Johnson, P.S. 250 George H. Lindsay, P.S., 299 Thomas Warren Field, Lyons Community School, Benjamin Banneker Academy, Bridges: A School for Exploration and Equity, William Cullen Bryant High School, International High School at LaGuardia Community College, P.S. 76 William Hallet, I.S. 204 Oliver W. Holmes, P.S. 60 Woodhaven, P.S. 120 Carlos Tapia, I.S. 125 Thom J. McCann Woodside, LaGuardia Community College, and P.S. 86 The Irvington.

“We are honored to be part of this historic investment in Brooklyn and Queens to bring this expansion to fruition that will not only enrich the science curriculum in schools but empower and inspire students to pursue careers in STEM,” said Manuela Zamora, NY Sun Works Executive Director. “Congresswoman Velázquez is committed to bringing hands-on 21st century urban farming education, climate and food justice to the forefront to thousands of public school students. Our cutting edge technology teaches students responsible stewardship, the ability to grow their own food from seed to harvest and share fresh, nutritious produce with their community.”

Reaching thousands of students each year, partner schools receiving this investment will also benefit from ongoing professional development training to help ensure STEM educators can easily incorporate NY Sun Works curriculum into their new classrooms. The curriculum, which aligns with NYC and NY State standards, covers topics across different science disciplines through the lens of sustainability, environmental education, and climate awareness. Additionally, indoor farming experts from NY Sun Works will visit each classroom weekly to guide and support teachers in maintaining their hydroponic systems and the budding plants therein. 

“I’m proud to have fought to bring these funds to my district to enhance access to STEM education and provide students with the opportunity to learn more about local food production, healthy eating, climate, and sustainability,” said Congresswoman Nydia Velázquez (NY-07). “Greenhouse Hydroponic farming is not only a financially wise investment, with excellent educational returns, but will also create a sound foundation in young students of self-sufficiency, respect for the environment, and a desire for healthy living and nutrition.”

By bringing our program to more schools, we hope to further integrate the sustainability mindset into NYC communities, engaging families in the classroom experience through take-home harvests of fresh produce, while providing the climate resilience opportunities communities of color are so often excluded from. In a post-COVID world, we need to re-engage our young people in the learning process, and hands-on, project-based learning is a perfect way to do exactly that. With partners like Rep. Velázquez, we have full confidence we can make our dream of a greener NYC a reality. 

Bronx Week: Addressing Learning Loss & Food Insecurity with Borough President Vanessa Gibson

L to R: Deputy District 10 Superintendent Gina Mautschke-Mitchell, Bronx Borough President Vanessa L. Gibson, PS/MS 20 Principal Dr. Carla Ling, NY Sun Works Executive Director Manuela Zamora, and PS/MS 20 2nd Grader & Farmer Scientist Liam.

It’s no secret COVID-19 had a drastic effect on the American education system. With classes nationwide suspended followed by months of remote & hybrid learning, educators have grappled with the persistent problem of adapting the classroom experience to our rapidly changing world. While schools composed of students of all grade levels and socioeconomic backgrounds have faced this challenge, those serving large populations of low-income students saw more significant drops in attendance and in-school engagement, as well as decreases in their students’ food and housing security. The Bronx is one such community, where residents have historically been underserved in the areas of climate education and food access, with food insecurity at the highest of all the five boroughs. Additionally, attendance & enrollment in Bronx public schools has fallen significantly short of citywide averages over recent years, a problem the pandemic has only exacerbated. At NY Sun Works, we believe local problems often require local solutions, which is why we’ve doubled down on our efforts to connect communities in the Bronx with fresh produce and an engaging educational experience through the installation of 20 new hydroponic classrooms thanks to funding from Borough President Vanessa Gibson and the Bronx city council delegation. 

Through a hands-on, project-based approach to learning, our program helps alleviate the learning loss brought about by the pandemic, engaging students in the classroom experience and encouraging them to adopt the mantle of farmer scientists. For many children & young adults who’ve spent their lives immersed in urban environments, food starts on a shelf at the corner store. Growing food seed-to-harvest directly in the classroom provides the unique experience of connecting with where food truly comes from and fosters a bond as students nurture a living, growing thing. This philosophy of learning is additionally effective at uplifting students of color, who often see the impact of climate change and food inequity in their communities sooner than others. With a consistent reason to re-invest in attending and engaging in their schooling, students in our program have seen improved educational outcomes across grade bands and learning styles.

“It is an unfortunate fact that Black and Brown communities are by far the most affected by climate change and systemic environmental injustice in our city,” said Bronx Borough President Vanessa L. Gibson. “If we are to undo the mistakes of the past, then we must do everything in our power to ensure our youth are also a part of the solution.”

Thinking beyond education, the Bronx faces some of the highest rates of food insecurity in the nation, with food deserts continuing to impact residents’ ability to access fresh food. Urban farming techniques like hydroponic farming allow us to connect local communities with a sustainable source of leafy greens and healthy veggies. Because our systems are built inside NYC classrooms, they are also able to produce a yield year-round, unlike traditional outdoor farming techniques. Using just a few vertical farming systems, students, teachers, and families can enjoy a regular supply of fresh, local produce at no personal cost. 

“We are honored to start the year in the Bronx with staunch champions like Borough President Gibson who has funded 13 labs for a total of $1.7 million, the entire Bronx city council delegation that funded an additional 6 labs and the U.S. Department of Agriculture. This expansion will not only bring hands-on hydroponic farming curriculum to hundreds of students in the Bronx but also empower them to take action, become advocates and be part of the solution to our growing climate crisis,” said Manuela Zamora, NY Sun Works Executive Director. 

We are excited to expand our hydroponic classroom program and continue to address systemic issues like those present in the Bronx & across the city. Our goal is to foster a broader community of students and educators equipped with the tools to make a difference with sustainability issues at heart. We’d like to thank Borough President Vanessa Gibson for her work and support in bringing 13 new hydroponic labs to Bronx schools this year, as well as Green Mountain Energy Sun Club, the Gray Foundation, COFRA Foundation, the U.S. Department of Agriculture, and the Bronx city council delegation who have lent their support in bringing sustainability and climate education to the Bronx. 

NY Sun Works Joins Councilmember Schulman & Superintendent Pate in Distributing STEM Hydroponic Kits

NY Sun Works was honored to join NYC District 29 Councilmember Lynn Schulman and Superintendent Tammy Pate in distributing over 600 of our iconic STEM Hydroponic Kits to students in three Queens schools. P.S. 54Q, P.S. 144Q, and P.S. 99Q were all chosen by Councilmember Schulman, who generously funded the kits. During her visit, the councilmember asked students about their goals for the future, and shared the joys of learning about hydroponic farming. NY Sun Works’ Director of Program Development Megan Nordgren also discussed urban farming and sustainability topics with curious learners K-5, who eagerly confided dreams of careers in STEM fields such as electrical engineering and pediatrics. 

As we continue to expand our program, partnering with new schools across the wide range of NYC neighborhoods, we feel strongly that accessibility must be and remain a core component of our mission. While small in stature, these STEM Hydroponic Kits contain the materials for up to three students to share and grow their own seedlings in a passive hydroponic system. Additionally, they come equipped with 10 to 13 lessons of accompanying curriculum, dependent on the grade band and accessible via our online Learning Center. With the ability to provide delicious, delicate greens like green basil and pole beans, the kits provide students with unique opportunities to study plants on a deeper level, as well as sharpen important skills in observation and data collection. Said one 4th-grade student at P.S.54Q, “I’m excited to see the steps of how a plant can grow without soil!” 

We are deeply grateful to Councilmember Schulman for allowing us to share the magic of climate science and hydroponic farming with students in her community. Our STEM Hydroponic Kits are available to all NYC educators, regardless of whether they are partnered with NY Sun Works. The kits can be ordered in multiples of 35. And requests for our final round of STEM Hydroponic Kits until the fall can be sent to Madeline on our Program Development Team this week. 

Specialized Professional Development Opportunities in the New Year

The NY Sun Works Education Team is honored to provide partner schools and teachers with resources to support learning about sustainability science, urban agriculture, and hydroponics year-round. With the start of 2023, we are excited to share our NY Sun Works Professional Learning Programming opportunities for the second half of this school year! 

Kicking off the spring semester of professional learning opportunities, we will be hosting three separate but specialized professional development events January 30th. Our middle school educators will have the opportunity to join our “Climate Change and Ecojustice for the Middle Grades’‘ virtual PDs at 11 am or 2 pm where they will hear from two climate education experts and will workshop how to effectively implement environmental justice and advocacy in greenhouse classrooms, call students to action, and incorporate climate education into middle school science standards. In addition, high school partner teachers can attend Fishing for Knowledge – High School Professional Learning,” our in-person PD event at the NY Harbor School on Governors Island to learn about advanced aquaponic & hydroponic techniques, as well as how to address social justice issues like food insecurity. Further, special education teachers are invited to join our Hydroponics in Special Education Settings Round Table PD where teachers from D75 schools and other special education settings will collaborate and discuss best practices for integrating hydroponics and NY Sun Works curriculum into their classrooms. These opportunities are just the events for January – we have many more professional learning opportunities planned for the rest of the semester! Teachers will continue to receive information about these events via email and can also check the upcoming events page on our website.

We’ve significantly expanded our professional learning offerings for this Spring,  with new professional learning sessions, workshops, and events on topics including: classroom management in the greenhouse classroom, incorporating environmental justice and advocacy into curriculum, engaging diverse learners in the greenhouse classroom, supporting students in designing and implementing their own scientific investigations, and more! We look forward to seeing our amazing partner teachers at these sessions and to continuing to support the incredible work teachers are doing in their hydroponic classrooms

Please visit the upcoming events page on our website to see the most immediate events or use the registration links sent in our “PD Newsletter” email to sign up for all upcoming professional learning events! We will continue to send out these updates. Feel free to email Becky Higgins, Professional Learning Manager, at with any questions or registration needs. Thank you!

Crop Calendar Contest Now Accepting Submissions!

We have loved seeing teachers across our partner schools using their Class Crop Calendars to keep track of their harvest cycles and engage students in learning in farm classrooms across the NY metro area. Starting January 4th, we are launching our first Crop Calendar Contest where teachers in NY Sun Works partner farm classrooms can use their Class Crop Calendars to win fabulous prizes including an entire classroom’s worth of our acclaimed STEM Hydroponic Kits!

Submissions should include: 1) One, clear photo of your Crop Calendar by itself, 2) Two to three photos or one video of students utilizing their calendar as part of classroom studies, which could include anything from data collection to harvest day! As we’d love to shout out more than just our winners on social media, each student featured in these photos and videos should have either a DOE or NY Sun Works media release form signed and submitted as part of their class’ entry. This contest will run until the end of February, with prizes being awarded soon thereafter! 

To enter our Crop Calendar Contest, you must be a NY Sun Works Partner Teacher and email your class’ entry to with the subject line “Crop Calendar Contest”. Submissions should include all of the above requirements (1 clear crop calendar photo, 2-3 photos or 1 video of the calendar in action, and signed media release forms for all participating students) to be considered. We look forward to seeing all your hard work and are excited to share it with our community! 

You can download our NY Sun Works media release forms using the link below.

Teachers in STEM: Full-Time Heroes & an Endangered Species

Sustainability and climate education have needed substantial, systemic improvement for some time now. But without teachers with feet on the ground (and sometimes, with smiling faces on Zoom calls), classroom studies would grind to a halt. Looking back over the past few years, it’s no secret that the U.S. is facing a shortage of STEM teachers, with schools nationwide reporting a continuous struggle to find and maintain qualified STEM professionals. With test scores in the realms of math and science on the decline and jobs in tech and medicine growing faster than ever, it’s critical that we address the dire need for more STEM educators. 

Recruitment and certification programs for teachers in STEM fields have long grappled with this issue. Teachers in public schools have continued to face mounting challenges as our public education system struggles to meet the complexity of our present moment. Broader issues like the pandemic have also demanded teachers rise to new challenges, which can be offputting to those considering a teaching career. However, working in such close proximity to STEM educators has given us a deeper insight into the struggles faced by those delivering quality sustainability education to students around our city, and how to solve them.

Our mission is to equip young people with the knowledge to create a sustainable future, but we also want to continuously elevate and support the classroom leaders who make that mission possible. The programming in our farm classrooms is designed from the ground up to ensure teachers have easy access to a variety of support resources, are connected with peers in the field of STEM education, and feel confident exploring sustainability science topics alongside their students. In this season of gratitude (and all year round), we want to shout from the rooftops about the extreme importance teachers play in shaping our society. Thank you for all you do every day for the students, children, and young professionals around the world staring down a climate-altered future. 

Teaching Sustainability Science in the Big City

Building state-of-the-art hydroponic farm classrooms in schools around NYC is a challenge, but ensuring the teachers therein feel continuously supported is equally important in delivering quality sustainability science & climate education. One of the ways we offer that support is through our NY Sun Works Education Team, which provides year-round curriculum training and support to teachers as they teach in their hydroponic classrooms. In addition, they also design and continue to expand upon our NY Sun Works curriculum, which is a standards-based, year-round curriculum designed to guide students through their exciting journey as farmer scientists. But how do we design learning materials suitable for a student population as richly diverse as that of New York City? 

Inclusivity is among the most important pillars supporting our approach to climate education. A deep emphasis on everything from culture and language to learning styles and classroom needs underpins the teaching materials we provide, ensuring that students feel safe and seen while learning about hydroponics, both in the classroom and at home. Similarly, differentiating the curriculum helps to provide an accessible and hands-on learning experience to students of all ages and backgrounds. Students enter our classrooms with varying levels of familiarity with climate science concepts. Our curriculum is structured in a way that both students new to sustainability science and climate education pioneers alike can expand their knowledge, learn new skills, and lead experiments alongside their peers. Additionally, keeping learning materials accessible and inclusive is a top priority, to ensure that the content of those materials is truly relevant to students’ lives. Diving into global concepts (such as water management or food waste) on a local level helps students connect broader issues with their local communities. In this way, the curriculum drives home core sustainability and climate science concepts, which we believe is a crucial part of what makes our program such a success.

NY Sun Works Brings Learning & Leadership to the Museum of the City of New York

NY Sun Works was honored to join one of the city’s preeminent educational institutions, the Museum of the City of New York, for a day of food-centric professional learning inspired by their newest exhibition: Food in New York. Our Executive Director, Manuela Zamora, shared the success of our program with science educators from all five boroughs during the day’s keynote presentation, highlighting the over 230 schools with NY Sun Works farm classrooms of their own, all of which are now sharing fresh, healthy produce with thousands of students (and their families)! Fabio Parasecoli, Professor of Food Studies at NYU also took to the stage for a discussion-based panel to elucidate foodways, food systems, and other food-related topics all within the complex context of New York City. 

Our Program Development team, Megan Nordgren and Madeline Turner, also led teachers through the basics of hydroponics in the classroom, diving into how our program can be adapted to meet a wide range of learning styles. From District 75 & Title 1 to Transfer schools, it’s vital to our mission that students’ backgrounds and circumstances do not obstruct them from the climate education they both need and deserve. After wrapping up a brief introduction to the science behind hydroponics, STEM educators K-12 dove into a hands-on workshop, constructing passive hydroponic systems using simple materials all within recycled plastic drinking bottles. By using these tiny but mighty systems to grow adorable baby kale and lettuce sprouts in their own homes, teachers gain a first-hand look at the relative ease of the hydroponic growing process, as well as share in the joys of caring for a living thing of their very own.