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NY Sun Works on NBC News 4: Using Plants and Farming to Teach NYC Students About Climate Change

Transforming Food Systems Through Education: NY Sun Works & Global Partners Develop EPIC Solution

NY Sun Works was selected to join the Food Systems Game Changers Lab, a global solutions accelerator organized by the Rockefeller Foundation, EAT, IDEO, and Thought for Food. The Lab tapped an international coalition of educators, entrepreneurs, and innovators to answer this question: How might we build a better food future for everyone, everywhere?  

Over the 13 weeks Solutions Accelerator, the 505 participants from 85 countries came together, in cohorts organized by policy specialty, to create action agendas designed to build a healthier, more sustainable, and more equitable global food system.  NY Sun Works’ cohort, Building Food Literacy through Education, comprised of professors, advocates, and nonprofit leaders across the world, developed, literally, an EPIC solution.  Education = Power in Choice, or EPIC, will use transformative education to engage children, their advocates (such as families, teachers, elders, and health practitioners), and their communities in sustainable, ecological and healthy food systems practices.  EPIC’s goal: to empower a generation of highly-literate food citizens through school and community-based programming. View the final report and our solution here.

Our group is now speaking with regional, national, and global policy-makers, including the U.N. Food Programme, to explore how our solution can be scaled and developed. It’s been an honor to collaborate with this dynamic international group of innovators and we’re excited to see what comes next in this very important undertaking.  As the final report states, “As we look to 2050, the mounting pressures to deliver affordable, available, accessible, nourishing, regeneratively and humanely produced diets will take unparalleled levels of global collaboration, agenda-setting, and innovation. To rectify these multiple and quickly expanding crises, we need much more than change – we need transformation.”

NY Sun Works on NY1: Non-Profit Holds Family Day Event at Pop-Up @ Astor Place

Spectrum News NY1: NY Sun Works Hosts Family Day at Pop-up Hydroponic Farm

Spectrum Noticias NY1: Organización sin fines de lucro celebra dia de la familia en su granja hidropónica

The Results Are In: Our Hydroponic STEM Kits Are A Powerful Hands-On Learning Tool

Earlier this year, NY Sun Works partnered with Knology, a social science research organization, to assess the impact of our Home Hydroponic STEM Kits and Discovering Sustainability Science curriculum.  We introduced the STEM Kit program in September 2020 to support hands-on science and sustainability teaching during remote and hybrid learning; between September 2020 and March 2021, our team assembled and delivered 12,500 kits to students from 79 schools!

We’re now thrilled to share the exciting results of Knology’s study: the Kits and curriculum conclusively bolster science knowledge and critical thinking skills and nurture students’ social-emotional well-being.  As the Knology report, Impacts of NY Sun Works’ Discovering Sustainability Science, states, “At their core, the Discovering Sustainability Science curriculum and the Home Hydroponic Kits embody innovation, flexibility, hands-on learning, and critical thinking that meet the challenges of an uncertain education landscape created by the COVID-19 pandemic.”  Further, “the NY Sun Works team was the engine for innovation and creativity in envisioning a resource that could cultivate students and educators during the pandemic.”

Download and read the full Knology report here: Impacts of NY Sun Works’ Discovering Sustainability Science

Knology’s evaluation incorporated interviews, focus groups, and a written survey encompassing all grade levels (elementary, middle, and high school) and a mix of new and returning teachers, to ensure a broad range of teacher feedback.  Across all cohorts, teachers unanimously reported that the curriculum and kits effectively helped students learn science concepts and sparked students’ curiosity, creativity, and problem-solving skills. One teacher captured students’ overall response with the comment, “every time we did a lesson they wanted more.” 

Teachers observed that having a plant to nurture at home provided much-needed social-emotional support in a trying time, giving students something positive to focus on and creating a sense of continuity for students who had previously used the Greenhouse classrooms at school. The benefits extended to students’ families, generating enthusiasm about using the kits and caring for the plants, and creating a shared learning experience and activity to participate in together during quarantine.  

Teachers also reported that students became more curious about science in general, including expressing an interest in pursuing science-related activities in the future, and that the kits helped students feel more connected with nature — particularly important in a time when access to green space was highly limited.  

We want to thank the NY Sun Works team for their incredible work developing, assembling, and distributing these valuable resources, and our thanks to Knology for their insightful report, which can be accessed here, and to our partner teachers for taking the time to provide such helpful feedback.  The kits are back as a learning resource this year, and for more on how to order, please click here.

Community-Based Hydroponics: a NYPA, UPROSE, and NY Sun Works Initiative

On August 13th, NY Sun Works was joined by UPROSE and the New York Power Authority (NYPA) to celebrate the launch of our first-ever community-based hydroponics lab, in Sunset Park, Brooklyn. UPROSE is an intergenerational, multi-racial, nationally-recognized, women of color led, grassroots organization that promotes sustainability and resiliency through community organizing, education, leadership development and cultural/artistic expression in Brooklyn. Elizabeth Yeampierre, Executive Director of UPROSE, has an energy and passion that is palpable, and her words resonated with everyone attending the ribbon cutting ceremony that evening: 

“We know climate change is going to disrupt food systems and supply chains. Partnerships like this are central to building the local knowledge necessary to address a common threat. This partnership provides a hands-on opportunity for our community, especially our young people, to learn to grow food locally.” 

The lab is funded by NYPA, whose support has been instrumental throughout the four years of  partnership with NY Sun Works. 

“The New York Power Authority is pleased to spearhead and fully support this unique learning environment that offers community members the opportunity to engage in sustainability and nutrition activities by growing food locally,” said Gil C. Quiniones, NYPA President and CEO.   

More than 50 community members, activists and government officials gathered at UPROSE in Sunset Park, Brooklyn. Attendees enjoyed local, culturally relevant food, music by Bomba Yo, dancing, harvesting activities, and of course, the official cutting of the ribbon! 

The launch of the lab comes on the heels of a recently released assessment report by the United Nations’ Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change which warns that strong and immediate reductions in greenhouse gas emissions are needed to limit the average global warming increase to a maximum of 1.5 degrees Celsius (about 2.7 degrees Fahrenheit) in the next decades. Yeampierre said that climate change will disrupt food systems and the UPROSE lab represents an opportunity for communities to learn and embrace innovative and alternative systems.

Welcome Back from Manuela

Schools are starting up — and so are our labs! Across the city and in NJ, students will finally be back to learn and farm in their hydroponic classrooms after a year away due to Covid.  Last year, we had the privilege of operating many of our labs as indoor farms while schools were closed, providing students and the local community with freshly-grown produce.  Now, we’re especially excited to welcome back returning students and to welcome for the first time students, teachers, and school staff in our 34 new partner schools.  To our 170+ partner schools, we hope you’re ready to learn and grow!

Behind the scenes, the NY Sun Works team has been working through the summer to get ready for the start of school.  Our Greenhouse Support Team built 34 new labs and made sure all of the active labs are in prime condition for the first day of school.  Our Education Team expanded and revised our K-12 Farming Foundation unit, the introductory unit that takes teachers and students through how farming works inside the Greenhouse Classrooms, to make it even stronger and more user-friendly.  And that’s not all: we’ll launch our expanded middle school curriculum and new high school units in Biochemistry later this fall, and will be hosting additional professional learning seminars to continue to support our partner teachers.  As if that wasn’t enough, 25 additional labs are scheduled to be installed by the end of 2021.  

To everyone — teachers, administrators, school staff, and especially the student farmer-scientists – we wish you a safe, healthy, and productive school year.  Welcome back!

Hydroponic STEM Kits Will Be Back This Fall!

“When I get a hydroponics kit and become a farmer scientist I will be feeling excited because it’s been so long since I’ve done science. I think I will learn a lot about plants and what they need to grow.” 

Looking for a compact and hands-on way to teach science in the classroom?  NY Sun Works has the answer.  By resounding request from teachers across our partner schools, our Hydroponic STEM Kits will be back in September as a project-based resource for science & sustainability education.  Paired with our kit-specific science lessons, students can use the kits to study and run science investigations as well as practice observation, data collection, and other critical STEM skills — all while growing edible greens and beans!   Pre-order and more information will be coming in early August.

We launched the Hydroponic STEM Kit initiative in September 2020 as a way to support remote learning during Covid.  Now, having assembled and delivered 12,500 kits to students across 79 schools, we’re so happy to have created a learning tool that supports both classroom and remote learning and we look forward to seeing what students grow next year!

Update on the State of the Schools for 2021-2022

Congratulations to all of our partners for an enormous effort in what has been a very challenging year.  Our hearts are with those who lost loved ones or nursed sick friends and family members over this past year and we extend our deepest wishes to all for a joyful, restorative, and healthy summer.  

Looking forward to the fall, we are excited to work with all of our partner schools to restart your labs so that you are able to welcome your students back in September with a beautiful green space and the hands-on, project-based learning that is best suited for helping students overcome Covid learning loss.  For those schools that kept their labs closed this past year due to social distancing requirements, our Greenhouse Support Team will schedule visits to assess supplies and determine what is needed to get your systems growing again.  We are excited to have all of our partner school labs open and ready to welcome students and teachers for a new year of learning, growing, and harvesting!  

For those teachers who need a refresher after a year of hybrid teaching, and for those who just want to take a deeper dive into our curriculum, our education team will be holding virtual Professional Development sessions prior to the start of school.  Be on the lookout for registration information in early August.  We want to make sure that our partners have all of the support you need for the new school year, so please do not hesitate to reach out if there is anything our team can do to help you plan for the new school year.  

Throughout the summer, our team will continue to build hydroponic labs in new schools, including Art & Design High School, the Brooklyn Occupational Training Center, the 30th Avenue School in Queens, and PS 188 Michael E. Berdy.  In September we will be starting the new year with more than 30 new partners – we are thrilled to have them join the NY Sun Works network.  

From all of us at NY Sun Works, thank you for all you’ve done to support New York’s students this year and have a wonderful summer!  

Hydroponic Kits, A Class, A Community: An Interview with Wendy Rodriguez

From growing beans and calendula, lettuce and celery, and even germinating blueberries and pumpkins, it’s been a busy year for Wendy Rodriguez’s students at PS 176 The Ovington School, in Brooklyn. Although the majority of her students – she teaches kindergarten through 2nd grade – were learning from home throughout the school year, the lack of a formal classroom didn’t stop these farmer-scientists from exploring, investigating, and farming from window sills, tables, and desks at home.

She spoke with us in May to share some of the highlights and lessons learned over this past school year.

The kids loved working with the kits!
The kids have become so passionate about what they’ve grown. They’ve had some amazing successes — plants with really thick stems, beautiful calendula flowers, beans. Sometimes kids don’t want to eat what they’ve grown because they’re so proud of the plants and become attached to them.

They’ve gotten creative with repurposing household materials . . .
Students learned to work with what they had at home — water bottles, milk cartons, even a toilet paper roll cut in half – for transplanting the plants when they got too big for the hydroponic wick system.

. . . And with reusing food scraps to grow food without buying seeds!
Kids went beyond what they had in the kits to grow vegetables and fruit from food scraps at home. Some grew celery, lettuce, and green onion plants from the leftover plant bases, and a few kids even germinated blueberry plants, avocados, mango and pomelo plants! One student, with a very green thumb, germinated oranges, pumpkins, and green peppers, all from leftovers!

Not everything worked but the failures are important too . . .
Sometimes plants didn’t grow, but those failures are important too, because it’s important for kids to understand that it’s okay when something doesn’t work out and to know that growing plants isn’t easy.

. . . And unplanned lessons are just as important as the planned ones!
We learned together that it was more difficult to grow the plants in the winter months, when there was less natural light and drafts from the windows. We’re having more luck growing again this spring, with better sunlight and warmer weather.

The kits inspired experiments and investigations . . . .
One 2nd grader tested the effect of temperature on plant growth by placing one plant in a heat tube and the second in front of an open window. Another student compared the effect of using fresh versus fish waste water on bean plant growth (fish waste wins — the waste provides important nutrients!).

. . . And helped create a remote community
Parents shared growing tips with Wendy, kids shared growing tips with one another, helping everybody learn and connect even when they couldn’t be together in person.

In all, shared Wendy, “it’s been a challenging year but we made it work. Kids are resilient — they adapt more easily than adults.”

Thank you, Wendy, and to all our partner teachers for the tremendous work you do, this year and every year!

School Harvests Across New York

School closures and social distancing requirements made it hard for students to visit their hydroponic labs this year.  But in many of our partner schools, the hydroponic systems were still going and the delicious harvests continued to be put to good use. Thanks to generous support from our funding partners, hundreds of pounds of healthy, fresh greens were shared with students, their families, school staff, as well as local food pantries and community organizations, to support food security during a difficult time. Shared one community organization, “The greens were just FABULOUS and oh so fresh. Our clients were so happy to receive some healthy options during this time, especially our seniors.” Read on for more on this initiative.  

At PS 20 Anna Silver Elementary on Manhattan’s Lower East Side, regular harvests of basil, lettuce and snap peas, along with the occasional beautiful (and edible!) marigolds and dahlias, were shared with the school’s students and their families throughout the school year.  PS 20, along with four other Manhattan schools, were able to keep their hydroponic systems going and distribute their harvests thanks to generous funding from Borough President Gale Brewer’s Manhattan Community Award Program Grant, which supported growing food for the school community during this year of Covid-19 challenges.  

In Astoria, Queens, PS 171’s hydroponics teacher harvested nearly 20 lbs of greens, including kale, Swiss chard, arugula, basil and parsley, in the month of April alone!  The Vine Crop System was also overflowing with approximately 40 lbs of tomatoes and cucumbers and the delicious, fresh greens were shared with students, their families, and the school community.  Funding to run the lab at PS 171, along with 7 other Queens schools, came from the Queens Delegation of the NY City Council, with particular support from former City Councilmember Costa Constantinides.

The New York Power Authority (NYPA)’s support has been instrumental throughout the pandemic for hydroponic lab operations and the distribution of Home Hydroponic Kits at 15 schools in the Bronx, Brooklyn, Manhattan and Queens.

Additionally, a grant from the US Department of Agriculture has helped to keep hydroponic labs running in schools in the East New York and Canarsie sections of Brooklyn. At High School for Medical Professions, one large harvest of greens including collards, kale and chard, was donated to the Children of the Light food pantry and other harvests were enjoyed by the school community.

Thank you to our partner schools, to our amazing Greenhouse Support Team for keeping the hydroponics systems running and the crops growing, and especially to Gale Brewer, Costa Costantinides, The New York City Council, NYPA, and the USDA for helping to make this important work possible in such a challenging year.