November 2, 2023
Building 20 New Hydroponic Classrooms in the Bronx with Rep. Ritchie Torres
This week, NY Sun Works was excited to celebrate the addition of 20 new Bronx partner schools joining our community in the Hydroponic Classroom at the Theatre Arts Production Company School (TAPCo) in the Bronx, thanks to generous funding from Congressman Ritchie Torres (NY-15) and with support from Senators Chuck Schumer and Kirsten Gillibrand. The Congressman joined Director of Development and Government Relations Megan Nordgrén, as well as principals from the schools receiving labs to celebrate the new hydroponic programs across the district. The farmer-scientist students of TAPCo also gave a tour of their hydroponic classroom and shared details about their experience learning about climate and sustainability science surrounded by the leafy green fruits of their labor.
With concerns ranging from resource efficiency and extreme temperatures to air quality and high asthma rates, the Bronx as a borough has historically been excluded from wider environmental resiliency action. 30% of those living in the Bronx do so below the national poverty line as of 2022, compared to the state-wide average of 14%, with half of all Bronx buildings earning a D or lower grade in their energy and water efficiency, their pollution leading to negative health outcomes for residents. These systemic climate injustices cannot continue unaddressed, as Black and Brown communities like those in the Bronx are typically those who feel the effects of environmental degradation and climate change first and most severely. Environmental and climate injustices lead to the increased need for quality science education opportunities for Bronx students – in order to tackle the mistakes of the past, it’s imperative that we empower the young people who will lead our future with the education they need to make a meaningful difference.
“The Bronx is the most resilient and resourceful county in the United States, and the students of the Bronx should have access to the same educational opportunities that are available to students elsewhere in the city,” said U.S. Rep. Ritchie Torres (NY-15). “There is an urgent need to foster the next generation of leaders who have the capacity and will to confront the greatest challenge of our time – climate change. For me, this $800,000 is not an expenditure, it is an investment. We’re investing in our young people, we’re investing in their public education, and we’re investing in their leadership and environmental stewardship, which is needed now more than ever.”
Through a hands-on, project-based approach to learning, our program helps students find purpose in their academic journeys, 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. With a consistent reason to re-invest in attending and engaging in their schooling, students in our program have seen improved educational outcomes in STEM subjects across grade bands and learning styles.
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. Spreading urban farming knowledge and techniques like hydroponic farming can connect local communities with a sustainable source of leafy greens and healthy veggies. Because our systems are built inside school classrooms, they are also able to produce a year-round yield, unlike traditional outdoor farming techniques, which are subject to fluctuating and seasonal weather. Using just a few vertical farming systems, students and their families can enjoy a regular supply of fresh, local produce at no personal cost. And while the limited systems of single classrooms cannot feed entire communities, they can inspire action and create change. Each new school partner acts as an individual seed, and the more we plant, the greener the educational landscape of NYC becomes.
We’re excited to expand our Hydroponic Classroom program to more schools throughout the Bronx thanks to support from Rep. Torres, Sen. Chuck Schumer and Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand., and continue to make change in the worlds of climate injustice and quality science education where it’s needed most. With the goal of building a city-wide community of farmer-scientists equipped with the tools and knowledge to make a difference, we’re honored by the excitement of our Bronx school partners to get going and get growing. Climate change is the defining challenge of our time, and as such it falls to the leaders of our time to build the sustainable future our young people deserve.