NY Sun Works Brings the Harvest Season to NYC Public Schools!

Our Harvest Program is on the rise, and just in time for the autumn season! Engaging families with classroom learning and expanding access to healthy, fresh produce, this program is integral to our mission of delivering high-quality sustainability science education. Through take-home games, discussion cards, and regular distributions of leafy greens grown in our farm classrooms, the program extends science-focused learning beyond the classroom. By connecting our message about the role of urban farming in building sustainable, climate-resilient communities with students’ families, we’re able to support healthy eating and increase food security, while also integrating science into students’ daily lives. 

The Harvest Program has the additional benefit of promoting parent involvement with their child’s education. Several studies have shown that students have better academic outcomes and improved social-emotional well-being when their parents are engaged with their education and curriculum. The produce and discussion cards included in this lesson encourage at-home conversations about healthy eating, where food comes from, and other science topics, helping students build confidence and self-esteem. As students share what they’re learning in school, their families feel increasingly connected to the classroom even when they can’t be physically present at the school, and are able to incorporate their own funds of knowledge into the learning experience.

During the 2021-2022 school year, the NY Sun Works Education Team piloted an updated version of the Harvest Program. Working with eight schools, all funded by the New York Power Authority, the team led professional development sessions and teacher training workshops, as well as assisted teachers with harvesting. Through a collaborative effort between the NY Sun Works’ Education and Greenhouse Support teams, we were able to gather data from principals, teachers, and students on the successes and challenges of The Harvest Program throughout its pilot year. We are excited to use this data to expand our efforts to all of our partner schools during the 2022-2023 school year, and make the Harvest Program and its many benefits a staple of NY Sun Works programming. 

A Bountiful Harvest: Year-Round, Every Year

We’re loud and proud about the benefits of hydroponic farming, and are excited to continue introducing hydroponics to the world of environmental education. From land conservation to resource management, hydroponics offers a variety of environmentally friendly ways to produce food while avoiding many of the hurdles faced by traditional outdoor agriculture. We were honored to share the benefits of hydroponics at this year’s North American Association for Environmental Education Conference held in Tucson, Arizona, and learn more about other initiatives bringing sustainability into the classroom. But what do the benefits of hydroponic farming look like exactly, and how do they play into our vision for a sustainable future?

Our ability to install fully functional hydroponic farms inside the diverse range of NYC classrooms speaks to their space-conscious design. With limited room for vast expanses of greenery, urban environments desperately need a way to produce healthy foods without the abundance of agricultural land available to rural farmers. Hydroponics opens a world of delicious leafy greens and fresh produce to city dwellers and presents the rural farming community with new methods of decreasing their dependence on agricultural land. By capitalizing on the verticality of hydroponic systems, we can benefit environmental restoration efforts such as reforestation and rewilding projects by proxy, and continue to minimize human impact on the natural environment without jeopardizing our food system. 

Hydroponics also provides a sustainable alternative to outdoor agriculture, as farmers can control significantly more of the specifics involved in growing produce. Because hydroponic systems can be used indoors, their yield is year-round rather than seasonal, and not subject to weather conditions or dependent on soil quality. Temperature, light, humidity, and nutrient levels are all carefully controlled, making nutrient-dense food more accessible. Not only does this contribute to the overall stability of our food system, but it also can be used to help address food insecurity by introducing long-term food solutions to historically underserved areas. Similarly, it broadens the range of food options for cities like Tucson because their extreme climates and high elevations prevent much of their natural environment from being used for agricultural purposes. 

Soil-less farming methods are also typically more resource efficient than their soil-based counterparts, which is a key consideration for desert cities where water is in short supply. Hydroponic systems don’t rely on saturation or soil absorption to help plants grow, and frequently utilize what are referred to as “closed-loop systems.” This means that hydroponics conserve and maintain the water supplies they use, which in our greenhouse classrooms, is actually purified rainwater! In these instances, a fully functioning greenhouse including 3 or more hydroponic systems can be operated year-round with limited or no reliance on external water sources. Similarly, hydroponic systems can grow plants more densely than traditional farming, meaning that smaller amounts of water can be used to produce a higher overall yield. For urban populations with limited natural resources, incorporating water-conscious agricultural methods like hydroponics into their food system could prove to be a considerable boon. 

While there’s no perfect answer to any environmental issue, we can make small but meaningful strides toward a sustainable future by implementing solutions like hydroponics on a larger scale. Traditional farming methods employed by local agriculture have long supported us with the nutrient-dense foods we need to thrive, but we hope to continue to innovate alongside rural and urban farmers alike. With over 230 farm classrooms across the NY metro area, NY Sun Works hopes to set the bar for science educators and inspire a future generation of farmer scientists to build on the foundations we share.

An Exciting Visit to Biosphere 2!

Biosphere 2’s iconic pyramid structure stands tall among the arid Arizona desert. 

During their visit to the NAAEE conference last week, NY Sun Works leadership had the exciting opportunity to visit Biosphere 2 and experience its unique enclosed science environment firsthand. The glass structure is a large-scale example of controlled environment agriculture, in the same vein as the work we’re doing in our hydroponic farm classrooms, but instead utilizing soil farming and experimenting with a variety of climates. Meant to mimic Biosphere 1 (Planet Earth), Biosphere 2 houses seven model ecosystems including a mature rainforest with over 90 tropical tree species, a 91,818-cubic-foot ocean, and three desert hillslope grass-shrubland landscapes.

Located 20 miles north of Tucson, Arizona, Biosphere 2 is one of the most powerful initiatives in climate and sustainability research today. This 3-acre research facility is described as “a unique large-scale experimental apparatus”, and is easily recognizable by the iconic 6,500 windows which comprise the glass facility’s exterior. Since its main apparatus concluded construction in 1991, it has seen over 500,000 K-12 student visitors who are encouraged to view themselves as scientists. Known primarily for the 2-year research mission in which 8 men and women were sealed inside, living completely off the food, air, and water contained within, the facility’s diverse structure has provided us with deeper insights into complex environmental systems and their sustainability. Thanks to projects like Biosphere 2, the future of climate research and environmental education is looking ever brighter.

Learn more about Biosphere 2 Here!

NY Sun Works Presents at National Education Conference

Director of Program Development Megan Nordgrén shares information about NY Sun Works and our mission with conference attendees.

NY Sun Works was honored to present at this year’s North American Association for Environmental Education (NAAEE) Conference. Executive Director Manuela Zamora and Director of Program Development Megan Nordgrén attended in person in Arizona, alongside numerous other sustainability and education icons such as Kimberly Noble of the US Environmental Protection Agency, Dr. Robin Wall Kimmerer of SUNY, Jerri Taylor of the Sustainable Forestry Initiative and Tucson mayor and environmental champion Regina Romero.

The first in-person conference held by the NAAEE in three years, this event’s focus lay squarely on the powerful role education plays in creating healthier, more sustainable communities. Attendees tackled today’s complex environmental and social issues and dove into vital topics in the field, such as climate change education and climate justice, the benefits of connecting to nature, building a green workforce, protecting biodiversity, and centering equity in our work. Virtual and in-person booths supplemented the conference with information about each of the participants, amplifying our message and helping create a network of informed, environmentally conscious education specialists. 

NY Sun Works joined Alex Kudryavtsev of Cornell University and Chrissy Word of the City Parks Foundation to present on the topic of urban agriculture and how it can foster youth civic engagement.  NY Sun Works also held another presentation on our science and sustainability program and the STEM Hydroponic Kits. The NY Sun Works booth was a big hit, drawing visitors from across the country to learn about how hydroponic farming can be used for the teaching of science and critical climate topics. 

NY Sun Works Awarded Prestigious Alfred P. Sloan Foundation Grant

NY Sun Works is honored to announce we’ve been awarded our first grant from the renowned Alfred P. Sloan Foundation. The Sloan Foundation is a not-for-profit, mission-driven grantmaking institution dedicated to improving the welfare of all through the advancement of scientific knowledge

“STEM education is a cornerstone of our mission and particularly important in our New York City grantmaking,” says Chris Richardson, Alfred P. Sloan Foundation Communications Officer. “We are thrilled to support New York Sun Works and excited to see how their innovative science labs continue to provide transformative educational experiences to students across the five boroughs.”

This $25,000 grant, through the Foundation’s New York City program, plants the seed for a brighter future for three NYC schools by funding the implementation of our hands-on sustainability science program, as well as for a promising future for NY Sun Works as we continue to welcome new partners to our mission of improving science-based education in NYC.

For more information, please click the link below to view or download our full press release.

NY Sun Works Welcomes New Board Members

L to R, Susan Tenner, Sarah Horowitz, & Chris Collins

NY Sun Works is pleased to welcome Susan Tenner, Sarah Horowitz, and Chris Collins to our Board of Directors.

A graduate of Holy Cross College and Albany Law School, Chris worked for 20 years as a litigator in both New York and California. He specialized in complex commercial litigation, environmental litigation, civil rights, securities, elder abuse, and many other areas of law. After leaving the law in 1999, Chris worked as a Director at Oracle Corp. and as a Director of Risk Management at Sapient. Born and raised in the NYC area, Chris moved to San Francisco in 1988 and returned to New York in 2004 to take the position of Executive Director at Solar One. Chris also has a long history of working with nonprofit organizations. He was a founder of New York City’s Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender (LGBT) Community Services Center and the Callan-Lourde Health Clinic. He served as co-chair of the LGBT Center between 1985 and 1989. He was also a member of the Board of Directors of the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force between 1991 and 1996 and served as Board co-Chair between 1994 and 1996. After 17 years of leading Solar One, Chris retired at the end of 2021.

Sarah is currently a producer on the upcoming film Acts of Reparation, as well as a pro-bono consultant in project management and fundraising at The Greene County African American Museum in Greensboro, Georgia. Prior to shifting her focus toward family and volunteer work, Sarah worked at Jones Lang LaSalle, adapting historic buildings for reuse, including the redevelopment of Times Square and the renovation of Grand Central Terminal. At the historic Grand Central, she became the Director of Programming & Events and created a diverse series of arts programming at Vanderbilt Hall. Sarah has also worked as a talent agent at Triad Artists in NYC, representing actors in film, television, and theater. She attended the Columbia University Graduate School of Architecture, Planning, and Preservation’s Real Estate Development Program and has a BA from Williams College. 

The executive director & co-founder of the Brooklyn Urban Garden Charter School (BUGS), Susan oversees the school’s educational, operational, and financial aspects. BUGS, a middle school, was created by a group of committed community members and currently provides a unique and rigorous learning community that embodies the sustainability mission of NY Sun Works. Susan holds a Master’s degree in Education from Harvard and has worked in the education field for nearly 3 decades. She is a skilled grant writer and fundraiser, has extensive board experience, and is an education expert.

We’re both honored and excited to be joined by these accomplished leaders in our mission to improve science-based education throughout NYC. Together, we can continue leveling the educational playing field in America’s largest public school system, and better prepare young learners with the climate education they need to tackle the environmental issues of today.

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.