NY Sun Works Donation of Fresh Vegetables to Community Center

In an exciting partnership with Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer’s office, NY Sun Works donated approximately 40 pounds of fresh vegetables to Goddard Riverside’s Phelps House, a community center.  The lettuce, arugula, bok choy and basil were grown in the non-profit’s flagship hydroponic greenhouse at PS 333 Manhattan School for Children.  PS 333’s Principal Claire Lowenstein was excited to participate in the harvest and proud that her school community could provide fresh food to neighbors in need. 

This is part of NY Sun Works’s efforts to help schools and communities facing food insecurity to provide fresh vegetables to those in need.  With the covid-19 school scheduling changes, schools that are unable to use their hydroponic labs for in-person learning have the option to run their hydroponic lab as an urban farm.  The average school lab can grow up to 25 lbs per 6-week harvest, which is a LOT of lettuce!  

Another Manhattan school is eager to join in this effort.  “I think it’s amazing that the lab can provide food for families.  The PTA is already coming up with bags of groceries.  The fact that a program like NY Sun Works can step in and not only teach kids about hydroponics but also provide food for families in need is priceless,” shared the hydroponic lab teacher.

Stories From Our Partner Schools

A Teacher’s View: Lamesha Self, from PS 180 in Harlem  

“We’re all learning here.  We’re learning to be more flexible than we ever thought we’d have to be.”

Lamesha Self is the hydroponics teacher at PS 180 in Harlem, where she teaches K-5th graders how to grow food hydroponically and all about science and sustainability through the lens of urban farming.  A teacher for 18 years, this past year was Lamesha’s first year in the hydroponics lab.  She talked with NY Sun Works in August about why she likes the hydroponics program, what this past year has been like, and how she’s preparing for this upcoming school year.  

How do you like teaching in the Greenhouse Classroom?

The hydroponics program starts children and their families thinking – because children come home and teach their families – about a different way, a healthier way of thinking about food.  Kids are so enthusiastic about fruits and vegetables and growing food organically, and it’s so exciting to see the kids’ enthusiasm.

The program opens up ideas, things students never would have thought about before. Like that farming isn’t just on regular farms, that it can happen in urban farms, and that traditional farming isn’t sustainable.  We can’t keep knocking down the forests and putting pesticides on the ground.  Kids love that this is organic farming.  We don’t even use organic pesticides.

The lab is a major part of the school.  No school tour is complete without visiting the hydroponics lab!

What was it like when schools shut down?

When COVID began, we’d just completed a harvest and were beginning a new seeding process.  I took the seedlings home and put the worms in the surrounding school garden.  Every Monday, I recorded a video about the nursery which I uploaded to Google Classroom to show kids what was happening with the plants.  The kids were so excited to see the plants growing and had so many wonderful things to say.  

We also talked about what plants they were growing at home and if they were eating foods with seeds. I suggested they try planting seeds or dry beans.  Since some kids didn’t have plants at home, I created interactive video lessons where they could recreate the process on screen, like growing a sunflower, planting the seed, and watering the sprout. 

But it was challenging for the kids.  They weren’t used to remote learning.  In the lab, they got to touch the seeds and the plants.  I know they missed the lab because they kept sending messages like, ‘I miss you Miss Self.  I miss being in class.  I miss planting the seeds and growing the vegetables.’

How are you preparing for the new school year?

Hopefully my school will receive a grant to continue with the hydroponics science lab.  Unfortunately, we are just waiting to hear back at this time.  Without the grant my principal informed me that there’s not enough money in the budget because of budget cuts.

However, if we receive the grant and are back with a hybrid, I will be an in-person teacher. The lab will run as usual. The kids, however, will not travel to the lab so I’ll possibly teach virtually or travel to my students’ classes.  l would also record videos of lessons and the plants’ progress. With the hybrid, the kids will have to make portable hydroponics using water bottles just like they successfully did when we left in March because of COVID.

During remote teaching this spring I was able to successfully have a remote science fair, so I’m also looking forward to seeing a lot more hydroponic science projects because I was definitely impressed with the few I had this year.

We’re all learning here.  We’re learning to be more flexible than we ever thought we’d have to be.  No one has a choice but to be flexible.

HOME KITS: NY Sun Works Launches STEM Kits for Public School Students

NY Sun Works is providing Home Hydroponic Kits to students in our partner schools so they have the science supplies they need for at-home learning.  The kits are designed to engage students in topics they would otherwise learn about in the Greenhouse Classrooms and will enable students, with teacher guidance, to grow, study, and run investigations with plants and practice their observation and data collection skills at home. 

Each kit costs only $12 and contains:

  • A seeding tray
  • 5 seed varieties (calendula, green basil, kale, swiss chard, and pole beans)
  • Plant nutrients
  • pH strips and a pH color key for testing nutrient levels
  • Cotton wicks for designing a wick hydroponic system
  • A guide to the seeds in the kit
  • Instruction cards for how to get started with the seeds, how to care for the seedlings, and how to build a DIY wick system using recycled materials.  

Schools interested in requesting kits can complete this form here.  And for all of our supporters, please make a contribution here so we can supply as many kits as needed and help give students a successful learning experience from home this fall!

Merits of Hands-on Learning

By: Amber Carlin-Mishkin and JoEllen Schuleman

Despite the uncertainties that the Coronavirus brings, one thing is certain — summer is coming to an end. This means a new school year is upon us and soon students will be going back to school. Education has been top-of-mind more than ever. Will students learn remotely or in a blended situation? In both cases, many fear students will utilize more technology than ever before. 

Perhaps, though, this moment in our history provides an opportunity to think differently about education. Will there be more learning outdoors and with hands-on (albeit personal) tools? If we are inventive, perhaps we will find we don’t need to simply replicate the regular school day on a screen.

Allow us to explain by example — Do you remember the first time you planted a seed and watched it grow? How about eating a homegrown tomato? By engaging in these experiences, one is offered a visceral sensitivity and imprint. In order to ignite similarly magical and transformative experiences in a child, teachers use hands-on, experiential learning. 

Programs like NY Sun Works have historically given students both the freedom and responsibility to learn through experience, rather than through simply reading or watching something on a screen. Researchers have long reported that hands-on learning increases motivation, creates opportunities for retention, builds social emotional skills, activates lots of brain connections, expands critical thinking, and provides real life preparation.

This year, we believe partners like NY Sun Works will provide the pivotal push that will inspire students to rush back to their learning experiences day after day. Students will both witness growth and grow within themselves as they critically develop decisions on what to do next (add more nutrients?) in order to receive the outcome they are personally striving to obtain (a harvest they can enjoy!). 

In short, rather than staying engulfed in technology-driven education, hands-on learning with NY Sun Works hydroponics is the key we need as educators who aim to inspire students to love learning and engage with the real world.

USDA Grant: NY Sun Works Awarded Competitive Federal Grant for Urban Farming Education

NY Sun Works is one of 10 recipients of the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) new Urban Agriculture and Innovative Programs grant, whose goal is to strengthen and expand innovative urban agricultural programs in food insecure communities where access to healthy food is limited or unavailable.

The 3-year grant, for a total of $300,000, will enable us to implement urban farming education programs in nine Brooklyn schools – three elementary, three middle, and three high schools – and to engage the surrounding community around the role of urban farming in healthy eating.  Over the three-year life cycle of the grant, we will partner with the schools to integrate urban farming education into the science curriculum, launch our community outreach Harvest programs, develop an urban farming job training certification program at the three high schools, as well as install a new Greenhouse Classroom at the High School for Innovation in Advertising and Media in Canarsie.  Through these initiatives, students will be able to explore the positive impacts of indoor food production in relation to the environment and as a means to address food access and diet-related health issues in food insecure communities. 

The grant comes at a crucial time, when public schools are facing drastic budget cuts and communities are seeing a spike in food insecurity due to COVID, making access to healthy food all the more importance.  As Adeleza Michelena, principal of the High School for Innovation shared, “Thank you so much!  This has more impact than you will ever know.”  

For more on the USDA’s Urban Agriculture program and to see other funding recipients, please see the USDA’s August 25th press release

University-Level Partnership with NMU

In a first, NY Sun Works has teamed up with Northern Michigan University (NMU) to help them launch a new multidisciplinary indoor agriculture associate degree this fall.  NY Sun Works designed a hydroponic science lab for the program and team members traveled to Michigan to install the equipment and provide training to the NMU staff.  The program will prepare students for careers in agricultural food production, as well as the indoor growing system industry. It will also empower them to grow plants year-round in northern climates, addressing potential food insecurity issues. Students had their first lab session on August 25, and they loved it. They asked many great questions and are very ready to dig in.  An Asst. Professor developing this new curriculum wrote:

“I want to tell you how impressed I am with the NYSW curriculum. As I develop the first three Indoor Agriculture courses, I am continuously inspired by the content presented and the pedagogy built in to deliver the lessons. I have been deeply engaged in Next Generation Science for the last couple of years, and the NYSW curriculum is authentic to the intention of three-dimensional learning. Thank you!”

Guggenheim Partnership

NY Sun Works led a workshop for participants in the Guggenheim Museum College Practicum in August. The Practicum, which will run through Fall 2020, is designed to foster connections between students and leading experts through an interdisciplinary exploration of current events. As a partner organization, the NY Sun Works team shared our expertise and real-world perspective with this select group of college and graduate students as they investigate pressing, current questions.


This summer the Wild Center’s Youth Climate Program teamed up with Climate Generation and NOAA’s Climate Office to put on a virtual conference for educators called, the Stay-In-stitute for Climate Change Education. Educators from across the US attend this conference to learn new skills, access resources, and gain confidence to teach climate change and NY Sun Works was honored to be invited to provide a virtual workshop. The workshop sat within the Scientific and Social Solutions strand and focused on our approach to classroom sustainability. Close to 40 K-12 educators from across the country that teach science, social studies, ELA, math, and more learned about how our curriculum brings sustainability science into classrooms across New York City and how hydroponic technology is an important and valuable learning tool in our Greenhouse Classrooms. But the learning and fun didn’t end there! Workshop participants worked in small groups to design their own urban farms and make connections to the subjects that they teach. The 50 minutes flew by and were filled with lots of great questions from teachers, discussions in small groups and some unique and creative urban farm designs.

Here is an article from NOAA.

Engaging in STEM and Science Learning: Preparing for All Potential Fall Learning Scenarios

As parents, educators and partners of the city school system, we understand the level of uncertainty schools are facing regarding reopening plans for the fall.  As an organization, NY Sun Works is committed to supporting schools during the coming year. Our priority is to continue providing the tools and resources to support our partner schools in delivering high quality and engaging science and sustainability education to students across the NYC metropolitan area.  We are currently planning three different options to support schools in the Greenhouse Classroom operations for the upcoming school year, but will continue adopting new solutions as the situation evolves:

  1. Students are partially back to school under conditions of social distancing: Hydroponic lab will follow all DOE protocols, lab systems will operate regularly (harvests can be distributed within the community).
  2. Teachers are back to school to teach from the classroom but students remain at home: Hydroponic lab systems will operate regularly (harvests can be distributed within the community).
  3. Teachers and students continue remote learning: NY Sun Works’ curriculum has been adapted to remote learning with the addition of Google Classroom slides, videos and home experiments. Additional supporting materials will be available by September.  Under this scenario, NY Sun Works will keep the hydroponic lab systems closed down with minimum maintenance requirements OR we can use the lab as a fully functioning urban farm for food production only. Harvests can be distributed within the school community or to others in need. We are currently implementing this model in two schools in Manhattan. Under the urban farm scenario, the lab systems will also operate regularly. 

Under any scenario, NY Sun Works is here to provide hands-on science and sustainability learning, whether students are in the classroom using the hydroponic systems or learning from home.  To facilitate distance learning and support our online curriculum, we can provide a Home Hydroponic Kit that can either be given to students at school, or NY Sun Works can help facilitate mailing of kits home if schools do not reopen in September.

NY Sun Works Collaborates with Guggenheim Museum on College Practicum

NY Sun Works has been invited to collaborate with the Guggenheim Museum as a partner in their College Practicum.  The Practicum, which will run through Fall 2020, is designed to foster connections between students and leading experts through an interdisciplinary exploration of current events. As a partner organization, the NY Sun Works team will be sharing our expertise and real-world perspective with this select group of college and graduate students as they investigate pressing, current questions such as:

  1. How are leaders in fields like art, architecture, science, and other disciplines addressing contemporary global issues relating to the environment? 
  2. How can we explore and amplify the intersection of climate change, social justice, and artistic or creative practice? 
  3. How can we use an interdisciplinary approach to innovate and co-create solutions to the problems facing our world?

The students come from a range of disciplines, including science and engineering, journalism, and art, and will share the results of their research this fall, with presentations via the Guggenheim’s digital platform.