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

February 1, 2023

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. 


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