Environmental Education

A Day in the Life: A Grow to Learn School Garden tour

Grow to Learn celebrated the end of the 2013-14 school year with a tour of four school gardens in Harlem and the Bronx. Since launching in February 2011, 438 schools have joined Grow to Learn, making them eligible for garden grant funding, training and materials offered by Grow to Learn partners GrowNYC, NYC Parks Department’s GreenThumb Division and NYC Department of Education’s Office of SchoolFood. Join us on this virtual tour of some dynamic school gardening programs:

Stepping into the hydroponics classroom at PS 208m The Alain L. Locke Magnet School for Environmental Stewardship, several fifth graders sat huddled over small tanks in front of them.  They were adjusting and observing the miniature hydroponics systems they had designed and built themselves.  Behind them stood the rows of basil, rainbow chard, and lettuce they’d been tending in the larger classroom system that served as their model. 

The class, taught by hydroponics teacher Tina Wong, begins with the history and basics of hydroponics, includes lots of planting and harvesting (each student tends to one plant, and picks what they get to grow), and ends with a STEM-infused experimental design unit.  Next year, students will test their know-how against the elements by expanding their garden – for the first time – outdoors.  With the help of City Year and Grow to Learn staff, PS 208 built an outdoor garden area with raised beds in cheerful shades of purple, yellow, red, and blue.  During the coming school year, students will run a small farmers’ market as part of their class, learning economics and business principles as they garden.

Ask the students at Family Life Academy Charter School, the next stop on our tour, if they know a good place to get local produce, and they might just tell you their roof.  During our visit, FLACS students could be spotted pulling young carrots straight from the ground, lining up at the hose for a quick rinse, and munching away.  Between bites, students shared a variety of facts they’d learned researching different crops in the garden (originally, students had been asked to create labels for crops, but got so excited they would up making a fact-packed laminated brochure for every plant in the garden). 

The school’s chef, Chef Bennett, looked on proudly.  He uses garden produce (especially herbs) in the school’s cafeteria, and uses the garden as a way to make healthy eating more appetizing, exciting, and understandable to the students that pass through his lunchroom.  We were lucky enough to stay for lunch, and enjoyed a fresh salad bar, roasted cauliflower, and other healthy treats!

At Bronx Lighthouse College Prep Academy, students spoke eloquently about the hard work and long hours they’d contributed to the garden.  They shared their different roles (from seed-purchaser to resident photographer), their garden struggles (a four-flight bucket brigade to bring soil to their terrace garden came to mind), and the rewards of all their hard work – like pesto from garden-grown basil served in the cafeteria.  Currently in their second season, the Bronx Lighthouse College Prep Academy gardeners felt more seasoned, and expected to produce over 400 tomatoes – a bumper crop compared to the four they said they harvested last year!

We ended the day with a sweet surprise at PS 154x Jonathan D. Hyatt: members of the Chicken and Garden Club greeted us at the garden gate with a bucket of freshly picked raspberries.  Older students, about to graduate, showed up-and-coming Garden Club students the ropes: from watering, to weeding, to eating radishes straight from the ground.  Most exciting, though, was the run on the far side of the building where “The Ladies” live.  Four hens (Storm, CoCo, Tami, and Diva) live and roost in a coop and run abutting Alexander Avenue, and are a constant source of curiosity and delight for teachers, students, neighborhood residents, and passersby.

Solar Ovens and Earth Science Lesson Plan

GrowNYC's Environmental Education program engages New York City school children across the five boroughs with curriculum on renewable energy, habitat restoration, water health, and green design.

One of our office's most successful interdisciplinary activities has been building solar ovens from used pizza boxes. The project is both fun and educational and is for kids from upper elementary school through high school. Our lesson plan, available for free download below, guides teachers and youth leaders through the process of introducing key Earth Science concepts to their students while they engage youth in building working pizza box solar ovens.

Download a PDF of our 11-page unit Solar Ovens and Earth Science.

P.S. 154 Queens Wins the Big Lift Recycling Contest


This spring, GrowNYC’s Recycling Champions Program held a recycling contest amongst schools in the program to see which school could achieve the highest recycling rates. 22 schools participated in the six-week long "Big Lift"– where schools once weekly weighed the recycling and trash from classrooms, offices, and the cafeteria. With an overall recycling rate of 54%, P.S. 154 in Queens was the grand prize winner! P.S. 154 increased their recycling rate by 268% and reduced the amount of trash by 46%. Other top winners include: P.S. 29 Brooklyn and the High School for Law and Public Service in Manhattan which improved recycling rates by 146% and 88% respectively. P.S. 25 Bronx had a 47% overall recycling rate – 20% for metal, plastic, and cartons.

As a result of their outstanding recycling rate, P.S. 154Q won a school greening package valued at $2,000! The prize included tree mulching, park benches made from recycled plastic and a new school garden. On June 25, students and faculty worked alongside staff from GrowNYC to construct the school garden and assist with tree mulching. For many students, it was their first experience with hands-on landscaping and gardening. Students filled the bed with top soil and planted a number of perennials and herbs that will attract butterflies. In addition to beautifying the school, the 8' x 3' raised bed constructed from recycled lumber, will serve as a valuable educational tool for students to learn about the natural environment.

Healthy Kids, Healthy Schools


GrowNYC formed a partnership with Wagner Middle School in Manhattan called Healthy Kids, Healthy Schools, funded by NYC Council Member Jessica Lappin. Under one roof, we are providing support from five GrowNYC programs: Learn It Grow It Eat It, Grow to Learn School Gardens, Greenmarket Youth Education, Recycling Champions and Environmental Education. For an entire year, GrowNYC staff is educating young people about how to lead lives that improve their personal health and that of the environment around them; so that eating, growing, learning and going green become second nature.

On the recycling front, we recently helped Wagner launch a school-wide cafeteria recycling program – 1,200 students in grades 6-8 sorted everything from trays to milk cartons, placing them in their proper containers with help from dozens of student volunteers and Green Team members. 1,200 students recycling milk cartons for one year will save 31 trees!

To keep it fun, grades are competing to see who can reduce their overall waste – on a weekly basis, the amount of waste will be calculated and the winning grade announced on Fridays. At the end of every month, the grade that has reduced waste and recycled the most will receive special “Out-Lunch” privileges. Wagner has averaged a daily reduction of 9 bags of garbage or 17%, while generating an extra bag of recyclables.

The contest, designed by the Green Team, was the culmination of an outreach campaign they undertook to educate their classmates. Working with their advisor, teacher and sustainability coordinator Jessica Gordon, students created posters, morning announcements, and a PowerPoint. The success of the program could not have been possible without the support and help of Wagner’s administration and staff.

Featured Grow to Learn Garden: Columbia Secondary School for Math, Science, & Engineering

Grow to Learn NYC: the Citywide School Gardens Initiative was established in 2010 as a public-private partnership between GrowNYC, The Mayor’s Fund, and several government agency partners. Grow to Learn profiles successful school gardens in their monthly newsletter The School Gardens Beet. The September profile appears below. It was a week before the school year officially began yet Columbia Secondary School for Math, Science & Engineering (CSS-MSE)’s garden was blooming with activity as students planted pollinator-attracting perennials, filled beds with soil, weeded, added trellis lines to tomato plants, turned the compost, and painted. Abby (13), Ashley (12), and Ariana (11) led me around their garden, expertly identifying their crops and generously offering me tastes along the way. Constructed by students practicing their engineering skills, the raised beds were lined with plastic and chicken wire to dissuade animals from burrowing inside. As we moved on, some unique and colorful structures caught my eye. The garden has two rainwater barrels painted as a chicken and a pig, and a large brightly-painted wooden shed. The front is painted with chalkboard paint where students list their garden to-dos and create temporary works of art. Ashley pointed out the different tools and supplies in the shed, but was particularly proud of the supply of extra work boots in case a student isn’t wearing proper footwear. Abby was also proud to point out the garden’s six compost bins and their contents.

Abby’s dad built the garden’s most recent addition: the compost tumbler. Made out of salvaged materials, it includes engineering that will enable them to harvest natural gas from the compost! Using student recipes and ideas, they plan to use the gas for cooking in the garden, an activity that the students enthusiastically lead from prep to feast. What were these students doing in the garden during their summer vacation? Ariana expressed that she likes to plant and “growing different types of plants and vegetables is cool.” Ashley loves the garden, it is “a place for me and my friends to gather while helping the environment and still have fun.” Abby agreed and added that being in the garden “is a chance to get away from the city.” Behind the students’ love for the garden is a dedicated and inspirational teacher, Meredith Hill. Meredith’s goal is to make the garden as student-driven as possible. During the month of June, students participate in an elective course focusing on one topic. Abby and Ashley joined Meredith and 30 other classmates in the garden for a Food and Sustainability course where they learned garden care, compost, raised bed construction, and how to prepare meals using produce from the garden, choosing what to plant and cook. The course culminated in the publication of Fresh!, a student-authored anthology created entirely by the 7th grade Food and Sustainability Class and features some of our favorite GreenThumb school gardeners. Students teach skills that they learn to fellow gardeners and the rest of the school community. From Garden to Café harvest events incorporating garden produce into the menu to collecting food waste for composting, the school gardeners have a big presence during lunch at CSS-MSE. Following a student suggestion, the School Food Director allowed students to harvest, prepare and add fresh veggies to pizza as well as distribute samples of garden produce from tomatoes to kale chips. To keep the students’ interest and excitement—and the garden—maintained, Meredith introduced open garden hours during the summer. Students were able to choose their level of involvement with the garden and it provides a chance for students who were not in her class to dig in and help. CSS-MSE’s gardening successes didn’t come without challenges. After two years of having a rooftop garden, new regulations made them unable to use the space. Meredith explained, “I started looking for spaces elsewhere to garden, and a colleague suggested that I check out this space. The site was indeed overgrown and abandoned. Once we discovered it was a Parks Department property, I contacted GreenThumb and we started the process of registering it as a garden. Crucial to this process was finding interested parents and colleagues who helped make connections and offer support to the garden. We received keys about a year later, in the spring of 2010.” Meredith and her students are so grateful for all the support they have received from GreenThumb and Grow to Learn as they have built and improved their garden. Now that the school year has begun, they will transition some of their beds into colder-weather crops, and hope to extend the growing season, thanks to new row-covers from a recent GreenThumb workshop! They plan to hold leaf raking parties in Morningside Park to stow away lots of brown material for their year of cafeteria compost. Meredith will incorporate the garden into her English class this year as a way to demonstrate how gardening supports the Common Core standards. Students are also enthusiastically planning a GreenThumb composting workshop for this October that will be led by 7th and 8th grade students. Keep a lookout in our October newsletter for the exact date, time, and location.

Hats Off to Women in Agriculture at the Fifth Annual Taste of Greenmarket

On June 27, at our annual benefit, Taste of Greenmarket, we honored Women in Agriculture for their contributions to the Greenmarket community and the sustainable agriculture community at large. City Council Speaker Christine Quinn, chef Mary Cleaver of the Green Table, and Diane Eggert, director and founder of the Farmers Market Federation of New York, as well as GrowNYC Executive Director Marcel Van Ooyen, Chairman of the Board Bob Kafin and Greenmarket Director Michael Hurwitz, addressed our 80 women farmer honorees, thanking them for their work in the field and the example they set for the next generation of agricultural producers. The room buzzed with Greenmarket farmers, steadfast supporters, and over two dozen chefs and mixologists from around the city who build their menus around the seasonal availability of local products in the market. A dizzying array of dishes featured Grazin’ Angus Acres short ribs, tri-star strawberries from Berried Treasures, Bobolink Dairy cheese, and many other products grown right here in our region by Greenmarket farmers. Many thanks to the guests, honorees, producers, chefs, mixologists, donors and sponsors who made the fifth annual Taste of Greenmarket a screaming success! All proceeds will benefit Greenmarket's Youth Education Project, which provides school tours of markets, meet your farmer classroom visits, and implementation of our Seed to Plate curriculum. Photo booth photos: Event photos:

NYC Teens take "Fast Food IQ Test"

In preparation for the 2012 Youthmarket season, GrowNYC brought together more than 50 young people from across the city to learn about food, agriculture, and the basics of running a farm stand. Incoming youth-staff read nutrition labels and took a  “Fast Food IQ Test” with David Saphire from our Learn It, Grow It, Eat It program and discussed inventory planning, outreach strategies, and small business math with experienced Youthmarket Managers. Youth also sampled the best of the season during a produce tasting that familiarized them with the products they’ll be selling, and they ended the day with a tour of the Union Square Greenmarket, where they chatted with farmers, saw different ways of creating attractive product displays, and learned the secret to keeping vegetables looking fresh on hot summer days. GrowNYC’s 11 Youthmarkets all open this week for the 2012 season, and all of them feature fresh produce grown by Greenmarket farmers. Teens identified by our community partner organizations learn valuable job skills and earn their own money while providing their friends, family, and neighbors with access to fresh, healthy, local foods. Visit our website to find a Youthmarket near you!

Attention NYC public schools: Apply for GrowNYC’s Recycling Champions Program for the 2012-2013 school year

Is Your School a Recycling Champion?

Update! We've extended the deadline to June 22nd at 5pm. GrowNYC is now accepting applications for the 2012-2013 Recycling Champions Program from NYC public schools! Recycling Champions is a free program available to K-12 schools in all five boroughs that helps to launch model, school-wide recycling programs. It's conducted in partnership with the NYC Department of Education Division of School Facilities and Office of Sustainability, and the NYC Department of Sanitation.

Recycling Champions aims to empower schools to comply with, and exceed, NYC's recycling laws, and in the process students create school wide projects and campaigns, and learn environmental leadership skills that place their schools on the forefront of NYC's Mayoral directive to double the City's diversion rate by 2017. Your school can receive a dedicated coordinator to help organize school recycling and events, galvanize staff, and educate students through hands-on lessons and activities. The application deadline is June 22! Download the application as a PDF file or as a Word DOC. See you at School!

Grow to Learn NYC turns 1 and registers its 200th School

We're proud to report that Grow to Learn NYC: the Citywide School Gardens Initiative has just celebrated its first anniversary. A public/private partnership between GrowNYC, the Mayor’s Office to Advance New York City, and GreenThumb, NYC Department of Parks and Recreation, Grow to Learn was created to inspire, create and maintain gardens in every public school in New York City. Offering mini-grants, free materials and technical expertise to registered gardens, Grow to Learn helps school gardeners create gardens that can be utilized as outdoor classrooms and indoor living labs.

We're also proud that we've just registered our 200th school garden. From the southern tip of Manhattan to the northern reaches of the Bronx, Brooklyn, Queens and Staten Island, school gardens of all shapes and sizes are flourishing. Teachers are able to utilize the gardens to help students apply what they have learned in the classroom to everything from science and math to foreign languages, nutrition, health and even music. After-school programs in urban planning, environmental studies and urban farming are able to utilize the gardens as teaching tools, and summertime gardening programs are able to continue to harvest fresh vegetables through the peak growing season. Students report that they feel more enthusiastic about learning when they can see how it applies in "the real world," teachers report that the students feel a deep sense of personal responsibility and pride that their school has a garden and an overall greater interest in subjects where the garden is utilized. We are also told that having a school garden creates a sense of community within the school and also with the community at large as neighbors stop by to find out what the kids are doing in the garden.

Don’t see your school garden on the list or want to start one at your school? Visit Grow to Learn to read all about the benefits of registration at our website www.growtolearn.org, view Success Stories for some inspiration about what a school garden can look like, or get Step-by-Step help to learn how to start a garden at a school of your own. You can also find us on Facebook!

Starting a school garden is an incredibly rewarding endeavor; get started now and perhaps yours can be garden #201!

Support Teen Farmers - Get a Calendar!

Order your beautiful, colorful and informative 2012 Endangered Species calendar, designed by high school students from the South Bronx today.

10 talented Morrisania-based teens and Learn it, Grow It, Eat It program interns designed a calendar featuring endangered species. As part of our year-round program, 200 teens get outside for hands-on gardening, learn about healthy eating and make the connection between health, nutrition and environment.

You will receive a calendar for your donation of $25 dollars. Make sure you designate "Environmental Education" and type "2012 Calendar" in the Dedication box when you make your gift and we’ll send you a calendar.

Donate here and receive your calendar!

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