Edible Schoolyard NYC
Edible Schoolyard NYC is a nonprofit organization whose mission is to support edible education for every child in New York City. As every school is different, Edible Schoolyard NYC offers a variety of program models which range in depth and scope. Through their partnership with New York City public schools, they aim “to cultivate healthy students and communities through hands-on cooking and gardening education, transforming children’s relationship with food.”
Liza Engelberg (Director of Education) and Mirem Villamil (Head Garden Manager) were kind enough to share some of their insights with us.
What does a commitment to food and environmental justice mean to you?
Everyone should have access to affordable, healthy and delicious food. Everyone should live in a safe and beautiful environment and know that this environment will remain safe and beautiful for their children and grandchildren.
How could research about nature make students more caring about their environment?
We hope that caring for their own school garden will make students more invested in the environment in general. We also try to employ a “lens of resistance” when teaching about environmental issues.
We worry that teaching students about environmental degradation and climate change can leave them feeling helpless, so we try to show them examples of actions they can take to make things better.
Caring for the garden is the most fundamental of these actions, but we also do research into other environmental problems and solutions.
What are some of your experiences of our ethical dilemma, ‘What are the ethical problems when growing food?’
This is a great question and not one we’ve asked in this way of our students. I’d say we get at the ethical dilemma in a few ways. We talk about the costs of monoculture vs. the benefits of biodiversity. We talk about how bees and other pollinators are facing danger from pesticides. And we examine the injustices faced by workers at various levels of our food system. We don’t talk very much about WHY monoculture and pesticides and exploitation have become the norm, and your question makes me wonder if this is a topic we should tackle with our older students, ie, why does the current food system look the way it does?
Aerial view of the garden at PS 7 in East Harlem
You mention in outcomes the change you want to see from an individual student through to the school, community and beyond. Can you give us an example of some of the changes that have occurred with your grade 6 or 7’s?
The best example I have of this is with fourth and fifth graders. These students were part of a “green team” which met weekly at school, and were given the chance to focus on an issue of particular concern to them. They were interested in the problem of garbage in their neighborhood, which led them to study recycling, which led them to advocate for recycling at their own school. Getting this off the ground was incredibly challenging, but the students made it happen, and I think that had a positive impact on them and the school at large. This year, when we had remote instruction due to covid, the students wrote to their city council member to ask for more trash and recycling receptacles in their neighborhood.
Student watering the garden at PS 216 in Brooklyn
How do you use science and design together to plan a sustainable edible garden?
The spirit of inquiry – a willingness to observe, experiment, document, and learn – is built into gardening, as it is into good design work.
– Some general advice about edible gardens in small spaces: – grow space-efficient crops: herbs, vines and vertical plants, plants that grow close together (carrots, radishes, Japanese turnips), and plants that can be harvested during a long period of time (greens and herbs).
– Go for compact versions of standard crops. Patio tomatoes, bush beans, dwarf peas...
– if you want to produce more food in a small space, read up on Square Foot Gardening. It is both a way to fit more plants into less space, and a guide to timing your crops so that you can make the most of the space you have.
Students cooking at PS 7 in East Harlem.
Students weighing the harvest at Brooklyn Gardens Elementary School, in Brooklyn.
Images courtesy of Edible Schoolyard NYC