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Student Farmers Grow Fresh Vegetables Year-Round for Bed-Stuy Community

By Camille Bautista | February 25, 2015 8:28am
 Teen volunteers at Bedford Stuyvesant New Beginnings Charter School are growing chard, kale, cucumbers, and other vegetables in a hydroponic garden to help bring fresh produce to students and neighborhood families. 
Teen volunteers at Bedford Stuyvesant New Beginnings Charter School are growing chard, kale, cucumbers, and other vegetables in a hydroponic garden to help bring fresh produce to students and neighborhood families. 
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DNAinfo/Camille Bautista

BEDFORD-STUYVESANT — While temperatures outside drop to the single digits and the ground remains covered in ice, leafy greens are flourishing at a Brooklyn farm.

A group of teen volunteers at Bedford Stuyvesant New Beginnings Charter School are helping to bring fresh produce to neighborhood families in the winter months by growing hundreds of vegetables in a classroom garden.

Teens for Food Justice, a project of the nonprofit Students for Service, enlisted 19 teens from high schools throughout the city to build and maintain hydroponic farms at the Bed-Stuy school this year.

“We saw there was a real need in urban agriculture, environment and hunger and poverty in New York City,” said Katherine Soll, CEO and Director for the organization.

“We wanted to bring these farms to underserved schools, where the biggest challenge in the area is food deserts and children don’t have access to fresh produce and healthy options.”

Instead of the typical rooftop garden, Teens for Food Justice and partner organization New York Sun Works created the farm in a New Beginning’s fifth-floor classroom to make greens available year round, Soll said.

The group, which has already hosted several nutrition workshops and events at the Lewis Avenue building, will offer teen-led cooking classes at the charter school on Saturday and distribute free vegetables for students and parents.

The goal of such “harvests” is to educate residents on affordable alternatives to feeding their families, according to program and outreach manager Rosa Ammon-Ciaglo. During one recent session, teens taught participants how to prepare meals for a family of four for less than $10. 

Volunteers helped ring in the program’s second year this winter by expanding the program’s farming systems to seven stations and doubling the amount of produce to 40 pounds a month.

Kale, collard greens, lettuce, herbs, tomatoes and cucumbers are among the freshly harvested food distributed during monthly markets.

All vegetables are grown without soil and housed in plastic trays filled with nutrient-rich water. The teens constructed each system from scratch with the help of mentors, Ammon-Ciaglo said.

Volunteers also undergo leadership training to learn about the Brooklyn community and issues of food justice, she added.

While the teens come at least twice a month to tend to the crops and engage with families, elementary and middle school students from Bedford Stuyvesant New Beginnings also utilize the hydroponic systems in the classroom to learn about sustainability and civic engagement.

“We’re not only connecting high school students, but we’re engaging the kids in social issues to show them how to work for social change,” Soll said.

“Making this accessible trains the youth to be at the forefront of the fight in food equity. We’re creating a coalition of people who have the ability of really engaging in taking the movement forward.”