Garden Train was established in 2017 as the first ever district-wide school garden consortium in NYC, in district 15. Founded by Kathy Park Price, Garden Train is a public, district-based community group of parents, teachers and community members who nurture and oversee school gardens throughout our district. The consortium, which has support from the Community Education Council district 15, the Department of Education, elected officials, local businesses, community organizations and the City’s Grow to Learn initiative, seeks to develop and support school communities who believe in the educational, environmental and social value of public school gardens for students and their communities.
NYC Chancellor Carmen Farina noted that “district 15 is a leader in using school gardens to provide hands on learning environments that teach students important lessons on nutrition, sustainability and science.” As a new network, we plan to create a garden tool storage repository that members could use to develop and maintain their gardens. Another idea is to provide free soil testing to its members. We are beginning to plan a “garden crawl” that would open up District 15”s school gardens to visitors for fun events.
Already this year we have applied for local grants, held a workshop on Native Plants in collaboration with the Gowanus Canal Conservancy (a CBO partner), and presented a workshop on asset based community development and nurturing relationships with our volunteer community. We survey our members and communicate through on-line platforms in order to elevate their voices to continue to grow a sustainable urban school garden movement.
Our 26 member school gardens are at various stages of development toward the goal of every child in our elementary and middle schools having a regular experience in a school garden, aligned to learning standards, and incorporating food preparation and tasting which is connected to the home cultures of our young people. In addition to the school gardens, our organization includes community partners such as the Brooklyn Public Library Park Slope branch, which recently established a children’s garden with related programming.
Since our 26 schools are very different, in terms of years in operation, cadre of volunteers, support of administration, physical space and budget, the responses to some questions will highlight specific schools while others will reflect the entire district.
Brooklyn Urban Garden School (BUGS)
BUGS, a charter middle school serving 300 students, is located in Brooklyn’s district 15. The school was founded five years ago with a sustainability theme. We have not attended the Edible Academy but have participated in intensive Professional Development at the Cloud Institute, as well as attending workshops at the Brooklyn Botanic Garden and the Edible Schoolyard Brooklyn.
The garden classroom was planted in 2013 and continues to develop each year. Due to the co-location of other schools in the building the garden has moved. This move allowed us to develop a stronger design and engage additional community partners. All grades have access to the garden through science class or self-selected “club.” NYC weather means that students tend to be in the garden in September, October, April, May and June. The school’s curriculum for each grade is aligned to our grade themes: gardening and waste management in our school building (6th grade), NYC waterways with a focus on nearby Gowanus Canal (7th grade), Urbanization, climate change and our immigrant communities (8th grade). Our curriculum talks to social justice issues, economic equity issues in food policy and encourages conversations about race.
Since we are housed in a rented building, we do not have the infrastructure for a full kitchen program. However, teachers incorporate food preparation of some of the harvest, assembling salads and other foods that do not require a full kitchen. Due to infrastructure and space issues, we do not plan a kitchen classroom at this time.
When the school was established, our team researched sources for school food that are fresh, local and culturally based. We work with NYC School Food both to feed our students and have a voice in citywide school food policy. Sixty five percent of our students are eligible for FARPL, but all children access the meals that are provided, without cost. As part of our curriculum, students have visited an urban rooftop farm as well as local greenmarkets, studying the food supply chain. They have the opportunity to eat food from NYS farms through the Farm to Café program.
The basic cost for garden materials, supplies and trips are funded through the school budget, with additional funding from local elected officials, our supportive parent organization, board, and donors whom we have cultivated. As part of our charter, we evaluate our school program annually. Since the garden theme and sustainability are at the core of our school’s mission, our goals and outcomes are embedded in this work.
Our teachers are scheduled for weekly professional development, grade level meetings and department meetings. As such, we will report back on our learning from the Edible Academy and share with our parent and student leaders to build and grow our program. We hope that connecting with other schools both in Brooklyn and nationally (through the Edible Academy) will allow us to accelerate the development of our program as well as provide leadership within our district.