The NEA Foundation and AT&T have partnered with Project EATS, a program of the Active Citizens Project in New York City, which builds farms near school grounds enabling students and the community they live in to work with experienced farmers to grow, package and market their products as they acquire knowledge and skills.
Working with the people at Project EATS, it’s like we’re a big family.
Basically, you could say it came from the bottom and now we’re here.
I just got hooked.
I’m getting to like, be more independent.
It was just a new experience. It was… it was fun.
There are so many neighbourhoods across this country that don’t have access to fresh food. There’s land in these neighbourhoods, even if they’re on concrete [laughs], and that we could create farms, we could start to grow our own food in our own neighbourhoods.
At Project EATS, we… we operate with this satellite farming model, where we have lots of parcels that together can create these hubs of production.
It was a completely empty lot full of trash, big old trash cans, and we turned it into something that was actually useful and helpful. And the fact that we can actually bring a community in together over food, and we can teach them as well, so it’s basically a whole bunch of good news.
In addition to urban farming, Project EATS also does outreach programs in the schools to teach students the importance of sustainability. This also gives the program more exposure; therefore, more students become interested and involved.
Our first school-wide project this spring, which I’m extremely happy about, was human energy hubs. And basically, what those are are stationary bikes that are attached to generators that, as someone pedals those bikes, they’re generating power that goes into the generators that then can power directly equipment or a tool; and in the case of the schools, we had it powering a blender, so students were making smoothies. And also, that energy can go straight in the batteries that can then be used to power tools and equipment on the farm.
One of the great things about farming as an educational tool is that you really do cross a number of disciplines and areas of life. So not only are you growing food, not only are you learning the science, technology, and the nature of growing food and how it affects the environment… so all of that is encompassed in farming. You also have to sell the food to be able to buy seeds for next year.
Another great learning experience are the student-operated farmer’s markets. Students must harvest what they have grown, set up the displays for sale, and sell the products. The markets also allow the students to bond with their neighbours, building stronger communities.
Today, we have our farmer’s market, and we are selling our organic, locally grown produce to the community, and we’re giving back to them, and they come and they help support us by buying all these wonderful vegetables.
First we go to our site on Amboy [street in neighbourhood of Brooklyn] and we harvest our vegetables, and then we come here and we wash everything, prep everything, bundle everything, set it up nice and presentable for the customers.
What made me interested is the fact that when I get older and I live by myself, I’mma want to… I wanna grow my own food instead of going to a supermarket.
My favourite part is harvesting [laughs]. It’s nice to see after all your hard work, and after taking so much time watering and weeding, you actually get to see baby plants grow into like, full adults; and then you harvest them, you can actually give it to people and sell it at market. And it’s just nice, it feels like, rewarding.
What’s amazing is the way the students naturally work together on everything we do, without us saying it’s important that you work togeth—you don’t have to say that. Students get so engaged in the work that they’re doing, and invested, and feel responsible for it, which is so key that they help each other.
To read about a student community gardening initiative in another U.S. state, visit Schoolyard Garden: Minnesota’s Straw Bale Garden Managed by Kids>>