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Integrating Education & CEA – The Story of NY Sun Works

Integrating Education & CEA - The Story of NY Sun Works. AgTech; Agriculture; Controlled Environment Agriculture; Indoor Farming

NY Sun Works (website) was initiated after the success of the Science Barge project in 2008, which was the first hydroponic installation in New York City. Over the years, it has transformed from a humble greenhouse experiment into a full-fledged organization committed to promoting sustainable urban farming. Since its establishment in 2010, NY Sun Works has developed an impressive portfolio of urban farms, educated young minds, and championed sustainable and local food production in all five boroughs of New York City.

NY Sun Works’ journey over the past decade and more has been inspiring. It now reaches 250 schools, with plans to add 100 more farms to its roster by next summer. That’s not all. The organization aims to extend its reach beyond NYC, targeting other cities once it has achieved certain milestones within the metropolis.

One of the most remarkable aspects of NY Sun Works’ initiative is its intense focus on education. As of the 2022-2023 school year, the organization had engaged with over 120,000 students, offering STEM programs to the K-12 year-round curriculum. Moreover, teachers are trained to implement the NY Sun Works program effectively, providing students with comprehensive, hands-on learning experiences.

The Executive Director and Program Founder, Manuela Zamora, briefly explained the organization’s mission, emphasizing the importance of healthy, green, and locally produced food. Zamora said, “If we transform the teaching of science, sustainability, and climate education in NYC schools by bringing hydroponic farming into the classroom, we will not only grow a generation of environmental innovators empowered to create solutions to global climate challenges but also address immediate needs.” Thus, the organization fills this gap, encouraging students to grow food and consume fresh, nutritious produce.

An impressive 97% of the participating schools are public institutions, with 80% belonging to Title 1 schools, serving communities with high socio-economic needs. The prioritized goals shared by these schools and NY Sun Works revolve around sustainability and climate science, growing and learning about food, and consuming fresh produce. Integrating such practices in everyday school helps students make informed decisions about food, empowering them to contribute positively to their health and the environment.

NY Sun Works has also demonstrated sensitivity to the diverse cultural context of NYC, growing produce that aligns with the various cultures they engage with. “We try to grow produce that is culture-relevant to adapt to the various cultures we are dealing with and facilitate the involvement of families within the program,” explained Zamora.

Further underlining the organization’s commitment to education, students are assessed not only on their learning aptitude and attitudes but also their career paths. This practice assists in building effective Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) that gauge the program’s success.

In light of the labor challenges the agricultural sector is grappling with, NY Sun Works has launched a Controlled Environment Agriculture (CEA) certification. Zamora shed light on the intent behind the program, saying, “We created the CEA certification to train the next generation of growers.” The high school certification program dedicated to CEA saw 180 students graduate this year. The plan is to offer the certification to 15 schools this fall, which, as Zamora notes, “helps create a new generation of students ready to be employed in the CEA industry.”

Despite its challenges, the pandemic prompted NY Sun Works to develop innovative solutions. The organization created an at-home kit for kids, facilitating their online learning and teaching experiences. This quick adaptation further emphasized the organization’s dedication to its cause.

Looking ahead, NY Sun Works envisions expanding its operations across the USA and reaching Latin America. This ambitious goal aligns with their mission of promoting sustainable urban farming, combating food insecurity, and nurturing the next generation of environmentally conscious individuals.

In essence, NY Sun Works is not just fostering urban farm growth but cultivating a brighter, greener future. It’s planting the seeds of sustainability in young minds, nurturing them with knowledge, and watching them blossom into responsible, informed, and capable adults ready to take on the world.

Image provided by NY Sun Works

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