Students from the Urban Assembly Unison School are harvesting cucumbers at a farm in Brooklyn. And they didn’t even have to leave their building in Clinton Hill to get there. This winter crop was grown in the warmth of a classroom equipped with hydroponic systems the 6th, 7th and 8th graders built themselves.
"We’re transplanting green oak lettuce into our hydroponic system, "Zahid Mohammad, a 6th grader, explained. "Water is traveled through little pipes coming into the system and it travels in little channels, and it's like a cycle."
The Middle School students have been growing hundreds of leafy greens, herbs, fruits and vegetables since January as part of the Teens for Food Justice after school program founded by Kathy Soll.
“Our goal with them is to give them that kind of hands on, entrepreneurial experience that starts from the construction of the farm all the way through to becoming advocates and ambassadors within their own community for healthy eating, for healthier lifestyles," Katherine Soll said.
”These are tomatoes, and over there are peppers," Mohamed Ndiaye, an 8th grader, said. "It makes me feel proud.”
The kids' green thumbs will translate into a cookbook, filled with healthy recipes based on their family heritage.
“My family is from Guinea in Africa, and I would pick Jollof rice because it would taste good with tomatoes, peppers and cucumbers," Mamadou Jalloh said.
Assistant principal Amy Piller says the indoor farm has the potential to put out between 50 and 85 pounds of fresh produce a month. Much of it is incorporated into lunch at the school, where 96 percent of the students qualify for a free or discounted meal.
“Often times students who are less privileged have less access to these kinds of foods and it's really important that our children have equal access to the kind of nutrition that will have them focused and prepared to engage in learning,” Amy Piller, assistant principal, explained.
And the school-grown food will be distributed to the students' families as well, and to the community at large through monthly outreach sessions.
“My favorite part of the process is working together as a community, being collaborative and having fun!" Anima Rimi, a 6th grader, smiled.
“My favorite part of the process is harvesting the plant, and then getting to eat them," Amiah Johnson, a 6th grader, added.