US (NY): Partnership previews new hydroponic farm at high school

November 28, 2023
UA Maker Murry Bergtraum Students_11.16.23 Press Preview Event

By | November 20, 2023

In a collaboration aimed at tackling food insecurity and advancing sustainable urban agriculture, Teens for Food Justice (TFFJ) and Green Mountain Energy Sun Club (Sun Club) preview a new hydroponic farm at the Murry Bergtraum Educational Campus in Manhattan. This was made possible by a $148,000 sustainability grant from Sun Club and represents a beacon of hope for food justice advocates and sustainability enthusiasts alike.

The TFFJ/Green Mountain Energy Sun Club Farm at the Murry Bergtraum Educational Campus — which will unfold over the next 18 months — will grow a projected 9,000 pounds of produce per year in a
1,500-square-foot space that is adjacent to the campus cafeteria. This produce will be served to 1,400 students in the campus cafeteria and distributed through partnerships with local community-based organizations to food-insecure community members.

“We are thrilled to announce this hydroponic farm at the Murry Bergtraum Educational Campus and to continue our partnership with Sun Club,” said Katherine Soll, CEO/Founder of Teens for Food Justice. “This project exemplifies our mission and commitment to empowering young people to become advocates for food justice and equity. We believe that by educating and involving students in urban farming, we can help them develop a deeper understanding of the food system and inspire positive change in their communities. The TFFJ farm at the Murry Bergtraum Educational Campus signifies a significant milestone in our mission to provide fresh, locally-grown produce to underserved communities while fostering environmental responsibility and youth empowerment. It will serve as a dynamic educational platform, offering students on campus a unique opportunity to engage with sustainable agriculture practices, nutrition, and food justice issues firsthand.”

Rendering of what the finalized farm will look like

The sustainability grant from Sun Club will support all of the TFFJ farm’s equipment, consumables, and environmental controls. This is Sun Club’s second grant award to TFFJ, having first supported the launch of the TFFJ/Green Mountain Energy Sun Club Farm at the DeWitt Clinton Educational Campus in the Bronx in 2017.

“Green Mountain Energy and Teens for Food Justice share a common vision of creating a more equitable and sustainable future,” said Mark Parsons, vice president and general manager of Green Mountain
Energy. “This hydroponic farm at the Murry Bergtraum Educational Campus is a testament to what can be achieved when organizations collaborate and address critical issues like food insecurity and climate change. We are thrilled to announce this innovative project and its potential to transform the lives of students and community members.”

Once fully built, the hydroponic farm will utilize state-of-the-art technology to cultivate a wide range of fresh, student-grown produce — including leafy greens, herbs, and other vegetables — while using 90% less water compared to traditional soil-based agriculture and eliminating the need for harmful pesticides. This sustainable farming method aligns perfectly with Sun Club’s commitment to supporting environmentally responsible initiatives and is an excellent fit for urban environments like Manhattan.

Urban Assembly Maker Academy students are already engaged in TFFJ programming in the lab in room 439 even before their farm is built, using smaller hydroponic towers, DIY grow-kits, and a vine crop system to grow food while also designing a “green wall” to live outside the farm classroom. In total, roughly 300 Urban Assembly Maker Academy students will be actively engaged in STEM-focused farm programming, as well as in TFFJ’s afterschool Food Justice Collective, which provides youth with comprehensive nutrition and health education and food justice advocacy training to help them become empowered consumers and changemakers.

“This TFFJ farm helps further our mission to cultivate students as problem-solvers who can create positive change in a world where change is the only constant,” said Amy Piller, Principal of Urban Assembly Maker Academy. “This hands-on experience will not only enhance our students’ knowledge of sustainable agriculture but also teach them valuable skills for a more sustainable future while instilling in them a sense of empowerment and preparedness for the landscape of the ever-changing 21st century.”

The preview event for the hydroponic farm at Murry Bergtraum Campus took place November 16, 2023, and the completed farm is scheduled to fully launch in December 2024.

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