Ahhhh, beautiful sunny skies, 70 degrees of sunshine and a refreshing waterfront breeze; you couldn’t ask for more comfortable weather at the Battery Urban Farm. These conditions made it an ideal setting for some quality farm education sessions with our young farmers at the Spruce Street School.
Last week, our lesson plans focused on some basic fundamentals of farming: (1) to be able to recognize, understand, and observe different types of annual and perennial plants in our environment in the “Life of a Tree” lesson; and (2) to grasp how composting can bring a sustainable balance to the farm. Here’s what students are learning now:
The Life of a Tree
Here at Battery Urban Farm, students get to plant a wide variety of fruits, herbs and vegetables. Some of our annual plants include tomatoes, lettuce and sugar snap peas. While these plants are all different heights and shapes, one thing they all have in common is that they are annuals: they complete their life cycle within one year and need to be replanted the following growing season. Some of the other crops, like rosemary, thyme and mint, are perennials. These are plants that come back year after year.
In order to highlight the difference between annuals and perennials, we organized some fun activities for the kids. It started with having them plant two rows of Kentucky wonder beans. These are a specific variety of green beans that can be found at Battery Urban Farm annually. They typically grow as bush beans, only about two feet in height. Kentucky wonder beans reach maturity and produce all of their fruit in about 60 days. This is a relatively short amount of time and allows our gardeners to replant several times a year. (We recommend cooking these beans in a casserole, stir-fried with other veggies, or even in a delicious green bean soup!)
To better understand perennial plants, the students went hands-on with the trees in the Woodland surrounding Battery Urban Farm. Students measured the circumference of various trees around the farm using a simple measuring tape, learning that the girth (or waist measurement) of a tree can indicate how old it is. Every inch represents approximately one year. For example, a tree with a 16 inch circumference should be about 16 years old. This measurement doesn’t work for every tree. Eucalyptuses and North American redwoods tend to grow taller and faster than most other trees. Some trees grow taller slower such as limes, horse chestnuts, and yews. Palm trees grow taller without increasing in circumference. How old are the trees around your home?
Decomposition: Breaking Down our Organic Waste
Did you know New York City creates about 12,000 tons of waste per day – and that of that, approximately 270,000 lbs of that is food waste?? That’s a lot of nutrient-rich organic material getting tied up in our landfills instead of feeding our soil.
Many of us living in major cities like NYC aren’t fully aware of the importance of proper waste removal: we throw so many different substances together as “trash” (meaning only that we don’t have a use for them anymore) and don’t think about where they go or what happens to them all once they leave our front door. This disconnect between us and our garbage can be really harmful to our environment. Wasted food that’s left to decay in landfills produces methane gas, a harmful greenhouse gas that contributes to global warming. It’s over 20 times more potent than carbon dioxide when it enters the atmosphere. Thus, recycling our unused materials is extremely important in the fight to slow down climate change.
The best way to bring sustainable balance is through a process called composting. When we compost, we turn our leftover organic materials into reusable soil that gets placed back into the earth for planting. Battery Urban Farm has three compost bins on location to help us recycle our waste. We utilize a specific method of Thermophilic composting, combining waste eating bacteria, heat, and hungry worms to recreate nutrient rich soil for the farm. As part of this lesson, students learn vocabulary words including “decompose”, “compostable”, “organic material” and “vermicompost” , and get hands-on with the compost system and worm bin.
These methods (along with many others) will ultimately help our students (and all of us!) learn to reduce our impact on the planet. It’s our responsibility to harness technology in a way that won’t compromise our ability to create healthy food and provide clean drinkable water. Composting is just one necessary step in the development of a more sustainable environment.
Interested in composting at home? While the three-bin thermophilic composting system is great for our space here at the farm, those of us who live in apartment buildings with limited space may need something smaller and more apartment-appropriate. Indoor worm bins are very practical, space efficient and odor-free! Another great option is simply collecting your food scraps in a bag within your freezer and then dropping it off at a compost site. You can find drop-off bins at most green markets around the city, or even at a local community garden. Check GrowNYC for more compost information.
We at Battery Urban Farm take great pride in helping to plant the seeds of future sustainability leaders. It’s genuinely fun and engaging for both the students and our educators on staff. We look forward to growing along with students from Spruce Street and all of our other schools!
Be a part of our farm family by visiting on Battery Urban Farm Saturdays. We have fun activities and workshops for the whole family!