Growing Student Farmers at Battery Urban Farm

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Welcome to The Schoolyard Dirt, where student farmers come to play! This is YOUR blog to share what you’re growing, learning, eating and loving with fellow teachers, students, parents, and your Battery Urban Farmers. Whether you’re a teacher, a student, a principal, a parent, or an enthusiastic PTA member, we encourage you to:

  • Post a photo you took on the farm this week!
  • Tell us about your farm-inspired classroom projects or crafts!
  • Rave about a dish you made from something you grew on the farm (and share the recipe, so we can try it too)!
  • Share that inspiring article you just read on a new farm-to-school program, or that grant opportunity you just heard about!
  • Invite “The Schoolyard Dirt” community to your next big Garden Event at your school!

All of your posts will appear on this page, with most recent posts appearing first. To see only posts in a specific category–for example, to see only recipes, or only community info and events–click on each specific category to the left to read a sample post, and to see where each of these posts should go.

 

 

 

Students from PS 276 weeding out chickweed

Students from PS 276 weeding out chickweed

Yay – spring is here and we couldn’t be happier!  Classes have returned to the farm to start pulling up those pesky weeds, amending the farm’s soil with fresh compost, and planting many, many seeds.

Our first graders have been caring for lettuce and scallion seedlings back in their classrooms, and this past week they finally got to move them out to the farm. What should we cook with these ingredients – delicious scallion and herb pestos? Fresh springtime salads? Our students are very excited to continue watching their plants grow and we cannot wait for harvest time.

We’ve also had some amazing Farm Field Trips from PS 8 in Brooklyn. The 5th grade classes got a lot of work done from planting arugula, lettuce mixes and radishes to harvesting compost and finding tons of decomposers. We spent our class learning about the seeds we eat, and before we planted any in the ground we learned about the different parts of a seed and how they germinate. The students were surprised to realize how many seeds end up in their daily meals – from peanuts to black beans, the accidental apple seed and the wheat and cacao in their chocolate chip cookies.

 

Students from PS8 planting spicy lettuce mix

Students from PS8 planting spicy lettuce mix

At the end of the class the students reflected on their favorite parts of the visit. It was clear that the compost was a hit:

“I liked composing with my friends.”

“I liked seeing people getting excited about touching the worm.”

“I liked smelling the compost.”

“I liked feeling and finding the worms.”

 

And best of all:

“I loved everything about the Battery Farm. I like getting to be here and be outside.”

 

What a way to start off the season!

 


Studying plant families with Kristal Aliyas’s students at P.S 276

Studying plant families with Kristal Aliyas’s students at P.S 276

This winter has been a very unique one for Battery Urban Farm – for the first time we are running our Student Farmer program during the Winter Semester. As Farm Educator, I get to brave the winter cold to visit a few of our downtown classrooms each week and bring the farm to our students! I’ve had the chance to continue working with our first grade students from PS 276 who visit the farm during both the fall and spring. This has been a great chance to take a closer look at some of the topics they were introduced to on the farm this fall.

During our first winter class in Stephanie Schneider’s classroom, we set to cooking some of our final harvest for the year. We made a steamed Swiss chard salad, herbed hummus dip and mashed Japanese sweet potatoes – all using ingredients from the farm! As I sat down with my group of ten students to make the Swiss chard salad, we shared the different kinds of salads we like to make at home and discussed the difference between raw and cooked. We realized there are many foods on the farm, like eggplants and potatoes, that we would NEVER eat raw, but others, like chard and broccoli, that we can eat both raw AND cooked.

Many of the salads that we like to eat included different types of leaves, so we spent a while recalling the function of a leaf. The leaf is the power house of our plants – making all of the energy the plant needs through photosynthesis. Through sunlight and cardon dioxide collected by the leaves, combined with the water absorbed by the roots, plants are able to make all of their own food, and in turn become food for us.

P.S 276 1st grade students dissecting Swiss chard stems

Stephanie Schneider’s 1st graders at P.S 276 dissecting Swiss chard stems

After separating the Swiss chard leaves from their stalks, we ripped the leaves into bite sized pieces and sent them off to the microwave for a quick steam. While the leaves cooked we all paused to investigate the stalks we would be composting. By ripping them apart, students discovered small tubes running the length of each stalk. Seeing these stringy tubes recalled an earlier lesson from the fall where we learned that stems are like highways, transporting materials throughout the plant. After this closer analysis one student pointed out, “so the tubes are like a straw that we use to drink and it [the nutrients and water] get carried up to the leaf.” What a great discovery! This prompted the students to take a few leaves to dissect, and found “tubes” running through these as well. With this discovery, students suddenly understood the workings of the Swiss chard’s vascular system!

Once the Swiss chard was all cooked, we whipped up a delicious honey-garlic vinaigrette, tossed our salad, and served it to the rest of the class. Everyone loved it and many of the students took the initiative to share these recipes with their families by preparing them at home over the next two weeks.

While our PS 276 students have been continuing the learning they started back in September, our PS 397 Spruce Street students (who will be joining us for the first time in April) are starting to explore some of the concepts they will be using on the farm this spring. Many of our Spruce Street student farmers will be new to Battery Urban Farm, but some have visited farms before. A few have even been lucky enough to plant seeds and harvest fresh produce. We’ve done some brainstorming on what we expect to find on our farm. When I asked students, “What do you think we will see on our farm?” students gave the following responses:

“Plants…cows…fat pigs…food growing…carrots…seeds…soil for growing seeds in!”

There will be many new things for us to discover come spring: there will be new foods to taste, new bugs to study and new crops to plant and care for. I’m not so sure about the fat pigs, but on the first day of classes in April there will definitely be soil for us to plant seeds in.

The farm covered in snow

January on the farm – covered in snow


The following is a guest post from Kristina Gsell, 2013 Apprentice

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As a recent graduate of the Farm Education Apprentice program at Battery Urban Farm, I wanted to share my experience, and to express my gratitude for all the program has given me.

In my apprenticeship experience, I had the opportunity to participate in a multitude of meaningful endeavors — both agricultural and educational — which reinvigorated my passion for food and environmental justice and solidified my desire to pursue a career in the field of sustainable agriculture. During my apprenticeship, I was exposed to cutting edge agricultural and educational techniques, and was able to apply them directly on the field and in our classes. As a result I now feel more connected than ever to the sustainable foods movement and am motivated to keep educating others and empowering others to take part in their own food sovereignty.

One of my proudest moments of the apprenticeship was in late October when I was able to design and execute my own farm-based lesson plan for one of our first grade classes. I chose to create a lesson based on farm-ecology, equipped with engaging graphics, a food-chain card game, and a creative journal activity to bring it all together. The lesson turned out a huge success; by the end of the journaling I noticed kids were drawing ecological connections even as complex as termites eating trees! When I first began working at the farm in June, I would never have been able to put together such a fluid, effective lesson plan, but after learning from my fellow educators on the farm (namely our amazing Farm Educator Anna!) I now see education in a completely different light and am inspired to dedicate my life to it.

Kristina's lesson on farm ecology featured engaging visuals

Kristina’s lesson on farm ecology featured engaging visuals

It is so rewarding to see a child connect deeply with something you have taught them, be it as simple as respecting a bumble bee, or as profound as identifying processed vs. whole foods. My experience at Battery Urban Farm not only allowed me to reap this reward every day of my apprenticeship, but also gave me the opportunity to learn about important sustainable agriculture practices, such as winter food production, drip irrigation, and proper soil maintenance. As a result of my experience, I am now reinvigorated in my dedication to this movement, and to educating others about it for the rest of my life. And as much as I appreciate the intellectual and professional benefits that I gained from the apprenticeship, the thing I will miss the most about it is working with such dedicated, passionate, and inspiring people.

In a country so disconnected from its food systems, in a city so disconnected from nature, Battery Urban Farm serves as a public oasis and brings joy to so many on a daily basis. I am deeply grateful that I had the pleasure to learn and grow within such a special environment. I can’t wait to see what the future has in store for this unique project!

 

Kristina Gsell is a farmer, scientist-philosopher, engineer, educator. She is a recent graduate of the Farm-Educator Apprenticeship at Battery Urban Farm.


What’s Growing On is a place for our Battery Urban Farm teachers, parents, friends — and you! — to tell us all the cool stuff you’re doing to get growing in your school, home, neighborhood — wherever. It’s a chance for us all to share great ideas; to get inspired by each other; a chance for everyone to tell their story. What’s yours? 

What’s Growing On at City-As School

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Here at City-As School, we do many things differently. Instead of core classes, students make our own schedules. Many credits earned at City-As are done through internships around the city. We’re on a first name basis with all of our teachers, and are supplied with all the support a person could ever wish for. I can say with certainty that City-As has been the best fit for me out of the other schools I have been to, and I’ve learned more about working in the real world  than in any previous educational experience.

This year, my internship has been working with Naima Freitas and 4 other students to maintain a farm plot at Battery Urban Farm. As of now we’re growing several types of vegetables suited more for the cold weather. This includes chard, several types of lettuce, and a selection of herbs.

kalechickenWhile I’ve enjoyed the process of working on the farm and watching our work pay off and grow into something edible, the best part has been using the ingredients we grew on the farm, and enjoying them in the form of delicious creations. Our group has been busy constructing a “pop up” kitchen in our school thanks to many generous donations and grants.

Last week we led a cooking activity utilizing our new kitchen equipment and the ingredients we grew. Each of my classmates were responsible for their own dish, all of which used something we grew on the farm.

Sam cooked a chicken dish using lemon basil and kale. Joanne made two delicious salads: one with watermelon and mint, and another with lettuce and nasturtiums from the farm. Avery was in charge of making homemade cavatelli, and I took charge over making the sauce for the pasta incorporating lots of farm-grown herbs. Together we made a delicious hash made from sweet potatoes and kale. Finally, Peter provided the refreshments with a lemon-verbena “soda.”

All in all, all the dishes we made were excellent. Aside from the free food, the experience of leading other students in cooking a tasty meal made from ingredients we grew ourselves was pretty amazing.

salad

People really came together, worked efficiently, and showed a real interest in what they were doing. Even students who may not have had the best attendance records showed up and did their part. It was great to see something as complex as creating a large meal for nearly 20 people come together so well. We did run into challenges, but the interest and enthusiasm of all those involved helped us overcome them with little effort.

After the success of our first cooking activity and the success of our farm, we are excited to plant even more in the spring and to have a whole new line up of ingredients to use for next year’s meals.

harvesting

 

ariAri Weber is currently a student at City-As School. He is planning to graduate in June and enjoys skateboarding in his spare time.


Today, November 1, marks the last day of Enrichment Visit (or “farm field trip”) classes on the farm. Between April and October, over 1,800 students and campers from 40+ schools, groups, and nonprofit organizations visited Battery Urban Farm, where they planted seeds, used farm tools, turned under cover crop, harvested, composted, made and ate salad and more in classes like “Eat the Rainbow”, “Food Miles”, “Arable Apple” and other lessons.

In honor of our last day of Enrichment Visits, here are some of the best photos from all of our 80+ visiting classes in 2013. Enjoy, and we hope to see some of these familiar faces again next year!

 


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October 19th, 2013 marked the third annual Harvest Festival at Battery Urban Farm. Neighbors, locavores, families and tourists were all out in full force to celebrate the fall harvest.

Visitors on the farm engaged in potato sack races, games, arts and crafts, and of course Pin the Feather on Zelda and Who Wants to be a Vegetabillionaire? Instead of receiving candy as a prize for participating in the activities, children got to harvest fresh carrots and snow peas. The farmstand offered a selection of fall produce, while the raffle offered items ranging from a kids class at the newly-opened Stitched Tribeca to a gift certificate to Blue Smoke. In the background, two talented local blue-grass groups, Marc Orleans and the 5 Mile String Band, provided the musical entertainment while families lounged on hay bales around the farm.

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Participants at Harvest Fest this year included Greene Grape and Table Green, who provided a delicious selection of refreshments; NYCBeekeeping and The Honeybee Conservancy, who brought beekeepers, an observation hive, and some late fall honey for tasting; Whole Foods Market sampling a raw apple crisp; and our Supporting Sponsor  Mrs. Meyer’s Clean Day, whose hand-washing booth (with green walls!) was a big hit — perfect to send kids over after getting their hands dirty with paint and soil.

Additionally, we had the honor to be joined by New York City Council Members Gale Brewer and Margaret Chin, as well as Community Board One Chair Catherine McVay Hughes as our Master of Ceremonies. Ms. Brewer and Ms. Chin both emphasized the importance of urban agriculture and healthy eating and praised Battery Urban Farm as a wonderful resource in downtown Manhattan. Following their presentation, Laura Hall of Whole Foods Market Tribeca presented the generous check for the Whole Foods 5% Day donation.

Whole Foods. Whole Checks.

Thank you to everyone who attended (and bought raffle tickets) and to our supporters for making this event possible. Please enjoy this selection of photos from the event, and we hope to see you again next year!


The following is a guest post from Roland Regos, Battery Urban Farm Outreach Intern.

Hi! My name is Roland Regos: urban farmer, sustainability junky, health nut, and organic enthusiast. As Battery Urban Farm’s media outreach intern; I’ve had the privilege of working behind the scenes helping organize the farm’s activities. It’s been an awesome experience to say the least. Watching our young seedling students grow all summer with our delicious veggies has had a profound impact on my outlook on life. That enlightening feeling is not very uncommon at the farm though. Every visit is a new and exciting learning experience.

Sweet Potatoes

Harvesting sweet potatoes!

Some of my favorite moments at Battery Urban Farm have occurred at their monthly Saturday events. Each workshop has included engaging activities and featured fascinating guest speakers. Their final workshop of the year, on September 21st, proved to be a real treat!

The day’s events began with harvesting one of my favorite vegetables: sweet potatoes. Before I started working at the farm, I never knew that sweet potatoes grew underground. They utilize the nutrients within the soil; while absorbing the sun’s energy through their vines and leaves above ground. They’re rich in calcium, folate, potassium and beta-carotene. Also, they offer well beyond the recommended daily value of vitamin A; which is often noted for improving eye-sight, rejuvenating skin, and strengthening the immune system. I was surprised by how soft the potatoes were at this stage of their growth. You really needed to be patient and delicate, or risk breaking or puncturing the potatoes while unearthing them.

After volunteer hours, we all received a special visit from the Battery Conservancy’s own lead arborist. William Bryant Logan is a certified arborist and president of Urban Arborists, Inc., and has won numerous Quill and Trowel Awards from the Garden Writers of America and a Senior Scholar Award from the New York State chapter of the International Society of Arborists. He is on faculty at NYBG and is the author of OakDirt (made into an award-winning documentary), and Air.

Soil talk, with William Logan.

Tree Talk, with William Logan.

Mr. Logan, who led a “Tree Walk and Talk”, was incredibly knowledgeable and interesting to listen to. I wouldn’t normally have expected a soil specialist to be such a great orator and story teller, but Mr. Logan was both. He seemed to me like a walking encyclopedia full of all sorts of fun facts about the natural environment. Mr. Logan shared a wealth of wisdom about his meeting with the cheese nun of Massachusetts, continent-hopping Saharan sand particles, and man made landfills like the one which Battery Park was cultivated on. It felt like an intimate dialogue, despite the good-sized group that had gathered for the event.

I left the workshop that day with a refined sense of purpose. The days activities and interactions, as well as Bill Logan and the other guest speakers from past events,  have all helped to reinforce my passion for environmental initiatives and the need to educate young people about the natural world and sustainable foods.

Acknowledging soil.

Acknowledging soil.

The interconnectedness of our eco-systems is fragile, and its stability is dependent upon the actions of its inhabitants. For this reason, I hold Battery Urban Farm in such high esteem because of the Conservancy’s dedication to such important ideals. New York City is truly blessed to have such forward thinking, eco-friendly people in a position to influence the green movement. The inter-generational mentorship between farm staff and visiting children and students that takes place during these monthly community events and every week in classes on the farm, will surely yield a flourishing crop of talented leaders capable of tackling 21st century challenges.

 

 

IMG_0979Roland Regos is a multi-faceted, jack-of-all trades, but a master of none kind of guy. He’s a performing drummer and percussionist, a passionate advocate for social and environmental justice, an educator, a practicing vegan, and an organic food junkie.

 

 


Early last week, we were excited to welcome one of nine groups of campers from CAMBA‘s After School program for an Enrichment Visit. CAMBA is a non-profit agency that provides services to 35,000+ low-income people on welfare; at risk of homelessness; living with or at risk of HIV/AIDS; immigrants and refugees; children and young adults; and other groups working to become self sufficient. We have been lucky enough to work with over 300+ youth from CAMBA this summer.

On this particular visit, the lesson “Eat Whole Foods!” focused on the distinction between whole and processed foods — for example, investigating the differences between a potato and a French fry, or tomato and ketchup.

The lesson opened with an exercise to help identify various classifications of foods. The class had to determine if the image on our graphic cards was either a whole, light processed, or heavily processed food. For example:

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Can you identify which one is which?

These kinds of games are great ways for kids to build recognition skills, and to begin thinking about the foods they eat and how far removed they are from the plant or animal they originated with. While most of our Enrichment Visit campers that day – and indeed, many of us — might not spend a lot of time actually thinking about these kinds of distinctions, Farm Apprentice Nicole noted that the students were actually fairly on-point with their answers.

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Following this activity, students got to explore the various whole foods growing on the farm – which included everything from amaranth, beans and beets, carrots and cucumbers, dill, and eggplant to okra, potatoes, sage, swiss chard, tomatoes, and zucchini. Of the tour, Nicole also noted that:

The kids were really attentive and intrigued to see the tomatoes growing on the farm. Most of these kids aren’t accustomed to seeing their vegetables in the growing process, still attached to their host plant. It’s fascinating to witness the moment in which kids make that realization and connection that their food comes from the ground. This was especially true for potatoes. Fast food french-fries were more familiar to them than the actual whole unrefined, un-processed potato that they come from.

After exploring the whole foods, students were finally given the opportunity to make their own lightly-processed treats! The class of 40 was divided into three groups, each of which was tasked with harvesting a different green from around the farm: sage, chard, and basil.

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Harvesting herbs for the pesto

Once the greens were harvested and hand-washed, the kids gathered to prepare three raw pesto blends. Using hand-powered veggie choppers, each group combined their greens, along with some olive oil; salt; and a blend of lemon juice and water to make a fresh green pesto. Once complete, it was time to taste and compare the fruits of our labor with some dipping crackers.

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Tearing up the Swiss chard for pesto

 

(In case you’re wondering: while the group felt that each pesto was unique and awesome, the basil pesto gained the most praise.)

The pesto that we made was technically processed, as there was some labor involved in preparing it. But with minimal alterations and no temperature influence (i.e. heat or chilling), it retained all the vitamins, minerals, and other nutrients of whole and lightly-processed foods that are great sources for energy in our body.

Our goals with this lesson were to help kid distinguish between whole and processed foods; and to understand why whole foods are better for our bodies. In doing so, we hope to inform their eating choices and perhaps even spark a new interest in purchasing, preparing and eating more fresh whole foods.

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Scraping up the last few tastes

 

The Battery Conservancy thanks CAMBA for choosing Battery Urban Farm as a site for their After School program this summer. We would also like to thank City As School and the Ettinger Foundation for the donation of the hand-powered veggie choppers that made these pestos possible!



Thursday (June 27th) marked a major milestone for the Battery Conservancy in 2013.  On this day, Whole Foods Market pledged to donate 5% of net sales from all seven Manhattan locations to The Battery Conservancy to support farm and garden education at Battery Urban Farm.

Chelsea_PatWarrieRoland+WFMStaff

Whole Foods Market 5% Days are great examples of collaboration between non-profits and socially responsible corporations. In giving back to organizations in the community, Whole Foods Market (and Whole Kids Foundation!) puts its money where its mouth is, sourcing from local vendors and providing in-store educational signage to promote values of good food, healthy eating, and local production. This fosters a synergy of trust and shared awareness about some of the food systems and health issues we face today.

In an effort to build on this awareness, members of The Battery Conservancy team dressed their best and set out for the stores, staffing each of the 7 Manhattan locations to promote the 5% Day and our educational mission. As part of our outreach effort, each table offered a seed game wherein kids (and adults!) could match vegetables to their corresponding seeds, and a demonstration worm bin to raise interest in vermicomposting as an at-home composting option. (For example: did you know that each pound of Red Wiggler worms can go through 1-3 pounds of waste per week? Some of the larger bins can have thousands of worms. That could translate to hundreds of lbs in organic recycled waste diverted from landfills.)

Tribeca_Anna with kids

Chelsea_Roland and shopper

At the end of the day, we are overjoyed to announce that the 5% Day raised over $66,000 to support programming at Battery Urban Farm. We are so honored to have been chosen by Whole Foods and to have been able to promote our message to eat healthy, buy locally, be mindful in our consumption and to grow good food, however and wherever we can. This was an incredible effort all around, and we whole-heartedly thank Whole Foods Market for their generosity and support.

WF_WarrieMelanie