Tag Archives: produce

Rooftop gardens growing throughout NYC public schools

3 Dec

4127236249_d2d5b01d43All over New York City, farms and gardens are sprouting up on public school roofs, backyard lots and even in their front yards!

Educators and lawmakers alike are beginning to put into practice what many supporters of an edible education have been advocating for years: giving kids an opportunity to plant, grow and harvest during the school day.

In a city where most blocks are lined with a few trees or the occasional flowerbed, schoolyard gardens provide urban students firsthand contact with nature, teaching them how food grows. By getting their hands dirty, they cultivate a more evolved knowledge of what constitutes healthy, natural eating, stressing the importance of fresh produce and the lifecycle of food. The importance of garden-based learning can also be viewed as a potential interactive solution to the ongoing obesity challenge that our country faces.

According to GreenThumb, the number of school-based gardens increased exponentially in the span of two years, from 40 to over 230! GreenThumb has been an excellent source for these initiatives, providing community gardens throughout the city with programming and technical support.

On Avenue B and 5th Street in the East Village, a brand new 2,400-square-foot garden opened at the beginning of the school year. Sitting atop a red-brick building that is home to three separate public schools, the Earth School, Public School 64 and Tompkins Square Middle School, this giant rooftop educational farm was designed by Michael Arad. Arad, also the architect behind the National September 11 Memorial further downtown, was inspired to create the Fifth Street Farm after learning that his own children (former students of the school) were in awe that their crisp and juicy apples once were plucked from trees.

The Horticultural Society of New York has been working with over two dozen schools since 1980, helping them with the design, construction, and education curriculum. The Hort’s mission “is to sustain the vital connection between people and plants” as they help out with the Earth School as well as more recently with four public schools in Queens.

At P.S. 41 in Greenwich Village, the school’s newly opened 15,000-square foot garden is more than a source of fresh produce for lunch, but has really become an outdoor classroom. By teaching kids about art, science, and math through the lens of gardening, their school-day routine becomes more of a hands-on experience.

This summer, for our third year, Butter Beans will be holding our Food & Garden Camp. With a similar mindset as these schools, our goal is to give your children a unique farm-to-table experience. From July to August, we will be covering the gamut of the food cycle from sprouting seeds and harvesting fresh food from rooftop gardens, to writing our very own cookbooks. Visit our website for more information.

For another great examples of greening schools, check out this edible schoolyard in East London, where lots of growing is taking place each day (check out their “lessons in loaf” pictures, they are wonderful!), and get to know Leave It Better, an organization that is accomplishing great feats in greening our local school communities as well.

Photos courtesy of kthread and growtolearn.org

Conventional or Organic?

19 Sep

8099419727_c31c7bbe2cTwo weeks ago, Stanford University published their controversial study in the Annals of Internal Medicine concluding that organic produce has no added nutritional health benefits over their conventionally grown counterparts.

However, one of the few distinguishable advantages of organic fruits and vegetables is that there is a lower risk of pesticide exposure. Despite this, the conventionally grown produce that was reviewed contained pesticide levels within the safety limits set by the EPA.

It was noted in the study that children are especially vulnerable when it comes to pesticide exposure, since they are maturing and their immune systems are more sensitive. Because childhood is a critical period in human development, exposure to pesticides during that time may cause adverse effects.

According to the FDA, foods labeled “organic” must be certified under the National Organic Program. They must also be grown and processed using organic farming methods that promote biodiversity and recycling. Synthetic pesticides and fertilizers, bioengineered genes, antibiotics, hormones, and radiation cannot be used. For more information on organic food labels, click here. To read about the challenges small farmers face should they chose to become certified organic, click here.

In the study it was found that organic produce has a 30 percent lower risk of containing detectable pesticide levels. The Environmental Working Group has compiled a list of the twelve foods containing the highest levels of pesticides, calling them the Dirty Dozen (with apples, celery, and bell peppers at the head of list). The Clean 15 on the other hand are the foods lowest in pesticides, with onions, sweet corn, and pineapple as the top three least contaminated. Here is their methodology.

What this study did not focus on, was the nutritional, environmental and community value of locally grown produce. Eating local produce offers various health benefits for our bodies, and our planet. According to the Northeast Organic Farming Association of New York, the top five reasons to eat locally are:

  1. taste
  2. environmental concern
  3. community
  4. variety
  5. health

Our food now travels an average of 1,500 miles before ending up on our plates.

At Butter Beans, we have created close relationships with local food purveyors, purchasing as much of our produce as possible from nearby farmers to provide the freshest and most nutritious food to our students. A list of our suppliers can be found here.

Despite the emphatic reactions to this food study, it’s a step in the right direction for the quality and safety of the food we eat daily. This sort of dialogue shows that our communities are taking more interest in different methods of food production, which trickles down to how we feed our families. It is of utmost importance that we nourish ourselves everyday with fresh fruits and vegetables.

First Lady, Michelle Obama sums it up pretty well: “We can make a commitment to promote vegetables and fruits and whole grains on every part of every menu. We can make portion sizes smaller and emphasize quality over quantity. And we can help create a culture — imagine this — where our kids ask for healthy options instead of resisting them.”

Photo courtesy of ePsos.de