The Brownsville Collaborative Middle School (BCMS), 85 Watkins Street, this week partnered with Maimonides Medical Center in an innovative Science Technology Engineering and Math (STEM) program utilizing alternative agricultural methods to address nutritional health and food scarcity in their community.
The BCMS students hosted a tour of their hydroponic farm, produce distribution, and healthy cooking samples, and reflected on providing healthy and nutritious resources to Brownsville.
“When we went out to different stores, we only saw one healthy store and that was Cherry Valley,” said Rose [last name omitted because she was a student], a BCMS sixth-grader.
Rose, a member of Teens for Food Justice, said she noticed only fast food chains such as Crown Fried Chicken, and Chinese restaurants in the neighborhood.
Teens for Food Justice include sixth- to eighth-graders at BCMS and they use the hydroponic farming to cultivate, harvest, and distribute fresh produce. Through the Fresh Food Box Program, the school supplies different vegetables and fruits catered to residents of the neighboring New York City Housing Authority (NYCHA) Howard Houses.
BCMS Partnered with Maimonides to work with local East New York farmer, Taylor Gordon, a member of the United Community Center’s farming market, which works with fifty sustainable green communities throughout East New York.
“We want more neighborhoods to have something like this,” said Gordon, helping local customers with their Food boxes.
The hydroponic farming is divided into three parts: a seeding bay, where produces initially germinate using mist dispensers and spray nozzles; a shallow raft culture (SRC) stage, which re-circulates the water to the roots of the plants; and a separate cucumber bay dedicated to cultivating cucumber seeds since the vegetable takes a longer process to grow.
Students apply entrepreneurship and health education skills to help local residents re-gear their nutritional options to ingredients more affordable and salubrious. Besides farming skills, the after-school opportunity encouraged students to do cooking challenges, smoothie competitions, and active participation in the Brownsville community.
The engagement with the public also gives students first-hand experience in giving back to the neighborhood they love and care about.
It’s this issue that sparked a high interest in the Food Box Program from partners Maimonides, Teens for Food Justice, and BCMS Principal Gregory Jackson, Jr., who grew up in Brownsville.
The Food Box included carrots, kale, mint, peaches, tomatoes, and more school-grown vegetables and fruits. “The fresh healthy produce last one week and are sold to two people for $14,” said Maimonides Spokesperson Eileen Tynion.
Renee Muir, Director of Development at Brownsville Multi-Service Family Center, said the program allows students to deliver this health education to their parents and to their younger siblings.
“Health literacy and measuring health outcomes can expand beyond the Brownsville community,” Muir said.