Beyond Organic Design’s 2017 Urban Design & Sustainability Program (UDSP) was a smashing success. Like the 2016 UDSP, the current version took place at Renaissance Charter School (TRCS) in Queens. Our students became eco-citizens through immersive, experiential learning. The UDSP is centered around sustainability education, design, science, art, and literacy.
The kids got to know each other better in Week 1 through playing some memory games. The UDSP is about working hard, learning new concepts, and plugging into one's community, but it is also about having lots of fun and respecting your peers.
For Week 2, UDSP students trekked to the New York Botanical Garden (NYBG) in the Bronx, visiting their Rose Garden. It's the city's oldest rose garden and recently celebrated its 100-year anniversary.
They also visited NYBG’s Native Plant Garden, witnessing firsthand local indigenous plants and the wildlife that they attract, such as birds. The kids strolled through NYBG’s forest, learning about the interdependent roles of wildlife, native plants, and trees in a healthy ecosystem.
Back at the school, the students put crayon and marker to paper to create drawings of the plants and vegetables they'd become acquainted with. BOD is a huge fan of children's art, and the UDSP gang showed off their talent while categorizing vegetables and fruits.
Preparation to become mini-chefs began with introductions to seasonal produce and how to use cooking tools. The first culinary adventure was making frozen yogurt, followed by lactose-fermented radishes and carrots and “rainbow” smoothies. The latter is based on the wise nutritional advice to “eat the rainbow.”
Different colors support different body systems and organs, so it’s essential to consume a variety of colored fruits and vegetables. We might ask ourselves, do I want to make one part of my body healthy or all of it? Most of us would say, "All of it!"
Field trips are integral to the UDSP. In Week 3, we split up into two groups and headed to Yonkers. Our older students visited New York’s famous Science Barge, a prototype of a sustainable urban farm operated as an environmental education center. Everyone received an inspiring crash course on solar energy, growing food hydroponically, recycling rainwater, composting, and aquaponics. The barge's tomatoes were super tasty.
Meanwhile, our younger students were delighted to visit the Center for the Urban River at Beczak (CURB) and explore the Hudson River ecosystems. They put on river waders and walked into the river to do some seining and bring in treasures to observe, like freshwater crabs.
Later, at TRCS, we rehabilitated the soil in tree pits outside the school. First we did a soil test, then improved the soil with compost, covering it with a bed of hay to protect it from the drying effects of the sun. Not only does this conserve water but it reduces weeds by limiting their sun access. All the hard work paid off when we finally planted flowers in the tree pits. Local residents were impressed!
UDSP students are encouraged to develop their artistic gifts. We gave them full opportunity to express themselves in Week 3 however they wished, as long as there was some connection to what they'd learned: sustainability, ecology, and permaculture.
In addition to developing their artistic talents, the kids learned about new plants and created a Word Wall showcasing the definitions of those plants. And they were taught which plant category each belonged to.
When Trees New York dropped by in Week 3, they gave the children a one-of-a-kind puppet show. UDSP students made their own puppets using paper bags, creating characters based on trees that reflected their personality.
For Week 4, like last year, the Queens County Farm (QCF) was a big hit with the UDSP kids. Do you know QCF dates back to the 17th century? Students took a tour, went on a hayride, fed the animals, and perused the farm’s produce and crafts in the farm's charming store.
The UDSP emphasizes experiential learning, so we made time for everyone to learn new skills like hammering nails, sawing wood, and constructing birdhouses. They also sharpened their new cooking skills, making basil pesto, and then enjoying the fruits of their labor. The basil was sourced from TRCS’s rooftop garden.
During the first four weeks, students expanded their concepts of permaculture design, like optimizing space and efficiency of an environment with no waste. For Week 5, they did a mock redesign of Renaissance’s rooftop garden according to these principles. Using the online program Vegetable Planner, they executed a computer design of a fictional garden. Permaculture is about placement, so vegetables and plants were situated for maximum benefit based on the changing seasons.
There's always work to be done in the garden. Students honed their agricultural skills by doing some planting, watering, pruning, and harvesting. Kids love getting their hands dirty, learning how to grow food, and eating it!
Parents frequently tell us how their children never used to eat vegetables but after they sample locally grown food, even a school's rooftop garden, they change their tune. When children grow kale, they eat kale! The UDSP gives young people an idea of how food is sourced, where it is sourced, the environmental costs of shipping it so far, and how it tastes when it is chemical-free and travels a shorter distance.
Soon, they were off on a ferry to visit Governors Island Teaching Garden. UDSP students took a guided tour of their rainwater harvesting system. Then they were treated to a culinary class where they harvested carrots, planted seeds, and made themselves a fresh vegetable salad. The many different varieties of butterflies in NYC were explained.
Governor's Island is a fascinating place. Before leaving, the kids learned about making food with a solar cooker. And a demonstration of a special bike created enough electricity to use a blender!
Throughout the UDSP, students were encouraged to keep a journal, recording their observations about what they learned in class and on the field trips, plus a little doodling.
Models of sustainability can be found everywhere, even at home. For Week 6, Greg K.---his son Ezra is a UDSP graduate, his daughter Zoe was a student this year---invited the UDSP gang to his house, just like he did last year. Greg demonstrated his own rainwater barrel system and showed how he composts. He shared grapes and veggies from his garden and served homemade lemonade.
The UDSP is unique in that it incorporates art into STEM education, creating STEAM. For Week 6, as they did the year before, the students began drawing and painting a beautiful mural to be hung on TRCS’s rooftop garden. The finished product was spectacular!
Students also started work on their personal stories to be printed in the UDSP graduation booklet for Café Night. We thought it would be great for them to share their lives and memories growing up with the UDSP parents on Graduation Day. In preparation, the kids formed their own Café Night Committee, organizing for the evening’s festivities.
For our last and final week--the time always goes by so fast—the Jackson Heights Beautification Group (JHBG) invited us to do a service-learning project in Week 7. They led a discussion about trees and green spaces in cities, as well as their work caring for them. Everyone split up into groups and went around the neighborhood cleaning up the tree pits.
Upon their return to Renaissance, the kids finished their mural, made some ice cream, and cooked apple crisp and pizza. They also put in some time on the rooftop garden. Activities included planting seeds, weeding, observing any vegetable growth, and pruning plants.
Soon it was time for Graduation Day. With their completed mural hanging as a backdrop, students sang, and danced. They also shared revealing anecdotes about their lives at home with their families from the Cafe Night booklet they'd worked so hard on. And, as parents can attest, there was lots of good food!
In addition to reading their personal stories from the Cafe Night booklet, the kids displayed artwork collages depicting family life at home. The UDSP encourages multiple forms of expression and the UDSP crew never disappoints.
After the festivities were over, UDSP parents and students took a tour of the rooftop garden so everyone could get acquainted better. And kids got to play in the dirt.
UDSP students reject the notion of all work and no play. So do we. As an added bonus, the day after graduation, the gang visited a playground near TRCS. We didn't exactly have to talk them into going. It was a nice way to wind down after their seven-week journey.
Another year, different children, similar projects, productive learning. Beyond Organic Design is immensely proud of every UDSP graduate who took the leap into becoming global citizens. They learned about sustainability, art, building, and permaculture, as well as building upon their literacy. Great job, each and every one of you. We'll see you next year!
Special thanks goes to those who helped make the UDSP a success---The Renaissance Charter School (Rebekah Oakes, Peggy Heeney, Stacey Gauthier, plus too many others to name), the New York Department of Youth and Community Development: COMPASS Explore Program, Assemblyman Francisco Moya, The Laura B. Vogler Foundation, Inc., UDSP parents, and, especially, our students.
Wow! What a wonderful year it has been for Beyond Organic Design. We continued our partnership with The Renaissance Charter School (TRCS), transitioning from our summer session into a fall and spring after school program, grant funded through the NYC Department of Youth and Community Development.
We debuted a pilot high school permaculture internship and elective program at TRCS, through which students were trained to use concepts of permaculture design, develop gardening skills , and much more.
We partnered with PowerCorps Camden to co-facilitate a multi part introductory permaculture course that provides young adults with skills to address environmental issues in their community.
Finally, we partnered with Central Park East 2 to conduct a regenerative recess program, in which K-5th graders engage in agricultural activities and ecological discovery in their school garden.
Check out our slideshow below to see more of what we’ve been up to at TRCS, CPE2, and PowerCorps Camden!
Graduation Day had a festive air. Students dressed up, brought in food and sweets, with many parents in attendance for final presentations. When it came time for the big event, the room was packed, the excitement palpable in the air.
Several students---Ava, October, Justin, Henry, Ezra, Santos, Charlese, Miguel, Annabella, and Isabela---chose to redesign the rooftop garden, working in three separate groups. The results were all different but equally inspired.
Other presentations ran the gamut from Jeremiah’s DJ performance to Shadab’s animated short about healthy soil to Noel's one-man show to Mariela and Peter sculpting Play-Doh figures of fellow classmates, UDSP teachers Monica and Josh (including his dreadlocks), as well as a compost bin. (Mariela and Peter got extra credit for also doing a fabulous collage commemorating the UDSP.)
The hard work and creativity of UDSP students wasn't lost on those in attendance. Parents, friends, teachers, and TRCS administrators enthusiastically responded to the different mediums and methods used for permaculture design or simply artistic expression.
UDSP students are now officially eco-citizens as they move forward with their lives in school and beyond.
It’s hard to believe the Urban Design & Sustainability Program is over so fast. So much ground was covered in such a short period of time. Students and teachers alike were enriched by a unique opportunity to bond and expand their awareness of the world in an urban context.
For our final UDSP post, we'd like to share some more images of students during our six-week summer program.
Here's a few extra samples of their artwork, too. UDSP students know how to design, build, and draw in equal measure.
Attention, parents: All 3rd, 4th, and 5th Grade UDSP students, as graduates of the summer program, are automatically eligible to attend our 3rd to 5th Grade after-school Permaculture Club at Renaissance Charter School. It starts Monday, September 19th. Please call Peggy Heeney for more information at (718) 803-0060 (ext. 111) or email her at email@example.com.
Special thanks goes to Queens Assemblyman Francisco Moya, the Laura B. Vogler Foundation, and the Department of Youth and Community Development (COMPASS Explore Program). Their generous funding made the Urban Design & Sustainability Program possible. Beyond Organic Design would also like to thank Rebekah Oakes, who was instrumental in making the UDSP a reality. Thanks as well to Peggy Heeney for your assistance throughout the program.
UDSP students, we will miss you!
Justin Remus is the Communications Director of Beyond Organic Design.
It’s a wrap! The Urban Design & Sustainability Program came to a close on August 10th and it was an unqualified success.
For our final week, greenroof and permaculture designer Dwaine Lee dropped by and shared with students what he does as a green professional.
Dwaine was part of the building team for the Brooklyn Grange rooftop farm, one of the two largest in the world. Students visited Brooklyn Grange for Week 5.
Green roofs have many benefits to the building and our urban ecology. They conserve energy by keeping the buildings cooler in the summer, warm in the winter, and absorb rainwater. Students listened attentively and asked Dwaine some great questions about his unique livelihood.
Our second UDSP cooking class is proof that you can never get too much of a good thing.
This time, guest teacher Anandi Premlall, a founder of Sustainable Queens, showed the kids how to make fruit kebabs, pizza on English muffins, and cookies. Students are now certified gardeners as well as apprentice chefs.
The class was so fun Peggy Heeney decided to pop by as students honed their culinary skills then sampled their own cuisine.
You might remember what an amazing job UDSP students did painting their two murals in Week 4.
We hung up both on Renaissance’s rooftop garden, in addition to their birdhouses. Seeing is believing, so we invite parents to see these amazing murals in person. You already know it but we’ll say it again: UDSP students have talent!
UDSP students created some beautiful handmade signs for for our Tree Pit Project in front of Renaissance Charter School, which will be finished this fall. They also assembled some mini-birdhouses made of Popsicle sticks.
The students continued making compost and maintaining the rooftop garden like the pros they are. They watered their seeded plants and vegetables, which are growing fast. These include beans, sunflowers, arugula, and jalapeños They cleaned up all the container beds and tidied up the garden for the fall.
Brian made a bug hotel for the rooftop garden to encourage the beneficial bugs, which was his final presentation for Graduation Day. Ninety-eight percent of bugs help to keep nature’s balance.
Speaking of final presentations, the UDSP crew worked diligently to plan and execute their projects leading up to the big event. We gave them carte blanche to do whatever they wanted, and they blew us away.
But don't just take our word for it. Check out our post about Graduation Day and see what exactly they came up with. Plus, there's pix of our celebration, including the yummy food and visiting parents.
UDSP students had the privilege of hosting not one but two green professionals for Week 5.
Nir Krakauer, a civil engineering professor at City College of New York, schooled participants about the different branches of engineering---mechanical, chemical, electrical, and civil. Amy Crews, one of New York City's premier landscape architects, wowed students with examples of projects she's worked on.
UDSP students listened attentively and asked Nir and Amy numerous questions about their respective fields. We were thrilled that the kids were excited to learn about sustainability related careers. The UDSP was designed, in part, to make students aware that they, too, can become green professionals if they want to.
Students also got to ply their skills at design again. They executed some top-notch designs based on their expanding knowledge of sustainability and permaculture.
The UDSP crew are doing a superb job taking care of Renaissance’s rooftop garden’s plants and vegetables. They're also diligently maintaining the UDSP compost bin, recycling organic matter into a deep, rich soil for our container beds.
The UDSP teaches kids about design, and sometimes you don’t need to look far for inspiration. Greg K. (Ezra’s dad) was kind enough to invite students from both classes to his house near Renaissance Charter School. Students saw a great example of a local residential urban garden.
They loved Greg's rainwater harvesting system that fed not only his garden but a separate rain garden. The kids also dug Greg's compost tumbler and munched on delicious grapes from his grape arbor. Ezra is sharing what he’s learned from the UDSP with his dad, so they can make their garden even better.
The UDSP offers many opportunities for students to learn and grow using a variety of teaching methods. For Week 5, we watched two movies about sustainability and permaculture.
The first, Inhabit, is a stunning visual film featuring some of the top names in permaculture break down their craft and concepts in ways that anyone can understand. We also screened Dirt The Movie, learning how urban development, industrial farming, and mining are creating drought and climate change. The film highlights individuals who are doing amazing work to restore our mutually beneficial relationship to soil.
Check out the trailers for both movies below:
In the UDSP, we switch it up whenever we can. Students got in a little exercise one morning, doing jumping jacks and push-ups to stay physically engaged. Sound body, sound mind!
We packed two field trips into one for our next to last week. UDSP students visited one of Brooklyn Grange’s two rooftop farms, the biggest soil rooftop farms in the world. Brooklyn Grange grows over 50,000 lbs of organic produce each year!
Students also made their way to Smiling Hogshead Ranch, a thriving urban farm on an abandoned MTA/LIRR terminal, previously an illegal dumping ground. Founding member Gil Lopez gave them a hands-on tour, letting students sample berries and vegetables. Hogshead is a permaculture demonstration site that practices bioremediation. They also donate a portion of their vegetables to the community for free. We encourage anyone to visit either Brooklyn Grange or Hogshead. Both are at the forefront of urban design and sustainability.
Angel: At Hogshead, we tasted some unexpectedly spicy flowers. Or maybe they were just hot. Some flowers tasted like lemon. There were berries that weren’t ripe but they still tasted good!
The kids really enjoyed going to Hogshead---maybe a little too much. A few were inspired to take impromptu showers on site, which Gil was happy to oblige.
Stay tuned for our final UDSP Blog about Week 6. We'll have some awesome photos of UDSP students' graduation, including their presentations. You don't want to miss it!
Justin Remus is the Communications Director of Beyond Organic Design.