The kids started Week 4 by making a list of what contributes to climate disruption---and its environmentally destructive impact. We explored green technologies being engineered to counter these problems or offer safer alternatives. Students designed their own eco-friendly spaces based on this day’s lesson.
Our trip to Battery Park Urban Farm included observing a vegetable garden in lower Manhattan. Particular wonder was expressed at the full-grown asparagus plants, which were two feet tall! The garden’s food is donated to food pantries and schools. We also visited a meditative garden that illustrated how important these special spaces are in urban settings. Back at the school, the kids made an herbal salve tying in with the theme of healing with nature.
Students had a blast when given free rein to draw and paint. But they were shocked to learn just how important dirt is after watching Dirt, the movie. Dirt needs to be nurtured and protected just as much as trees, seeds, and bees do. The kids soil-tested the tree pits outside of the school, as well as the raised beds on the rooftop garden. Percentages of clay, silt, and organic matter were assessed. Then they dug their hands into the worm bin and observed the worms. They learned about the different types (worms are always a big hit) and why they are so critical for healthy soil.
As usual, there was cooking. Each student enjoyed a freshly made salad they made from our rooftop garden and veggies. They improvised the cilantro lime dressing and did it without a recipe. They also made 20 customized icicle pops.
The garden required its usual tendering and terrariums were made. Back in the classroom, the interconnectivity of plants, seeds, bees, and worms was illustrated by watching The Lorax. Students’ hearts sunk when witnessing the unnecessary global environmental destruction. But their spirits were lifted upon discovering they can make a difference. The UDSP is about offering offering hope for young people. Our kids know by taking action they can be part of the solution.
We began to layer what we’d learned in the classroom, seeing how everything is connected. Students understood on a gut level that nature has designed itself to provide for us. But there’s always hands-on work to do, which is what our students love, especially in the garden. They tended to the radish plants by thinning them and did likewise with carrots. They learned how to read seed packets and were taught about the importance of spacing and depth when planting.
Students also discovered the different uses of plants, which preserve the environment by favoring natural materials over synthetic. They learned how plants not only provide us with our nutritional needs but also provide for medicinal needs. For example, they can serve as insect repellents for both humans and plants. To validate this lesson, we made all natural bug spray and a lavender pillow for headaches.
The UDSP is a special combination of classroom learning, experiential education, and field trips. This week's outing was a tour of the Queens Botanical Garden, with a special focus on bees. Our host gave us many ideas for how to encourage bees to come to our own garden through proper design.
Students designed board games based on everything they’d learned the first three weeks. They learned that problem-solving can be fun when using their natural skills and resources available. Designing these games presented challenges, but everyone relied upon their creativity and teamwork to get the job done. They got so engaged, they begged to continue all day.
As a follow-up to our field trip, students were taught how important bees are, ecologically. They also learned about the anatomy of flowers and what exactly pollination is (the transfer of pollen to allow for fertilization). They quickly made the connection: no bees = no pollination = no seeds = no food! Bees are vital to the wellbeing of humans. The following day, the UDSP crew designed their own pollinator garden. They incorporated everything they’d learned at Queens Botanical Garden to take care of our bees.
Students learned how bugs, water, and sunlight all simultaneously play an important role in creating a balanced environment for plants to grow. The kids delved into the permaculture principle “Design for All,” exploring this in an agricultural, ecological, and social context. Mindfulness and compassion for all life forms was emphasized, as was reducing the need for synthetic and toxic agricultural chemicals. In a social context, Design for All teaches us how to find value in people who we might discriminate against.
The conversations this aroused were inspiring. Several students shared their personal frustration with discrimination. In an ecological context, the kids learned why we should value bugs. Like most, they had no idea how important these insects are.
To invite beneficial insects into our garden, they designed, hammered, drilled, and sanded components to make little bug hotels. By attracting the little creatures that repel pests, there’s no need for toxic chemicals or pesticides. They also played educational board games. The UDSP is a special combination of classroom learning, experiential education, field trips, and fun.
Everyone was looking forward to seeing animals on our field trip to Alley Pond, but, unfortunately, the buses didn’t come. Luckily, the wonderful teachers at Alley Pond brought the animals and the lessons to us! UDSP students got to see and interact with snakes, rabbits, iguanas, and more. Later, they all went to Travers Park and took a well-deserved break, frolicking in the water.
Students made pizzas, which all enjoyed eating together afterwards. They also learned about worms and microorganisms. Neglected and harmed in large-scale agriculture, ecological and human health problems arise without them; soil can become infertile. The kids came to understand how valuable these organisms are and saw them mate. A new love and appreciation was ignited upon seeing worm eggs and newly hatched worms. This brought full circle the importance of Designing for All.
Excitement was in the air for Week One of The Urban Design and Sustainability Program (UDSP). All students were introduced to the new learning-friendly design of the garden and its different plants. Students were treated to a special visit by BOD Executive Director Monica Ibacache, whose workshop showed students how they are already designers in their everyday lives. Inspired, they executed their first outdoor designs of the garden. Beyond Organic Design had many repeat participants who stepped up and became leaders.
The UDSP isn’t just gardening, though. Among other activities, the kids learn about nutrition and cooking. Week 1 emphasized the usefulness of canning for food preservation, tying into one of the 12 Permaculture Principles: Produce No Waste. Permaculture is a design system based on how nature designs itself, plus a fusion of indigenous farming practices and modern science. The students made pickles out of extra vegetables, instead of throwing them away. They also used browned bananas to make delicious muffins.
One class focused on seeds. Students planted radishes, lettuce, and arugula, to be observed and nurtured during the 5-week program. They were thrilled they would harvest their own plants, knowing they will later use them in a cooking class. This theme continued with the kids planting "Thought Seeds" during their Plant A Wish Arts & Crafts activity. They drew and wrote what they’d plant as a “seed” in the world to make it a better place, creating a colorful display of beautiful wishes for their families, peers, and all global citizens..
Unlike humans, nature creates no waste. The students geared up to use permaculture principles, as well as science, math, engineering, and art to understand why this is and how people can emulate nature. They reflected upon what habits we need to change to become less wasteful so we can enjoy a greener planet. They also made insect mobiles out of trash, which otherwise would have gone to a landfill or wound up in the ocean.
Kids love to get out of the classroom, so our field trip to Roosevelt Island, Grow To Learn Garden, was an opportunity to breathe fresh air and see a thriving example of urban agriculture in action. It is a magical and inspiring place for gardeners and sustainability enthusiasts. We admired their beautiful perennial and annual gardens, learned about the giant solar oven, and watered plants with rainwater from rain barrels. The children tasted fresh veggies and edible flowers, harvested carrots, and created beautiful art with plant parts. A wonderful end to Week 1 of the UDSP.