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.
June is ending, as is 2018-2019 school year! We celebrated a fantastic year of growth and community coming to a close. Check out our final harvest of spring crops:
The ever-talented Cassandra Brown is back to teach with us for another summer season. We also welcome Gavriela Lagner, one of our two summer interns, to our Beyond Organic Design family.
Summer begins June 21st and it heralds the beginning of our 4th annual Urban Design and Sustainability Program July 1st. We will have another wonderful group of young people for 5 weeks who are ready to learn and have fun with all of us! There is much planned and a lot of exciting activities and field trips to come this summer. We are always grateful to our amazing partners at The Renaissance Charter School and our funders at NYC’s Department of Youth and Child Development (DYCD).