Members of the NYC School Construction Authority (SCA) and District 22 (D22), along with community leaders, planners, elected officials, area students and representatives from the Mayor’s Office, joined together on Wednesday, November 16th to break ground on a long-awaited and much anticipated $15 million state-of-the art working urban farm located adjacent to P.S. 312, at the corner of Avenue N and East 71st Street in Bergen Beach.
“This project is a labor of love for so many people, from the mayor, local elected officials, past and present, with particular thanks to former Council Member Alan Maisel for his staunch advocacy and financial support, the Department of Education, particularly Superintendent Julia Bove, who championed this project, our dedicated SCA staff and the community members who are here to participate in this groundbreaking,” SCA President and CEO Nina Kubota said. “I also want to acknowledge our design company, Grain Collective, who went above and beyond to design something that will be a true treasure to this community, as well as our contractor, PNY Construction.”
The 2.2-acre farm with an expected completion date of fall 2024 is meant to serve as a D22 and community resource. It will include garden plots, greenhouse with weather station, fruit orchard, outdoor classroom with kitchen, picnic tables and seating, pollinator garden, compost area, storage shed, restroom and a central green area for farmers markets, fall festivals and other events.
Kubota said that the farm will be incorporated into the curriculum at P.S. 312 and I.S. 78, which will serve as the lead schools for all of D22. “The garden will be an urban oasis where students will have the opportunity to learn about the circular journey that food makes as a seed to the meal on their dinner plate,” she said.
Bove recalled the origins of the plans when Carol Pino, a P.S. 312 parent coordinator and Bergen Beach Civic member, knew about the plot of land that had been abandoned, and together with Maisel, they said, “Let’s make something special out of this.” They envisioned a place where “students will have access to not only nature, but to have science come alive, and mathematics, and sustainability, and the future in their hands.” Bove said that students were instrumental in naming it “The Learning Farm” at D22.
Deputy Mayor for Operations Meera Joshi thanked Maisel, Bove, Kubota and spoke about Mayor Adams’ commitment to this initiative and the impact it will have on future generations.
“If we’re starting early teaching kids to work in soil, what it means to grow something, the gratitude you get out of seeing the produce come out, then using it to cook, that cycle is embedded into the nature of who they are and who they will continue to be,” Joshi said. She also stressed the importance for community members to advocate for maintenance funding.
“Our current Mayor Adams is so much for urban agriculture achievement, including funding to support multiple school-based agriculture projects, so I don’t think it will be any surprise that this will be a continued priority,” Qiana Mickie, Director of Urban Agriculture in the Mayor’s Office, added.
Maisel, a former science teacher and assistant principal who secured the initial capital funds for this project as the former councilman of the 46th Council District, thanked all those mentioned earlier and said that the idea had grown much bigger than he and his initial group had thought it would be 10 years ago. “It took a long time to do this, but if you want to do something right, it has to be done well,” he said.
He envisioned the farm to be a place where students could be educated in the science of growing food, biology, chemistry, earth science, ecology/entomology, career training and development, STEM Summer in the City, healthy living and much more.
He thanked his former staffers, Debbie Malone and Sharon Long, and gave special recognition to then Borough President Eric Adams whom he knew had a commitment to healthy eating and was generous and supportive.
He also acknowledged former Mayor Bill de Blasio, former Council Speaker Corey Johnson, I.S. 78 Principal Anthony Cusumano and Assemblywoman Jaime Williams, who was also involved at that time, prior to gaining her current office, because of her interest in all things agriculture.
Williams told the Canarsie Courier that she was really happy to have this garden in her district. As a member of the Agriculture Committee for the State, she was able to get funding to provide an urban agriculture relationship with Cornell University for three years in a row.
“This year, we were able to get the Future Farmers of America Chapter into James Madison High School,” she said. “So once this garden kicks off, we can create a Future Farmers of America Chapter here in Bergen Beach, and that is important to me.”
She also mentioned that every school in Canarsie has a garden, called “Each One, Teach One,” and said that we have to bring back agriculture as it’s always such a great thing to take the child out of the classroom and into the garden to teach them where their food comes from.
Current District 46 Councilwoman Mercedes Narcisse told the Canarsie Courier of her background as a nurse and growing up on a farm where she learned about the importance of agriculture. She stressed the need for preventive care, encouraging children to grow their own food and to teach them about the importance of eating good quality food.
“You see the need for agriculture, the need for healthy eating and it’s a lifelong decision,” Williams said. “We are very passionate about that right here in the southern part of Brooklyn.”