For years, the residents of Bergen Beach saw an eyesore in the form of a garbage-strewn abandoned lot, blighting their neighborhood. Carol Pino, former Parent Coordinator at P.S. 312, and District 22 Superintendent Julia Bove instead saw potential. They envisioned a 2.2-acre vibrant learning garden filled with teachers building science lessons, students harvesting vegetables from raised garden beds, and even rows of fruit trees. This would not be a typical school garden, but a community learning space so thousands of students and local Bergen Beach residents would have access to a hub of agriculturally-based education and fresh, healthy, locally-grown food. After 10 years of persistent effort by Superintendent Bove and community stakeholders, the NYC Department of Education School Construction Authority construction has begun this year and the vision is now becoming reality.
Slated to be completed in Fall 2024, the Learning Garden will include a greenhouse with weather station, garden plots, fruit orchard, outdoor classroom with kitchen, pollinator garden, compost area and a central green area available for farmers markets, festivals and community events. This unique urban oasis will present students with an opportunity to use hands-in-soil experience to discover the miracle of growing and the importance of climate stewardship.
From seed to plate, students will gain an understanding of the important life cycle of food and where it comes from. The true impact will extend beyond the classroom, as the learning garden will function as a community hub for surrounding schools and neighborhood residents alike.
Learning gardens help foster community wellness through increased access to neighborhood green space for respite and local food growing. Gardens also generate positive environmental justice impacts, such as carbon absorption and stormwater capture, which will help the diverse array of fresh crops to grow.
Mayor Adams is steadfast in his commitment to increase agricultural education and healthy food access in NYC public schools. Urban agriculture, equity and climate education also align well with Chancellor Banks’ goals to reimagine the student experience by expanding opportunities for accelerated learning in every school, prioritizing wellness and its link to student success, and engaging families to be true partners. The D22 Learning Garden serves as an inspirational blueprint for the city on how to replicate this innovative model in other school districts, throughout the five boroughs.
To be sure, it will take sustained commitment, investment and support to keep this and other learning gardens thriving. The work does not stop once construction is complete. Because growing is year-round, we need sweat equity to maintain gardens and harvest crops.
Through collaborative efforts of the Mayor’s Office of Urban Agriculture and the NYC Department of Education Office of Food & Nutrition Services, the city has recently been awarded state and federal Farm to School funds to increase equitable local food procurement in schools, develop and maintain more school/learning gardens, and deepen the connections to urban agriculture for students. The city was also recently awarded an $8.4 million NYS Education Department Local Food for Schools grant to purchase local food from NYS socially disadvantaged farmers.
Once completed, the Learning Garden in Bergen Beach will serve as a shining example for how to turn litter into learning with an urban oasis for all to enjoy. The city needs more vibrant growing spaces for food production, mitigating climate effects and fostering future climate stewards. Learning gardens can and should be allowed to take root and grow not just in Brooklyn, but in all five boroughs.
Julia Bove is the longstanding Superintendent of District 22 in Bergen Beach.
Qiana Mickie is the Executive Director of the NYC Mayor’s Office of Urban Agriculture.