Far Rock Students Turned Farmers

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 A farm grows in Far Rockaway. Making it even more unique, it’s growing inside a classroom. On Thursday, April 7, elected officials and others who helped make it possible, were invited to see the fruits of the labor of the students of the Academy of Medical Technology at the Far Rockaway Educational Complex (821 Beach 25th Street). All joined for a ribbon cutting  to celebrate their accomplishments.

From a variety of lettuces to basil, kale, and other herbs and produce, a classroom within the Far Rockaway Educational Complex is flush with nutritional greenery, thanks to a lot of support, and students who are willing to put in the work using water, soil, seeds and proper lighting.

The classroom hydroponic farm is a program presented by Teens for Food Justice (TFFJ). The Far Rockaway Educational Complex’s farm is the first of several to come to the peninsula. New York City Council Member and Majority Whip Selvena Brooks-Powers and Queens Borough President Donovan Richards attended the ribbon-cutting event and were joined by Academy of Medical Technology Principal William T. Johnson; Principal Frederick Douglas VI Tenesha Worley; Executive Superintendent, Queens South at NYC Department of Education Dr. Mauri De Govia; NYC Department of Education Director of Operations Narine Bharat; USDA NRCS Tammy Willis; Principal Queens HS for Information, Research and Technology Mahendrah Singh; and AMT Educator Christine Mastorides. All of them had a role in making the program possible.

TFFJ’s Deputy Director Gabrielle Mosquera explained that TFFJ launched in 2013, talks of bringing a farm to the Far Rockaway campus began in 2016, and after some delays due to Covid, the space started being built out in the fall of last year, in time for students to start learning all about hydroponic farming and putting their lessons into action in January. Mosquera credited then-Councilman, now Queens Borough President Donovan Richards for obtaining capital support for the program.

Mosquera explained that the current farm on the campus can produce “up to 6,000 pounds of produce a year that can go into a cafeteria that will feed the 1,800 students at the four schools that are here, as well as to the families and members that reside around this area.” But it also does much more. “It is a learning lab for STEM classes that integrate during the curricular school day and with the cooking program that will be here soon, and it’s the setting for our after school food justice, food advocacy program where we give kids the basic understanding of hydroponics and then use that as a springboard to talk about why the farm is in the school and give them opportunities to advocate for change within their communities and that is included with past opportunities to testify in front of City Council and submit testimony on different bills in the city. We’re so proud of the work that we do and happy that this has been such a well-received initiative here and we can’t wait to expand on the peninsula.”

After the successful launch of the program for the AMT students, it’s only going to grow from here. By the fall, students from all four schools within the Far Rockaway Educational Complex will be using the farm. They’re also going to expand the classroom to add a culinary component so students can learn how to use the ingredients they grow within recipes. The program is also going to expand on the peninsula. Due to additional grants, within the next three years, TFFJ hydroponic farm programs will also be starting on the Scholars’ Academy, MS 53 Brian Piccolo, and PS 183 Richard R. Green campuses. The four farms combined will be able to provide food for more than 4,000 students and grow up to 20,000 pounds of produce a year.

Richards thanked all in attendance and advised the students in the program to take away what they can from it and put it to use. “To have food justice front and center here, not only in this space, but what we’re doing across the peninsula, in addition to soon opening a new urban farm and urban food market, it’s about giving our young people this opportunity to cultivate their sense of knowledge of what this industry is about, but more importantly, to send this food home to them,” Richards said. “I want to thank each and every one of you that made this happen. It really takes a team effort to get this done. To the students, this is a labor of love for you all. Learn as much as you can. There are a lot of emerging industries in the city from Long Island City to the Rockaways, so take this knowledge in, learn, and take it into your communities.”

After thanking everyone that made this project possible, several of those folks, along with some of the AMT students cut a ribbon wrapped around the hydroponic farm. Then the students got to work, demonstrating how they harvest the flush produce they’ve grown and weigh it, and letting Richards and Brooks-Powers have a try. On Thursday, the students harvested large boxes full of butter lettuce, red romaine and basil, which they bagged and provided to all attendees to take home and try it for themselves.

By Katie McFadden

 

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