Zone 126 and City Growers came together early this year to form a middle school program called Rainbows on Your Plate, where they teach students from local schools in Astoria about the life cycle and benefits of consuming healthy herbs and vegetables.
“We started this conversation around how do we get our schools here in the neighborhood to participate in these sort of programs because there was a lack of students from Astoria Houses, Ravenwood houses and Queensbridge attending these programs and being aware about where their food comes from,” explained Zone 126’s director of Collective Impact Partnerships Anju Rupchandani.
The principals of participating schools showed interest in the program, so it wasn’t long before a lesson plan was established and students from local Astoria schools began getting a feel for farm life at the Brooklyn Grange, a rooftop farm on Northern Boulevard.
Zone 126 was formed through a Federal Promise Neighborhood Planning Grant secured by the Thomas and Jeanne Elmezzi Foundation. City Growers is a nonprofit aimed at providing holistic education about the natural world at Brooklyn Grange and several other locations around the metropolitan area.
Cara Chard, founder and executive director of City Growers, said that when Zone 126 approached her, she felt the two organizations would make an effective team to fulfill their respective missions.
“All of our programs are very hands-on and experience-based,” Chard said. “Common core just came into play and so there are al of these higher standards, we want to make sure that the students in our program are getting the real-world experience to back up what they’re learning in school.
“Of course, it’s very much about food, but there are also lots of connections between biology, green infrastructure, environmental science, so we want to make sure we’re hitting an aspect of education that might be a bit more difficult to achieve in the classroom,” she added.
Patricia Batista, director of communications and marketing for Zone 126, said that as far as timing goes, it couldn’t have been much better for a collaboration between her organization and City Growers.
“It is a real opportune time that this partnership was formed because [Schools] Chancellor [Carmen] Fariña has been talking a lot about middle school, hands-on experiential learning for six and seventh grade,” Batista said. “She feels it’s critical,” Batista said.
And the program seems to be a hit with the participants.
“My favorite part of the program was learning about all the leaves and fruits and vegetables that we eat in school and in the markets,” said Melanie, a student who live in Astoria. “I didn’t even know that there was a farm here.”
Ellen Krant, magnet resource coordinator for IS 204 where the students in the program attend middle school, explained that the participants in the Rainbows on Your Plate program were specifically selected for their interest in science and environmental issues.
“We’ve worked with City Growers since last year, and we really appreciate Zone 126 bringing this program to our students for free,” Kantz said. “We live in a food desert here in Long Island City, so access to the things that are the best for them is very limited. To be able to see the looks on their faces when they eat a fresh fruit or vegetable for the first time is so rewarding.”