THE BLOG
06/05/2012 08:42 am ET Updated Aug 05, 2012

Organic Farming in a NYC Public School

by guest blogger Alberto Gonzalez, founder and CEO of GustOrganics

Hatching chicks from eggs, growing kale, and making homemade vanilla ice cream with only five ingredients. I'm not talking about life on a bucolic farm, or a culinary studies program for potential farm-to-table chefs--this is what's going on at a public school in New York City.

Abbe Futterman, a progressive science teacher at Public School 364, invited some Organic Valley farmers from upstate New York into her classroom to teach her students about the fundamentals of organic farming. And these kids had a lesson in making ice cream, reading ingredient labels, and much more.

I was lucky enough to get to visit the class, too, and I have to say that these were extraordinary children (4th and 5th graders, including special needs students) who know a lot about soil, understand where different foods come from, and recognize a wide variety of produce. I was extremely impressed because I feel that many grown-ups wouldn't be able to answer the questions that were asked in that class, and these kids were answering without hesitation.

When I arrived at the school, I was greeted by a group of 3rd graders and Maxwell, who was in 5th grade. They took me through a "secret passage" (the classroom's window) to show me with pride their organic farm. Yes, you read that right: They have an organic farm inside PS 364. Not only that but, according to the teacher, in September the school will open a new 2,400-square-foot farm on the building's rooftop. Maxwell also showed me the "on-site' compost facility and explained all its characteristics with an unbelievable level of detail.

The organic farm at PS 364, also appropriately named The Earth School, is sponsored by Slow Food NYC and grows kale, collards, cucumbers, peas, hardy kiwi, Newtown Pippin apples, Golden Crisp apples, onions, carrot, stevia, dill, tomatoes, basil, tomatillos, ground cherries, lettuces, mustard greens, peppers, broccoli, eggplant, potatoes, mints, anise hyssop, blueberries, grapes, rhubarb, asparagus, rosemary, thyme, lavender, parsley, cilantro, figs, fennel, raspberries, oregano, and Thai, red, and Genovese basil. I simply could not believe the organic beauties that I discovered after following the students through their secret passage.

The organic farm is next to the school's playground, so in one area you can see children at play and in another, children farming, and all of this under a beautiful downtown Manhattan skyline.

PS 364's farming is part of the science class curriculum, and the school has a full-time cooking teacher. I am a firm believer that one of the problems our society has in its relationship with food is the lack of knowledge. A healthy society starts with knowledge about food, and this school is doing a phenomenal job in this regard. The best way to create a healthier America is to start educating the children who will be the grown-ups of tomorrow, and that is exactly what this amazing NYC school is doing.

I would love to see food studies courses develop in other schools, because food is who we are--it's what sustains us and makes us stronger as people and as communities. Food knowledge is the key to a healthier society and a healthier planet. And giving kids healthy food habits is an extraordinarily effective way to prevent future diseases and improve their lives.

So, I say bravo Abbe Futterman and The Earth School in NYC! Keep up the good work!

 

Alberto Gonzalez is the founder and CEO of GustOrganics, the world's first certified-organic restaurant using 100 percent organic ingredients, and one of the greenest and most progressive restaurants on the planet, gustorganics.com.

For more from Maria Rodale, go to www.mariasfarmcountrykitchen.com