Education / Food

Wildcat Academy students win national gardening award

Shanice Carr

Tamika McLean and Emily Lopez tend to a plant from their prize-winning hydroponic garden.

Students at John V. Lindsay Wildcat Charter School in Hunts Point’s BankNote building have plenty to celebrate these days.

After creating an indoor garden capable of feeding over 80 mouths per day, the students tied for first place in a national competition for the nation’s best school-based hydroponic gardens last June. The technique allows plants to grow in water treated with nutrients, eliminating the need for soil.

“Winning this was so surreal for us,” said Tamika McLean, 17, a Wildcat student whose interest in mechanical engineering drew her to the project.

Maintaining a garden helps the students think about their own diet very differently than they did before the project began, said Wildcat’s principal, Marc Donald.

“Eight weeks ago, our hydroponics team did not know there were multiple varieties of lettuce,” Donald said. “Now, they can speak to the health benefits and taste of over 37 different herbs, vegetables, and fruits.”

Queens-based food delivery company FreshDirect devised the project to help promote inner-city farming. The prizewinners received a free trip to the National Indoor Gardening Expo in San Francisco in July, where they got to share their experiences working with the technology with fellow gardeners and the public.

Alexandra Payne, a farmer and youth mentor with environmental education program Green Bronx Machine, taught the Wildcat students the virtues of vertical green walls and window gardens. Payne explained that “no water is lost through runoff” in the process. Instead, it is recycled among the plants.

The students have gotten ahead of the curve in learning about the growing technique.

“I guess you can say I have a green thumb now” said Emily Lopez, 17, who interned over the summer, tending to the garden.

Before getting involved, Lopez said, she did not realize how easy it was to grow her own fresh produce, which is especially important in Hunts Point, where nutritious food is hard to find.

Fellow intern Tracey Cruz, 18, said the only thing she had grown prior to working in the program was a small bamboo plant at home.

Judges evaluated the gardens based on the taste and variety of the produce, the innovative materials used in constructing the gardens, overall eco-friendliness of the project and the teams’ ability to manage the $10,000 in grant money for operating costs they received from FreshDirect. In addition, Wildcat used some of the grant money to open a kitchen where students from its culinary program prepare school lunches.

“They take the produce from the garden to prep and straight to the table with no greenhouse gases,” Donald explained.  “Everything about the culinary industry they learn from soup to nuts here.”

Students agree, they have become more conscious of the food they eat, and where it comes from, since they started working in the garden.

“I actually dig deeper into the food I eat,” said McLean. “I know what I’m eating now.”

Tags: , , , ,

Leave a Reply