NYC School Gardens in Every Borough: Queens

by Alexina Cather, MPH

By Lani Furbank

School gardens are a growing presence in New York City, and for good reason. Research has shown that they are associated with a bounty of benefits for both students and teachers. A study in HortTechnology found that students with school garden programs in their science curriculum score significantly higher on science achievement tests than those taught by traditional classroom methods. In addition, teachers who work in school gardens had higher workplace morale and increased satisfaction with their jobs. Studies in Environmental Education Research and Journal of the American Dietetic Association show that children who are more familiar with growing their own food eat more fruits and vegetables and are more likely to continue healthy eating habits through adulthood. They are also more likely to accept people who are different from themselves.

These benefits and more have motivated schools across the five boroughs to develop and nurture their school garden programs. In partnership with Grow to Learn, the NYC Food Policy Center will be highlighting exemplary gardens in each borough over the next few months. Grow to Learn is a network of school gardens across the city that provides grant funding, materials, technical assistance, and education. Any public or charter school in NYC can register with Grow to Learn for support.

Here are seven Grow to Learn school gardens in Queens that are doing great work.


MELS Community Garden at Metropolitan Expeditionary Learning School (PS 167)

Type of school: Public middle and high

Date founded: 2015

Founded by: MELS 6th graders

Led by: Court King and Kimberly Scher

Maintained by: Erin Chalmers and Jasmin Ilkay

Garden mission: “To provide a space for communty building, authentic academic application, and connection to the natural world.”

What they grow: “Herbs, strawberries, chard, eggplant, lettuce, and zucchini.”

Why they’re unique: “We are a new garden and are working on ways to incorporate the garden into our curriculum in a 6-12 school. Our 6th graders designed and built the garden and we are now bringing different stakeholders to the table to develop our program. The garden will also have access to the QueensWay when built.”


MS 53 Garden of Cultures at Brian Piccolo (MS 53)

Type of school: Middle

Date founded: 2015

Founded by: Kamellia Hill

Led by: Kamellia Hill

Maintained by: Kamellia Hill and students

Garden mission: “To grow into a small urban farm that caters to the health and wellness of its community.”

What they grow: “Flowers, vegetables, herbs, and fruit trees.”

Why they’re unique: “Our program is unique because we have a flock of hens that has brought so many school and community members together. There has been so much care and concern on their behalf and we love the inquiry and conversations generated within the community. We are also building partnership; this school year our garden is participating in the Queens botanical garden cultural afterschool program. Students engage in hands-on earth science-based activities then transition to the garden for planning and planting.”


Nathaniel Hawthorne Garden (MS 74)

Type of school: Middle

Date founded: 2012

Founded by: Nancy Krawiecki, Brian Annello, and Jean Posada

Led by: Nancy Krawiecki

Maintained by: Student Garden Club with assistance from student Green team

Garden mission: “To bring students back to nature by growing food and fostering creative ideas related to gardening and the environment.”

What they grow: “Mostly organic food crops, with some accent flowers: tomatoes, squash, cucumbers, beets, lettuce, carrots, peas, herbs, daffodils, nasturtium, and sunflowers.”

Why they’re unique: “This past year, we ran the club all year—yes, winter, too. We came up with creative ideas to decorate and enhance the garden—a birdhouse/planter design and build, small hand-made clay garden animals, a green wall design and build, a solar fountain design. Last year we built a very utilitarian and beautifully aesthetic garden shed from scratch. Many skills are drawn upon to create a beautiful and functional student garden creation here at our school.”


Pollinators’ Garden, Green Magnet Farm, 9/11 Memorial Garden, Milkweed/Sunflower Staircase Garden, Perennial Staircase Garden, and Woodland Garden at Robert A. Van Wyck: The Green Magnet School for Career Exploration (MS 217)

Type of school: Middle

Date founded: 2009, 2016, 2001, 2009, 2009, and 2012, respectively

Founded by: Steve Mindlin, Karen Phillips, Dr. Edgar Andrade and others

Led by: Steve Mindlin, Karen Phillips, Dr. Edgar Andrade

Maintained by: Steve Mindlin, Karen Phillips, Dr. Edgar Andrade

Garden mission: “To provide habitat for wildlife.”

What they grow: “Vegetables, herbs, perennials, milkweed, and sunflowers​​​.”

Why they’re unique: “We are luckily surrounded by a lot of land, as well as a NYC park, so we have a number of gardens. Besides the fact that we have so many gardens, the very special thing is how much the Briarwood community gets to enjoy the gardens. The Briarwood Community Association has also supported the gardens with grants.”


The PS/IS 78 School Garden at The Robert F. Wagner, Jr. School (PS/IS 78Q)

Type of school: Elementary and middle

Date founded: 2009

Founded by: Principal Louis Pavone, Walter Ditman (retired 5th grade teacher), and Mark Christie (Hunters Point Conservancy)

Led by: Walter Ditman, Carmelina Cartei (adjunct lecturer at Hunter College), and Karly Lin (parent coordinator)

Maintained by: Walter Ditman, Carmelina Cartei, Karly Lin, Emilia Muresanu, and parents of students

Garden mission: “To bring students to the garden to raise awareness of the importance of growing our own vegetables, fruits, herbs and flowers; link garden activities and practices with the school curriculum; enhance social skills by having students work collaboratively in the garden; stimulate critical thinking skills by exposing students to problems faced in growing our own food.”

What they grow: “Everything from arugula to zucchini, including garlic, sunflowers, lettuce, radish, nasturtiums, tomatillos, potatoes, jalapeño peppers, raspberries, strawberries, and many herbs.”

Why they’re unique: “We have two gardens, one located in Gantry State Park, facing the East River and the NYC skyline, and the other adjacent to the school. The garden in the park is open to the community; local community members and members of the public often bring their children to the garden to help them develop an appreciation of nature. For example, recently a young mother brought her child to the garden to release over a hundred lady bugs, which provoked a mini-lesson on beneficial insects. Our gardens are wonderful teaching tools!”


The Ramon Suarez Garden at Ramon Suarez School (PS 239Q)

Type of school: Elementary

Date founded: 2017

Founded by: PS 239

Led by: Michele Dzwonek

Maintained by: Garden Club

Garden mission: “To beautify our school.”

What you grow: “Flowers and bushes.”

Why your program is unique: “We are so thankful to have greenery to soften the walls of our schoolyard.”


Urban Farm at Thomas A. Edison Career and Technical High School

Type of school: Career and technical NYCDOE high

Date founded: 2017

Founded by: Principal Moses Ojeda

Led by: Andrea Scolavino (AP, ISS teacher)

Maintained by: Maria Cassella, Andrew Ferreira, and the ACES students

Garden mission: “The mission of our garden is to grow vegetables for use in our culinary program. By growing our own vegetables, students learn about the value of self-sustainability.”

What they grow: “Tomatoes, basil, lettuce, cilantro, mint, and kale.”

Why they’re unique: “Our program is unique because it provides opportunity for intellectually disabled students to learn hydroponic gardening, which is an ever-expanding career field.”


Photo of the PS/IS 78 School Garden at The Robert F. Wagner, Jr. School 

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