A Non-Profit Paves the Way for Sustainable Indoor Urban Farming in New York City: New York Sun Works

by Sofia Pilipenko
Part of the Food Policy Community Spotlight Series

Name: New York Sun Works

What they do: New York Sun Works is a non-profit that builds state-of-the-art hydroponic labs in New York City schools. Their sustainability science and climate education program combines indoor farming with classroom instruction in order to engage children in grades K through 12 in hands-on learning while growing hundreds of pounds of vegetables year round. Their curriculum teaches children about our planet’s living environment, climate change, biodiversity, resource conservation, contamination, pollution, waste management, and sustainable development. The classroom labs include hydroponic growing systems, fish farms, weather stations, vermicomposting, and integrated pest management. All produce grown in the classroom is distributed to families and community members free of charge.

Its first hydroponic classroom was built in 2010 in PS 333 in Manhattan. By 2023, two hundred fifty schools — more than 14 percent of NYC public schools — had their own hydroponic lab, indicating a growing public interest in quality STEM education and food production that is environmentally responsible, nutritious, and accessible within an urban area.

How they do it: NY Sun Works was founded in 2004 by Dr. Ted Caplow, who created the Science Barge – a floating farm on the Hudson River – to prove that high-yield sustainable agriculture is possible within a densely populated city. The success of the Science Barge gave rise to their Hydroponic Classroom Program, co-founded by Manuela Zamora, which followed four years later.

Latest project/campaign: In 2022, in response to the growing demand for skilled indoor farm workers in NYC, NY Sun Works launched a high school workforce certificate program in Controlled Environment Agriculture (CEA). This first-of-its-kind farming certification program was developed with the support of funding from the USDA. In the summer of 2022, 32 students across three high schools completed an intensive pilot 6-week course. Now the program is being offered as a science elective class. Additionally, NY Sun Works plans to build hydroponic classrooms at 70 more schools across the city by the end of 2023!

Major Funding: Fee for service, government grants, and individual donations

Profit/nonprofit: 501 c-3 Nonprofit organization

Annual Budget: $4.7M

Interesting fact about how it is working to positively affect the food system: In each hydroponic classroom, students grow hundreds of pounds of fresh produce, including tomatoes, cucumbers, lettuce, kale, Swiss chard, basil and other vegetables and herbs to share with their families and community. Recipes are shared to ensure that everyone enjoys nutritious, locally grown fresh produce.

Location: 157 Columbus Avenue, Suite 432, New York, NY 10023
Core Programs: The Greenhouse Project
Number of staff: 41
Number of volunteers: 10
Areas served: NYC and metropolitan area, northern NJ
Year Started: 2003 
Director: Manuela Zamora
Contact Information: info@nysunworks.org

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