NYC School Gardens in Every Borough: Manhattan

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 nine school gardens in Manhattan that are doing great work.

Central Park East II Garden

Type of school: Public elementary and middle, choice, progressive

Date founded: 2016

Founded by: Central Park East II Parent Association

Led by: Anat Grosfeld, Meridith Lampert, and other Central Park East II parents

Maintained by: Central Park East II parents, garden educators (Beyond Organic Design), students, and school custodial staff over the summer

Garden mission: “Our garden mission is to provide hands-on gardening experiences to the entire school, connect agriculture to nourishment, connect classroom-based science learning with field-based observations and experiences, add beauty and replenishment to the natural environment through soil remediation, and create pollinator habitats.”

What they grow: “Herbs: basil, thyme, cilantro, parsley, anise. Vegetables: snap peas, radishes, carrots, beets, eggplant, peppers. Other: native grasses and flowers, bulbs, apples, raspberries, blueberries.”

Why they’re unique: “We incorporated a digging area with a mix of sand and potting soil for children to engage in sensory and imaginative play in the garden. We are also developing a block-long pollinator highway in partnership with the co-located school. Look for a small greenhouse to go up in the next month.”


Columbia Secondary School Community Garden

Type of school: Public, grades 6 through 12

Date founded: 2010

Founded by: Meredith Hill

Led by: Meredith Hill (currently Assistant Principal, previously English teacher)

Maintained by: Students, community members, families, faculty

Garden mission: “Our garden’s mission is to educate our community about the benefits of a sustainable, just food system. We do this by modeling our growing on the patterns in a sustainable ecosystem, inviting the outside community to be involved in our work, and engaging students in experiencing the full cycle of seed to plate to compost (and back around again!). Our teaching model in the garden is more one of facilitation; once students learn skills, they become the teachers to their peers and community members!”

What they grow: “Organic vegetables and herbs, pollinator-attracting perennials, native plants, chicken eggs, and compost. Compost and caring for the soil to create a cyclical system is very important to us!”

Why they’re unique: “We have a posse of three garden hens who have become celebrities of our community. They are cared for by our students and garden members, but it is not rare for passersby to stop and talk to the chickens, even addressing them by name!”


Fifth Street Farm (Shared by The Earth School, Tompkins Square Middle School, and Robert Simon School)

Type of school: The Earth School and Robert Simon School: public elementary; Tompkins Square Middle School: public middle

Date founded: 2012

Founded by: The Earth School, Tompkins Square Middle School, and Robert Simon School

Led by: School Green Team

Maintained by: 5th Street Farm Board, Farm Coordinator, parent volunteers, teachers, Students, after school and summer Programs

Garden mission: “Fifth Street Farm was created as a tool for providing inner-city children a greater awareness and understanding of the natural world, especially the role plants play in the food web.”

What they grow: “Vegetables, fruit, herbs, flowers”

Why they’re unique: “Integrated cooking curriculum, large space (2400 square-foot roof deck with 65 planting beds), collaboration with after school and summer programs”


Garden at City-As-School

Type of school: Public, alternative, transfer school, grades 11 and 12

Date founded: 1992

Founded by: Mary Ellen Lewis and Gail Rothenberg

Led by: Naima Freitas

Maintained by: Staff and students

Garden mission: “City-As-School’s gardening, environmental science, landscape design, environmental art, and entrepreneurship program engages the students in participatory design and creative problem-solving. Our students work with teachers and other staff in collaboration with design professionals, greening organizations, and others in involved in experiential and service-learning to design, plant, and maintain our courtyard garden, our indoor hydroponics lab, and our farm plot at the Battery Urban Farm.”

What they grow: “In our school courtyard, we have ornamental plants with a diverse collection of native plants to support local wildlife. In our hydroponics lab, we have sweet peas, kale, arugula, lettuce, and basil.”

Why they’re unique: “City-As-School is unique because we work with a diverse group of students who are considered ‘at risk.’ We re-engage students by providing opportunities for students to be innovators, designers, and problem solvers while also giving them the support, space, and materials to nurture their garden plants and rebuild their self-esteem by growing food for their communities and creating a garden oasis for the entire school community to enjoy.”


Garden at The 21st Century Academy for Community Leadership

Type of school: Public, dual-language elementary, grades K through 8

Date founded: 2013

Founded by: Grow NYC, CHALK (Choosing Healthy and Active Lifestyles for Kids) and The New York Horticultural Society
Led by: Ann-Marie Cervone (7th and 8th grade ELA teacher), Nguyen Rivera (7th and 8th grade science teacher), Karen Ozuna (program coordinator at CHALK), Ana (teacher from NY Horticultural Society)

Maintained by: Ms. Cervone, Ms. Rivera, Karen, Ana, and many students

Garden mission: “The 21st Century Academy for Community Leadership is focused on providing a hands-on education where students, teachers and parents can learn about sustainable agriculture and healthier lifestyles through gardening.”

What they grow: “We grow a variety of vegetables, herbs, and flowers in our rooftop “Garden in the Sky.” We have many raised planters along with hanging Wooly Pockets. Additionally, this year, Karen helped us acquire, assemble, and set up 2 aeroponic Grow Towers where we have been growing salad greens. They not only beautify our lobby, but are regularly picked for salads. Ana leads cooking classes in our after-school program and uses garden pickings when in season. Ms. Rivera also leads workshops at the towers for the lower grades (K through 5). “
Why they’re unique: “What makes us unique is not only the beautiful gardens, but the beautiful synergy between 21st Century, CHALK, and the Horticultural Society, which exemplifies what people and communities can accomplish when they work together.”


Harlem Village Academies Outdoor Classroom and Garden

Type of school: Public charter, grades K through 8

Date founded: 2015

Founded by: Kristen Bright and Amy Taormina (former Harlem Village Academies educators)

Led by: Kate Scarborough (6th grade science teacher)

Maintained by: Kate Scarborough, the Harlem Village Academis Outdoor Classroom and Garden Committee, volunteers in 6th through 8th grades, school custodians

Garden mission: “Many of the elementary and middle school students at Harlem Village Academies do not have access to safe parks or green spaces they can explore in our neighborhood. As a result, many students have an underdeveloped appreciation for nature and a hesitancy to get ‘down and dirty’ with soil and animals. To cultivate students’ wonder of and appreciation for the natural world, the Harlem Village Academies Outdoor Classroom and Garden aims to serve as a space where students can apply content knowledge while observing, interacting with, and learning about the environment. Students can get up close with nature by observing plants, sowing vegetable and flower seeds, maintaining crops, collecting eggs from our small chicken flock, turning the compost pile, or simply taking time to sit and breathe deeply. The Harlem Village Academies Outdoor Classroom and Garden also aims to educate students on both the food system and nutritious choices by engaging them in growing, harvesting, and preparing fresh fruits and vegetables. We believe that once students have the experience of growing their own food from seed to plate, they will reach for more nutritious foods at school lunches and at home. Finally, the Harlem Village Academies Outdoor Classroom and Garden will serve as a hub of school-wide and community events where class celebrations, informal parent-teacher conferences, teacher meetings, faculty celebrations, student-run farmers’ markets, choir and band concerts, and community service days will take place. The possibilities to cultivate community among students, families, teachers, and the greater Harlem neighborhood are endless!”

What they grow: “Currently, student-run vegetable beds are starting to grow sugar snap peas, tomatoes, basil, watermelon, cantaloupe, cosmos, lavender, cucumber, beets, onions, kale, summer squash, spinach, carrots, jalapeno peppers, and morning glory. The students are also responsible for the well-being of six egg-laying hens and one guinea fowl!”

Why they’re unique: “The Harlem Village Academies Outdoor Classroom and Garden is sectioned into three ‘zones:’ the Chicken Zone, the Community Zone, and the Garden Zone. The Chicken Zone houses the seven feathery members of our chicken flock. Currently, a wooden coop provides shelter for our egg-laying hens (and one guinea fowl); we are expanding the size of our enclosed chicken run to include dust baths, improved food and water facilities, and roosting perches. Our hens lay approximately two to three eggs each day, which the students love collecting! The eggs are shared with families and faculty at the school. The Community Zone is undergoing renovations, but when completed will include five community tables and benches where students can collaborate on projects, participate in engaging discussion, prepare food, plant seeds, and/or share a meal. A large demonstration table will be located under a covered canvas where students, teachers, families, and community members model planting skill and food preparation techniques, or present ideas to a larger group. With movable benches and a sink for food preparation, the Community Zone will serve as a space for people to gather and cultivate their love for the natural world and all its bounty!”


Hydroponic Tower at Margaret Douglas School

Type of school: Public elementary

Date founded: 2016

Founded by: Shari Fine (science teacher)
Led by: Shari Fine

Maintained by: Shari Fine and students

Garden mission: “The mission was to have students experience the thrill of growing something you can eat and then to realize how delicious fresh tastes!”

What they grow: “Rainbow chard, arugula, red and green leaf lettuce, bibb lettuce, bok choy, basil, and cilantro.”
Why they’re unique: “We’ve had tastings with various classes and Chef Andrea Sperling from Wellness in the Schools uses the greens and herbs for student lunches as well as in cooking classes she has with the students. The children can’t get enough!”


John B. Russwurm School Garden

Type of school: Public elementary

Date founded: 2012

Founded by: John B. Russwurm School and Harlem Grown

Led by: John B. Russwurm School and Harlem Grown

Maintained by: Harlem Grown and John B. Russwurm School students

Garden mission: “To inspire youth to live healthy lives through hands-on education in gardening, sustainability, and nutrition.”

What they grow: “A variety of fruits and vegetables including tomatoes, collard greens, peppers, and eggplant.”

Why they’re unique: “One of the first school gardens in District 5!”


The Towers by The Straus School

Type of school: Public elementary

Date founded: 2016

Founded by: The PTA Garden Committee

Led by: The PTA Garden Committee

Maintained by: Liana Comens (science teacher)

Garden mission: “To help our students learn about the importance of plants in our lives as well as to give them hands-on experiences while learning about plant biology, nutrition, and the environment.”

What they grow: “Vegetables and herbs, including kale, lettuce, cucumbers, basil.”

Why they’re unique: “We have hydroponic garden towers so we can grow our plans all year round.”


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