Student Farming through The Environmental Club’s Stewardship Lab

The Stuyvesant Environmental Club returns to farming in the Stewardship Lab at the Battery Urban Farm.

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By Mirei Ueyama

After two years of remote learning, the Stuyvesant Environmental Club (SEC) restarted its Stewardship Lab at the Battery Urban Farm earlier this year. Initiated in 2011 by the Battery Conservancy alongside students from Millennium High School, the Battery Urban Farm is located at the southern tip of Manhattan. The Battery Urban Farm provides students, residents, and even visitors the ability to plant and grow their own food as well as learn about sustainable urban farming. Stuyvesant is one of over 100 schools that participate in their programs.

The activities range by the week. “We go there to do all sorts of gardening,” junior and SEC secretary Juniper Chen said. “This week, we’re seeding a lot of plants, and before we did some weeding and made soil beds for the farm. Sometimes we get to take sages or scallions.”

Students express that the program has served as hands-on experience related to SEC’s interests. “It’s hands-on work, outdoors, and it’s always good to be outdoors. Every Tuesday, they have something for us to do,” junior and SEC secretary Nandika Mukherjee said.

Throughout the return of the program, the Environmental Club has faced several challenges in relation to COVID-19 and the administration of the club. “[The program] is counted as a school trip by the DOE. And since it’s a school trip, 14-year-olds can’t go unless our advisory teacher, [Biology teacher Marissa] Maggio, also goes,” Chen said.

This has made visits particularly difficult for freshmen during AP season as Maggio prepares her students for the exam. “I’m only going every week or every couple weeks. The 14-year-olds can’t go without me, but the 15-, 16-, and 17-year-olds all have parent waivers so they can volunteer,” Maggio said.

Regardless, members of the SEC are optimistic about the rest of the year at this farm. “It’s not just something you have in your backyard or on your windowsill. It’s an actual plot of land,” Chen said. “That’s an opportunity that’s really rare, especially living in New York City.”

SEC members expressed that the farming experience that comes with cultivating their own crops is rewarding and fulfilling. “Planting stuff and then harvesting it and being able to take it home with you, and like knowing that it's something that you took care of and now you get to eat it; I think that’s pretty exciting,” Mukherjee said..

Beyond these projects, the SEC hopes to expand even further and is always looking for new members who have a passion for the environment. “There’s a lot of people who join for various reasons. SEC provides a lot of events and opportunities for people to work on,” Chen said.

The farm itself provides a unique insight into field work, something that is not easily found in an urban center such as NYC. “When you think of a farm you don’t think of New York City, you don’t know that you can do that, that you can grow and harvest food in the middle of Manhattan,” Mukherjee said.