The Food Ed Coalition Spotlight Series highlights people and organizations doing amazing work in food education and access in NYC. Find more from the series on the Food Ed Hub.
Interview with Megan Nordgren, Director of Program Development, New York Sun Works
The interview has been edited for length and clarity.
1. What are your interests and passions? How did they lead you to work at NY Sun Works?
I’ve always been passionate about the environment, which led me to work for various environmental non-profits and part of the U.N. Oceans programs. It wasn’t until my children started public school in NYC that I noticed science, sustainability, and nutrition education were lacking within the public school system. NY Sun Works allows students to learn science through urban farming. It has been a pleasure to see the positive impact NY Sun Works has had on these students for the past 3.5 years I have worked there.
2. What impact does NY Sun Works have on food and nutrition education practice and policy?
Our hydroponic science labs have a wonderful by-product of nutritious and delicious vegetables! Students can grow vegetables right in the classroom, which gives them the ability to learn about healthy foods and share the information they learn with their families. Through NY Sun Works, students are given the tools needed to make choices that will better their health and the environment.
3. Describe a “day in the life” at NY Sun Works.
With a staff of 20 people, it’s pretty much always “all hands-on deck!” During the week, most of our staff make weekly visits to more than our 130 partner schools to work with teachers to ensure the hydroponic labs run smoothly. Our education team works on developing new curricula and training our partner teachers. Other program members work behind the scenes to help build partnerships with new schools, raise funds, and work on various administrative tasks.
4. What does a typical lesson by NY Sun Works look like?
The NY Sun Works curriculum follows the philosophy of learning through practice and experimentation. We utilize the hydroponic systems installed in our partner schools’ classrooms to teach science, environmental education, and sustainability.
5. How have your services changed since COVID?
NY Sun Works had to adapt to ensure our partner schools were still being supported during school closures. So our program made three significant changes to allow for children to continue to learn remotely. These three changes included: curriculum adaptation, home hydroponic kits, and feeding school communities through urban farming.
- Curriculum Adaptation: Our program transitioned lessons to the online learning platform for remote learning, using Google Slides for students to have easy access in their Google Classroom. These slides allow children to engage in topics they would otherwise be learning in-person by way of NY Sun Works Reports, videos, and the new Let’s Investigate video series. Let’s Investigate videos are led by our staff and demonstrate how to set up investigations that explore topics like what plants need to grow.
- Home Hydroponic Kits: Our program created a new Home Hydroponic Kit for students, with teacher guidance, to grow, study, and run investigations with their plants from home. The kits engage students with topics they would be learning in their Greenhouse Classrooms if it weren’t for the pandemic. These kits allow students to gain observational and data collection skills.
- Urban Farming to Feed School Communities: Currently, most NY Sun Works labs in NYC schools are growing much-needed food for communities. Since many students cannot visit the Greenhouse Classrooms right now, the labs are being run as urban farms, and fresh vegetables are being grown to feed school communities. Students’ families and staff members can take nutritious vegetables home, and some schools are providing food to community organizations.
6. How can people support your work right now?
We always welcome donations, no matter how small, to support our school partnerships. Please visit https://nysunworks.org/get-involved/donate/ for more information. Thank you in advance! You can also follow us on Instagram, Twitter, and Facebook. And please sign up for our monthly newsletter!
7. What is your favorite local fruit or vegetable?
I have so many: asparagus, strawberries, spinach, and pumpkin!