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PRESS RELEASE - 3/15/2017


Deb Levy, Director of Communications + Marketing
646 943 8712


Bed-Stuy middle school students learn about urban agriculture, nutrition 

BROOKLYN, NY — Student bumblebees. A pet tilapia named Maybelline. A classroom farm that produces 100 pounds of fruits and vegetables each month. These are just a few of the things you’ll find on any given day at The Urban Assembly Unison School in Brooklyn.

Urban Assembly is part of the ExpandED Schools network and partners with Citizen Schools to offer an expanded learning day to its nearly 200 middle school students. The longer school day runs until 5:40pm and offers students opportunities to explore subjects like drama, photography and yes, hydroponic farming. The farm, as students refer to the classroom where floor-to-ceiling leafy and vine systems line the perimeter of the room, is run by the nonprofit Teens for Food Justice (TFFJ).

Small groups of students meet once a week and learn about urban agriculture, hydroponic farming, nutrition, food access and the implications of living in a food desert, something many of these kids are familiar with. The farm produces tomatoes, cucumbers, peppers, herbs, squash and greens of all kinds.

Kathy Soll, CEO/Director of TFFJ, says, “Our goal is to empower people to improve their health by thinking about food differently.”

Students are not passive learners. They help build the structures, serve as farm ambassadors and prepare the food that they’ve grown. They even act as pollinators, wielding electric toothbrushes to rub the leaves of the plants and spread pollen. And of course, they get to reap the fruits of their labor – literally – tasting foods they may never have tried before.

And what about Maybelline, the pet tilapia? She is at the core of the operation, living in nutrient solution and water beneath the indoor greenhouse. Her excrement is used as fertilizer to grow the plants.

According to Kathy, “We see a big impact where kids are talking about what they would choose as a snack. They’re going from chips, cookies and soda to carrots, fruit and juice.”

TFFJ and the students are planning to build a greenhouse in the school’s courtyard that will produce even more healthy food that can be shared with families and other schools in the community. And Maybelline may get a tankmate or two who will help fertilize additional plants.

Xavier, a 6th grader at the school, said, “I want to attend culinary school. I want to be a chef. I love food.”  



ExpandED Schools is a NYC-based nonprofit working to ensure that all kids, from every zip code, have opportunities to discover their talents and develop their full potential. The organization gives children more hours in the school day, more role models in the classroom and infuses the learning with arts, STEM, sports and character-building activities – the supports and experiences kids need in order to grow into caring, confident and successful adults. Since its founding in 1998, when it created the nation’s first citywide system of K-12 after-school programming, ExpandED Schools has closed the learning gap for more than 920,000 kids. To learn more, please visit ExpandEDSchools.org.


Teens for Food Justice is galvanizing a youth-led food justice movement. TFFJ works in Title 1 schools to train youth to become urban farmers: building and maintaining indoor hydroponic farms that can yield up to 22,000 lbs. of fresh produce annually. TFFJ school farms also serve as youth-led centers for nutrition and health outreach to local low-income, food desert communities. Our young urban farmers experience the rewards of building a meaningful, working solution to food insecurity where nothing existed before. In the process, they transform their relationship to the food they eat, while developing the science and technology skills needed in a new green sector economy. To learn more, please visit: teensforfoodjustice.org