The New York Botanical Garden has always prized horticultural/environmental research, preservation and sustainability. This is especially so in this crisis period where the US no longer participates in the 2015 Paris Climate Agreement. As a part of their vision to educate children and families about how gardens improve the environmental landscape and integrate human growth, wellness and health, the NYBG is briskly moving forward to assist the global on the local level in NYC.
The Garden is accomplishing this by operating a State-of-the Art Edible Academy that expanded their former academy into an amazing three acre campus. The central purpose of the Edible Academy is to teach children and families how to grow, harvest and prepare healthy, clean, organic produce. It is also to encourage the knowledge that sustainability in various forms like cutting down on food waste, composting, food shopping carefully, etc., are practices we should engage in to meet our personal goals to support global and local environments.
The NYBG has had an acclaimed garden-based education program for many years. However, to better serve the community of thousands of children in the New York City area, the Garden funded the expansion of the Ruth Rea Howell Vegetable Garden through public and private donations, totaling $28 million. The indoor-outdoor campus, designed by the Cooper Robertson architectural firm, boasts cutting-edge sustainable technology which allows the NYBG’s edible gardening program to operate year-round. With their improvements the Garden has doubled its capacity to involve children, families, teachers and the general public in programs every season.
The Edible Academy expansion is one more turning point on the highway of success the NYBG has paved over the decades to engage children and families to understand the importance of nature in their spiritual, emotional, psychological and physical well being. The power of nature to heal is a fact which scientists may have underestimated in the past, but now are studying in earnest. Indeed, there is a renewed interest in how “getting back to the land and the soil” heals soldiers and others with PTSD and helps children and adults with psychological problems by reaffirming mind/body connections to support the whole individual’s wellness.
Additionally, as films like Eating Animals indict agribusiness, industrial farming and industrialized animal husbandry, individuals acknowledge the importance of farm to table, fresh versus canned or frozen, and organic and free ranged chicken or beef versus processed animals. The latter inhumanely raised, shot up with antibiotics, and growth-hormones and fed with bio-engineered “round-up ready” plant grains that have been sprayed with chemicals to discourage fungus or insets, are egregious components of global warming.
Not only have agribusinesses and the correlative processed food industry impoverished once noble farmers making them into indentured servants, the toxicity of food additives and preservatives have wrecked our metabolisms and immune systems. Since fast food consumerism burgeoned and profits over healthy eating became the sine quo none of the food industry in the late 1970s, obesity rates of families have risen steadily to the present. Related illnesses never seen before like increased instances of childhood diabetes, high blood pressure and inflammation have been recorded by doctors. Clearly, acidity and toxicity have overtaken our bodies based upon our eating habits as we have chosen fast food convenience over healthy planned “start from scratch” meals at home.
Scientists and nutritionists have acknowledged the long-term impact of the chemicals we ingest in our food, drinks and water. In positing chemicals’ (including food preservatives, dyes, MSG, flavor enhancers) deleterious side effects on the human immune system, Europe has banned over 1000 chemicals emphasizing non GMO, non-irradiated produce and wheat, few preservatives, artisanal meat, cheese, wine and more. In France they have managed to keep out Monsanto corn and soybeans, which is the only offering in the US. In Italy they have created the slow food and slow wine movement since 1989, encouraging fresh, locally grown in cooperative farming as they eschew fast food and processed food.
Thankfully, the US has caught on, though we have remained behind Europe. We only ban 80 chemicals recognized to be toxic for human consumption, which is to say there are 920 chemicals or more that should be banned. Sadly, recent political developments and the vitiation of environmental policies and Food and Drug regulations threaten even the small strides we have made.
Thus, the NYBG Edible Academy is needed now more than ever, and surely, it remains a beacon for us in dark times. As a sanctuary for living plants and animals (native wildlife), it reminds us that we must uplift who we are, what we put in our bodies and what we must allow in the broader society. Above all the Garden is a bulwark which encourages us to remember we are interconnected with the earth, and thus, must do our part to help our human, plant and animal communities thrive.
To these ends, The Edible Academy expansion is money well spent especially for New York City children. The area around NYBG has one of the highest rates of food insecurity in the nation. Many do not have access to fresh, affordable fruit and vegetables. Indeed, as a result there are high rates of obesity-related ailments. However, there is good news. Extensive research has shown that children who plant and harvest their own produce develop important life skills as they shop, prepare and cook their meals with wisdom. And they are more likely to eat healthful fresh fruits and vegetables and cook meals “from scratch” because the food flavors are incredible.
As a measure of the support for the importance of the NYBG mission, Garden leaders, government officials, corporate and foundation donors and dozens of Bronx schoolchildren showed up on June 14, 2018 to celebrate the opening of the Edible Academy’s momentous occasion. The Academy, which has been in the physical works for about eighteen months, has been in conceptualization for years. “We have long dreamed of expanding the Ruth Rea Howell Vegetable Garden,” said Maureen K. Chilton, Chairman of the NYBG Board of Trustees, who added, “With the opening of the Edible Academy, we will now be able to offer even more educational resources, impacting the lives of countless children as they learn about gardening, plant science and healthful living.”
Mayor Bill de Blasio, NYC Cultural Affairs Commissioner Tom Finkelpearl, Bronx Councilmember, Ritchie Torres, New York State Senator, Jeffrey D. Klein, NY State Assembly Speaker Carl E. Heastie, NYC Council Speaker Corey Johnson and other officials were present as Mayor de Blasio cut the ribbon and opened the ceremony dedicating the expansion. Mayor de Blasio affirmed that the City of New York provided $8.6 million for the Edible Academy through the Department of Cultural Affairs. And through the leadership of the NYS Senate and Assembly, the Edible Academy received $2.5 million.
Mayor de Blasio along with other speakers identified the importance of the Edible Academy to influence generations. He stated, “Though New York City offers students access to parks, cultural institutions, and educational experiences unlike anywhere else, opportunities to learn about agriculture in our urban jungle can be a little harder to find.” And he added, “Now, more children, educators and families can use this extraordinary resource to better understand the connections between diet, well-being and the stewardship of our planet.”
That Mayor de Blasio has a heart for children not only was evidenced here at the opening of the Edible Academy. Some days later the Mayor found out like the rest of us through fine investigative journalism that immigrant children were being separated from families in the President’s new Zero Tolerance Policy at our Southern Border. Housed in cages, sleeping on concrete, not knowing where their parents were, some were flown in secret at night to New York City shelters unbeknownst to city or state officials.
After the Mayor and Governor Cuomo flew to the border, apprised the situation and came back to the city, some of the children were located in Harlem and increased services were provided. On the news Mayor de Blasio and others stated that the number of children in New York City, once thought to be 239 was now hovering around 600 for those at a Daytime facility. Most probably, the WH administration has had immigrant children flown to other areas of New York City, perhaps even the Bronx. Thus, in the upcoming months, the Garden and the Edible Academy may offer a measure of encouragement and support if such children over the years find their way to the doors of the Edible Academy.
Before you visit the Academy, read up on the innovative and sustainable design elements to appreciate the buildings set into the farm-like setting. The campus includes a green roof for the classroom building, geothermal wells for heating and cooling, a freestanding solar pavilion to help power the facility, and composting toilets. Of course all are designed to minimize the environmental impact of the facility and support one of the largest educational gardening programs in the US. These sustainability features meet the criteria for certification as a Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) Gold Project. What an amazing learning facility for NYC children which is in keeping with New York State’s philosophy to affirm the 2015 Paris Climate Agreement despite its rejection by the current WH administration.
There is so much to see and do at NYBG, you will need to make a number of visits during each of the year-round exhibits (Holiday Train Show, Orchid Show, Rose Garden, Spring blooms: azealas, daffodils, lilacs, Summer Concerts, Fall Pumpkin Weekend, etc.) and activities. If you have kids, they will love the Edible Academy and the Everett Children’s Adventure Garden which has seasonal, year-round events and fun programs. Certainly, a Garden family membership will pay itself off many times over and comes with additional free parking.
Currently, the main exhibit, Georgia O’Keeffe’s Visions of Hawai’i (through October 28th) makes its home in the Enid A. Haupt Conservatory, at the Luesther T. Mertz Library and Art Gallery and elsewhere in the Garden. At the Art Gallery you will see gorgeous paintings inspired by plants and scenic vistas from Georgia O’Keeffe’s commissioned journey to Hawai’i. Look for outdoor installations by contemporary Hawaiian-Chinese sculptor Mark Chai, inspired by the forms of the plants that O’Keeffe encountered while visiting the exotic paradise.
And take a tram ride to the Edible Academy and spend time investigating the campus. You will enjoy the Ruth Rea Howell Vegetable Garden (three gardens), the Classroom Building (with a demonstration kitchen classroom), the greenhouse, the Pauline Gillespie Gossett Overlook Pavilion (you see the Bronx River), the Susan P. and Coley Burke Ampitheater, the Solar Pavilion, the Wamsler Phillips Plant Nursery and much more.
For Garden programming, CLICK HERE. For membership CLICK HERE. For the Summer Concert Series CLICK HERE. If you have never been to the NYBG you are missing a treasure in NYC that you cannot divine until you visit. It is one of New York City’s hidden gems, a haven and a sanctuary for thousands of visitors and members each year. But do not wait to the last minute of the Georgia O’Keeffe exhibit or any exhibit for that matter. You will be bumping into crowds who want to go one last time to experience the Garden’s wonders.