Gotham Grazer Blog

Classroom Update: What a Year!

As summer quickly approaches, we are thrilled to say that Gotham Grazer's pilot year was a huge success.  

We reached over 275 students within our three schools, and distributed our Earth Day/Every Day Sustainable Food Toolkit to 550 NYC Sustainability Coordinators and educators.

Throughout the year, we hosted seven guest speaker events within the schools, and a number of field trips to innovative green locations throughout NYC, such as Battery Urban Farm, Union Square Greenmarket, and GrowNYC's Project Farmhouse

If that wasn't enough, we've secured over $5,000 in grant funds that will benefit two of our partner schools for the 2017-2018 academic year.

None of this would be possible without our corporate partners, Con Edison and Bareburger - we thank you!

Check out some of our favorite photos from the year below!

Classroom Update: Food Packaging Design Challenge

Our students are tackling real issues in the food industry by designing innovative, sustainable methods for packaging food.

The students have been working in groups for about three weeks, creating prototypes of biodegradable packages for specific food items.  Aside from being biodegradable, the designs need to be strong, long lasting, and able to properly preserve the food items they hold.  Some groups took the challenge a step further, and created packaging that not only holds the food item, but is essential to the aesthetic of the product as a whole. Check out their incredible designs below!

Coincidentally, the New York Times recently published an article entitled, "Packaging Food With Food to Reduce Waste."  The article cites Ecovative (a company that the class actually studied), which is creating packaging from fungal mycelium.  A number of other organizations are running with similar concepts - Biocopac Plus aims to replace BPA with tomato peels; Shrilk combines left over shrimp shells with silk to produce a substitute for plastic wrap, and Ohoo is a liquids container made out of seaweed. 

Although it sometimes seems that we are surrounded by unnecessary plastic packaging - in food, product shipment, etc. - it is reassuring to know that this issue is a high priority for many organizations - and students!

Classroom Update: Earth Week 2017

Gotham Grazer participated in a number of events this Earth Week!

Earth Day New York 2017
Earth Day Initiative's annual Earth Day New York event was a huge success last Tuesday! Our Gotham Grazer booth was popping with different activities, such as sustainable food trivia and a photo booth. Which trivia question stumped almost everyone?  The statistic that it takes approximately 2,500 gallons of water to produce one pound of beef.   Facts such as this one sparked the interest of many participants, and had them signing up for copies of our Earth Day / Every Day Food Toolkit to learn how to make their diets more sustainable. 

ACE Assembly
Later in the week, one of our schools got a visit from Alliance for Climate Education, and students learned about how climate change is the most important issue that our society currently faces. The assembly urged students to "DOT," or "Do One Thing," that will help to solve climate change, such as reducing their waste, eating less meat, and speaking out. This interactive assembly is geared towards grabbing the attention of students, and we urge all educators to book an assembly with them, or sign up to receive free classroom materials.

Earth Day 5K Green Tour
A group of Gotham Grazer students joined Earth Day Initiative for our annual 5K Green Tour. The day was filled with great site visits that celebrated green initiatives in NYC and the country; we got tours of Battery Urban Farm and The Solaire - a LEED certified building, and saw the newest green vehicles at the New York International Auto Show.  We also had a yummy lunch from our Gotham Grazer sponsor, Bareburger, and heard about why students and their families should join Earth Day Initiative's Count To 50 campaign.

Classroom Update: "Sustainable Eating NYC" Intensive

One of our partner schools just held their annual "intensive week," where students can attend a three-day, hands-on course of their choice to gain additional credit.  Gotham Grazer put together a special course called "Sustainable Eating NYC," that took students to various sustainable food hubs throughout the city.  Here are some highlights:

Day 1: To kick things off, we watched excerpts from two pivotal movies, Food, Inc. and Cowspiracy, to give students an idea of some of the controversies that exist within our food system. We discussed a variety of topics, from how McDonald's and other fast food companies have influenced the factory farming system, to the large role that agriculture plays in climate change.  After, we headed out to Battery Park to get a feel for how gardens and farms can thrive within NYC.  We did some hands on gardening work in a pollinator garden, and got a tour of Battery Urban Farm

Day 2: A little rain wasn't going to stop us from heading out to Brooklyn!  First, we visited Whole Foods Market Gowanus, home to a Gotham Greens rooftop hydroponic farm.  Students did a scavenger hunt throughout the store, recording A) the different states and countries that produce had come from, B) the varying food labels that they saw (organic, non-GMO, certified humane, grass-fed, cage-free etc.), and C), which of their favorite food items had ingredients that were derived from soy and corn.  We then made our way to the Steinhardt Conservatory at Brooklyn Botanic Garden, where students explored the different climates that plants grow in, taking note of how certain food crops must be shipped in from areas that have tropical climates.

Day 3: The last of our three days was jam packed with activities.  We started off the morning doing Gotham Grazer's signature food mapping exercise, where students mapped the different sustainable and unsustainable food resources that are in their own communities.  We then traveled to Union Square, where we had a guided tour of the Greenmarket.  Students were able to talk directly to farmers, learning about each of their specialities and how they got started.  Next, we went to Grow NYC's newly opened sustainability center, Project Farmhouse, and had an amazing cooking demo from Arun Gupta, owner and chef of Maysville.  Students assisted in preparing a dish of roasted purple carrots, fresh apples, candied peanuts, and homemade ricotta cheese.  Arun spoke about how his restaurant buys local produce from farmer's markets whenever possible, and how they adjust their menu each season to match the food that will be sustainably available to them. We ended our day with a celebratory lunch at Hu Kitchen, a sustainable restaurant that meets the needs of many different diets, such as vegan, gluten-free, and paleo.

After three fun-filled (and exhausting) days, students walked away from this intensive with new experiences in the garden and in the kitchen, as well as tactics for making their diet more sustainable!

Transforming Bronx Bodegas

Last week, we were able to attend the Just Food Conference, a two-day event that brought together 800 people to collaborate on topics of food justice, healthy eating, and sustainable food initiatives. 

Given that two of our Gotham Grazer schools are located in the Bronx, we made sure to attend a breakout workshop titled "Bronx Bodegas: Healthy Retail in the Bronx.

Bodegas widely outnumber supermarkets in the Bronx, making them a major source of food for low-income families.  However, these food products are normally processed and/or pre-packaged goods with low nutritional values.  During this panel discussion, multiple organizations - Bronx Health Reach (in partnership with the Bodega Association of the United States), BronxWorksUrban Health Plan, and Montefiore Health System - discussed their joint mission of transforming bodegas into sites where affordable, healthy food will be available. Tactics include changing product availability (low-sodium canned vegetables, whole-wheat bread, low-fat milk) and changing visibility (putting water bottles at eye level and moving soda towards the back, displaying fruit at the check-out counter).  The organizations are collaborating with food distributors and suppliers to make the necessary changes, training bodega owners to sustain these changes, and engaging the community through tasting events and youth programming. 

In 2016, the Bronx received a health ranking of 62 out of 62 counties in New York.  With 14,000 bodegas in the entire city, training owners to successfully sell healthy products could be a major turning point in improving the health of the Bronx.

Classroom Update: Food Habits Through Generations

One of our Gotham Grazer schools is currently watching Food, Inc., the 2008 documentary that examines the American food system.  

Towards the end of each class, students reflect on a number of questions related to the film, one being: How does the way you eat differ from that of your grandparents?  The students had a variety of answers, but the overwhelming theme was that past generations cooked the majority of their meals, and even ate fruits and vegetables from their own farms and gardens.  In comparison, the students said their own meals were usually a combination of takeout food, pre-made or frozen meals, and home-cooked meals.  After sharing these comments aloud, it was clear that the students were a little dismayed by what the food system had become.

In support of this discussion, we found an article that was recently on Food Navigator that connects millenials' food habits with food waste. According to food historian and broadcaster Dr. Polly Russell, older generations generally ate the same meals each week and were keen on leftovers.  Meanwhile, millenials demand choice, change, and variety, which often leads to an excess of unused, "exotic" foods.  The title of the article even suggests that millenials base their meals on what is worthy of being posted on Instagram.

Through all of this sociological analysis, we can see that the rules of supply and demand hold true for food consumers.  Part of our job at Gotham Grazer is to show students how they can skew the food system by purchasing fruits, vegetables, and meat that is produced sustainably and ethically. Our society will likely never return to the minimalistic eating habits that existed in the mid-20th century, and we need to find a way to enjoy the variety that we crave, while still making sustainable choices. 

 

Bronx Hot Sauce

If you live in NYC, this hot sauce should be in your pantry!

Check out Edible Bronx's interview with King Phojanakong - restaurateur, chef, and creator of Bronx Hot Sauce.  In the interview, Phojanakong discusses what inspired him to become a chef, how he developed his unique hot sauce, and the role that the Bronx community plays in the sauce's creation.  In fact, one of our Gotham Grazer schools harvested their first round of peppers to be used in the sauce this past November!

Classroom Update: Q&A Panel

Our students get some one-on-one time with professionals in the sustainable food sector.

Last week, one of our Gotham Grazer schools hosted a guest speaker Q&A Panel in their Food Science and Culture class.  Our panelists included an urban agriculture design consultant from Blue Planet Consulting and a nutritionist from Community Healthcare Network.  In the days leading up to this event, students researched the panelists and their organizations, preparing a number of questions that would lead the 45-minute discussion.  After the panel concluded, the students had a chance to talk to each of the panelists individually with any follow up questions. As the end of the semester nears, this panel was a great way to tie together many of the topics that were studied since September!

Classroom Update: Holiday Treats

As we are gearing up for winter break, the environmental club at one of our schools hosted a holiday party equipped with yummy, yet alternative treats: sweet potato muffins and coconut macaroons.  

Although these are still baked goods and should indeed be eaten in moderation, they have some added health benefits that make them a bit more guilt-free than some of your typical holiday dessert items.  

For instance, sweet potatoes are high in Vitamins B6, C, and D, as well as iron, magnesium, potassium, and carotenoids.  Not to mention that they are a winter vegetable, so if you are able, you can buy them locally at your nearest farm stand.  Coconuts, mainly their oil, have been in the spotlight for their amazing benefits, many of which have to do with the healthy fatty acids that they contain.  Because of the way these fatty acids are structured, they actually promote weight loss, provide energy, ward off a number of diseases, and improve skin health.  To experience these delicious treat options, check out the recipes for yourself: Sweet Potato Muffins  and Coconut Macaroons.

Given that this is our last post before the holidays, we want to give a huge thank you to one of our champion partners: Con Edison.   Voted as the "Greenest Utility Company in the United States" in 2011, this company is dedicated to renewable energy, and environmental stewardship is at the core of their mission; we are proud to have Con Edison as a partner to Gotham Grazer!  

Happy Holidays to all of our readers - see you next year!

Classroom Update: Visit from Bareburger

One of our schools gets a lesson in sustainable agriculture from an organic restaurant franchise.

At this Gotham Grazer school, a new quarter means a whole different group of students.  We hit the ground running for these classes and started right away with the food mapping exercise, getting the students to think about the sustainable food resources that exist in their neighborhoods.  After Thanksgiving break, we had a guest speaker from Bareburger, a franchise that serves organic meals made with locally grown ingredients, as well as sustainably-sourced (and somewhat unconventional) meat, such as bison, elk, and duck.  Their menu also has a variety of meat-free and gluten-free options.  Gotham Grazer is proud to call Bareburger a partner in our program, and we were so excited to have them visit! 

 

The students were addressed by Anthony Roman, who gave a thorough run-down on what organic farmers do differently than conventional farmers and explained how food sustainability is a key component to Bareburger's business model. Anthony also stressed the importance of purchasing power and voting power, empowering the students to realize the impact that their choices have.  We had an active discussion in both class sessions about the student's opinions on eating sustainably and their experiences at different restaurants, and many were excited to check out the food at their nearest Bareburger.  A big thank you to Anthony and Bareburger for all of their support in our program, and we are looking forward to having them visit our other schools!

Classroom Update: Food Maps

What type of food is available in your neighborhood?

The students at one of our Gotham Grazer schools sought to answer this question with their food mapping project, which they presented at their annual Harvest Celebration last week. Working in groups, the students located different sustainable and unsustainable resources within their communities, plotting them first on digital maps and later creating posters to display.  

Depending on the ratio of sustainable to unsustainable resources, the students determined if the area they mapped should be considered a food desert, or an area that lacks access to supermarkets and fresh, healthy food.  

How does living in a food desert affect someone's daily life? 

Without fresh fruits and vegetables, people can develop a myriad of health problems (obesity, diabetes, ADHD, fatigue), as well as an overall disinterest in eating healthy.  Since the food we eat affects our ability to focus and stay awake, lacking access to healthy food can hinder a student's performance in school.  Looking at it from a bigger picture, without farmers markets and community gardens, community members have less opportunities for interacting and strengthening neighborhood bonds.  People who see where their food is grown, or know where it comes from, are more likely to care about supporting local farmers and to be educated in food-related issues.

The students researched many of the consequences mentioned above that relate to living in a food desert (or for some, the positive consequences of not living in a food desert). They also included at least one solution on their posters, such as identifying a green space where a garden could be started.

Although the students were initially hesitant about the amount of work this project entailed, it was very clear at the Harvest Celebration that they had learned a lot about their communities and understood that eating sustainably is important for humans and the environment. 

 Two students explain their research on hormone imbalance and unhealthy eating to their Assistant Principal.

Two students explain their research on hormone imbalance and unhealthy eating to their Assistant Principal.

 
 This group identified Fordham Road in the Bronx to be lacking in sustainable food resources, and identified a space where they think a community garden should be established.

This group identified Fordham Road in the Bronx to be lacking in sustainable food resources, and identified a space where they think a community garden should be established.

Classroom Update: Garden Work Day

As the number of warm days dwindle down, our students spend as much time as possible preparing their community garden for the winter!  During this work day, we focused on weeding, raking, and composting several beds.  The students also planted cold-hardy greens for the winter, such as kale and bok choy, and began digging a trench for daffodil bulbs.  

 The community garden beds were in much need of some water and compost!

The community garden beds were in much need of some water and compost!

This garden is also one of many that is involved with the Bronx Hot Sauce project, in partnership with GrowNYC.  The students grow and harvest chili peppers that are used in this locally famous hot sauce, and part of the proceeds are then returned to the garden!  Some brave students even tried a pepper, although most regretted not having a drink nearby.

 Chili peppers for the Bronx Hot Sauce are ready to be harvested.

Chili peppers for the Bronx Hot Sauce are ready to be harvested.

IMG_1652.JPG

We also visited the site where the school's personal garden will be expanding.  Although the original garden site is inaccessible due to current construction on the school, it will nearly double in size by the time all repairs are finished!

 Behind the fence is the school's first garden site, which will nearly double in size after this excavated area has been finished.

Behind the fence is the school's first garden site, which will nearly double in size after this excavated area has been finished.

Classroom Update: Wheat and the Industrial Food System

One of our Gotham Grazer classes focuses on connecting the students to the food that they eat - through cooking!  While learning about the industrial food system, the students took a step back in time, and made their own flour from wheat grains.  Store-bought flour is usually produced in large-scale facilities, but our students got up close and personal with the process, and cranked a hand mill to grind up their grains.  They used the flour to cook their own pancakes, and added in a delicious, no-sugar-added, strawberry compote.

 

Before making the flour, the students brushed up on their wheat anatomy.  Each grain of wheat consists of three parts: the bran, the endosperm, and the germ. White flour only contains the endosperm, whereas whole-wheat flour uses all three parts of the grain.  As shown in the diagram, the bran and germ contain fiber, vitamins, minerals, and nutrients; this is why whole-wheat bread is considered more healthy than white bread.

What role does wheat play in the industrial food system?  

Wheat has been a staple crop since it was originally domesticated about 10,000 years ago.  Domesticated wheat is different from wild wheatmainly because the seeds are larger, wider, and easier for humans to harvest on a timed schedule.  Wheat, along with corn and soy, are subsidized by the U.S. government, giving farmers an incentive to grow these crops in abundance.  That is why we often see these crops being used in animal feed or as fillers in processed foods.  As industrial agriculture developed after World War II, monoculture (or farming only one specific crop on a large area of land) became the norm in order to maximize profits. This type of farming is the opposite of what the organic movement aims to accomplish; it does not have a range of biodiversity, and it makes the use of pesticides inevitable.  

So, the next time that you make pancakes, consider what type of flour you are buying.  Is it organic?  Perhaps you even milled it yourself!

Spotlight: Hannah Dehradunwala of Transfernation

In our society, everything is about speed and convenience.  More people would be likely to compost their food scraps, or donate extra food to a shelter, if doing so was easy.   As we covered in a recent post, the DSNY has approached this fact of human nature by beginning a curbside collection program for food scraps.  Although composting is a win for the environment, it does not address the issue of hunger.  

That’s where Transfernation comes in.

Just shy of three years old, this organization is tackling food waste and hunger head on.  Acting as the middle-man, they connect corporations that have excess food to those who lack food resources. The delivery locations – usually churches and shelters – receive hundreds of pounds of food a week. Their mission statement, as posted on their website, says: 

“We aim to alleviate hunger by eliminating waste culture and enabling the transfer of food from those with extra to those in need.”

 

Last week, we sat down with Co-Founder Hannah Dehradunwala to learn more about her revolutionary organization.

 Hannah Dehradunwala, Co-Founder of Transfernation

Hannah Dehradunwala, Co-Founder of Transfernation

Hannah is a recent graduate of the NYU Gallatin School of Individualized Study, with a self-made major in Politics of the Resource Gap.  In her words, her studies explored the “political reasons behind resource and inequity around the world.”  Although originally from the east coast, her family relocated to Pakistan for seven years, and then to Saudi Arabia for one.  Her experiences in these countries – and their differing governmental systems – caused her to question how politics can influence growth, and also made her more aware of global hunger problems.  When recalling Pakistan’s unspoken clean plate policy, Hannah said, “If you don’t finish what’s on your plate, you can literally step outside and give it to someone. It’s not waste, it’s extra.”

 

The idea for Transfernation arose her sophomore year, when she and co-founder Samir Goel pitched their concept to the Stern Social Impact Business Challenge.  “We lost – badly,” said Hannah.  But with a 35-page business plan ready to go, they were not about to give up just yet. 

In March of 2014, about four months after their first pitch, Hannah and Samir received a grant from the Clinton Global Initiative University (CGI U) and things took off from there.  On top of their studies at NYU, Hannah and Samir were running their organization - coordinating pick-ups and deliveries, building a volunteer base, and making a name for themselves.

 

Since Hannah graduated, Transfernation has grown immensely.  “In the beginning,” she explains, “it was a lot of outreach on our part; a lot of ‘Come work with us, please!’ But now its come to the point where they’ve started reaching out to us.”  In the last year and a half alone, they have collected 33,000 pounds of food; a partner church in Harlem recently told Hannah that they have expanded their food program from one day a week to five.

How does the “transfer” of food work? 

Volunteers are notified as to when a food pick-up is ready, and they transport the delivery from one party to another. Companies are partnered with a specific church or shelter, making the system much more personal. Hannah describes that the partnership actually goes both ways: “What’s good is that they establish a relationship with each other, to the point where some of the churches will tell the companies what to make.”

Transfernation currently only caters to Manhattan, but they are in the process of expanding to Brooklyn and the Bronx.  In fact, an entrepreneurial class at Fordham University is spearheading their Bronx expansion.  Hannah, who checks in with the class every Wednesday, said, “The students are getting in touch with the corporations and the shelters, and setting up a volunteer base.”

Additionally, the Transfernation app is being launched in about a month.  The app will streamline the pick up and delivery process, making it easier to bring the business to other cities.  When asked if she thinks this organization would ever move outside of New York, Hannah said, “We are working on trying to expand to Washington D.C., but I see this as something that could be in the whole of the U.S.” 

Not only does Hannah hope that Transfernation will one day be nationwide, but she is determined to make food waste a thing of the past.  “I think food waste is something that can be solved in our lifetime.  There will always be waste, but you can really cut it down if you have a process in place.”

We couldn’t agree more with Hannah, and we are looking forward to what Transfernation has in store for the future.  Lucky for us, Hannah will be featured as a guest lecturer in our partner high schools this fall.  We’ll be sure to update you on the conversations that are had in the classroom!

 

Classroom Update: Test Your Knowledge

Time to hit the ground running!

Although school is just kicking into gear here in the city, we gave our students a short quiz from our Earth Day/Every Day Food Toolkit to see how much they already know – or don’t know – about sustainable food.  Our goal is that by the end of the year, they will be able to answer these questions with ease.

Now it’s your turn - how much do YOU know about the sustainable food movement?

Quiz: Test Your Before-and-After Knowledge

1. What comes to mind when you hear the word “organic”? 

2. What are the benefits of “organic” food? 

3. What is an “industrial food system”? 

4. Who is Rachel Carson, Wendell Berry, or Michael Pollan? Describe what you know about each of these people. 

5. What are the benefits of eating plants instead of meat? 

6. What is “local food”? 

7. What are the benefits of “local food”? 

8. Who grows the food you eat and where is it grown? 

9. Do you have access to sustainable food in your community? If so, where? List 10 or more of those resources here. 

10. What sustainable food resources are lacking in your community? 

 

How did you do? Similar to our students, you might not know all of the answers, but if you stay up to date with our blog, you should be a pro in no time! 

 

 

Welcome to Gotham Grazer

Earth Day Initiative is excited to launch our Gotham Grazer program this September!  We will be working with three different high schools throughout the city, providing both formal sustainable food education and interactive, hands-on activities that will empower students to be agents of change.  We will be bringing in guest lecturers that work in the sustainable food sector, giving the students access to a variety of role models, contacts, and career opportunities.  As the year progresses, the students will create maps that lay out existing food resources in their communities, as well as develop real-world sustainable food projects of their own.

Participating students will have a unique learning experience that will encourage them to live greener, more sustainable lives and pursue careers in sustainable food.  We hope to make the students more aware of the environmental and health issues that surround our food system, and give them the necessary tools to make positive changes in their schools and neighborhoods.  As such, the benefits of this program are not bounded to the classroom, as the food maps and projects that the students produce could become major resources for their communities.   By the end of the year, these students will be active members of their communities and confident advocates for the sustainable food movement!

Not only will we be using this blog to share stories from the Gotham Grazer program, but we will also be highlighting news articles and resources that are related to the sustainable food movement.  Stay tuned as we kick things off and get to work!