As the effects of pollution, malnutrition and global warming become clearer to humanity, the study of the environment and the fostering of young peoples’ connection to the earth are now more critical than ever. Youth in NYC grow up within a concrete jungle. From an early age their connection to nature is muted, and their understanding of the interdependence of all life is lost.
At the same time, the study of our natural environment is often seen as a periphery class given little attention within public schools. Furthermore, historically, the environmental movement has been largely a movement of the older generation. Few efforts have been successful in engaging youth of color.
Within this context, the movement to sustain and develop green spaces within the inner-city is a critical step towards rebuilding our human connection to the earth. Community gardens provide space for community residents to reconnect with nature, and develop an understanding of the importance of fruits, vegetables, birds, bugs and other organisms critical to our survival.
Within The Brotherhood/Sister Sol we have developed a new concept in community gardening, designed to attract and educate a new generation of environmentalists. We are building a unique Environmental Education Complex within our community garden. We utilize exciting technology (including edible walls, aquaponic and hydroponic techniques), combined with more tradition growing methods, to demonstrate sustainable agriculture can be developed within an urban context. Our youth-built green house and gardens are an indoor/outdoor environmental classroom for groups of youth from schools and CBO’s throughout the city. In addition, we hook youth who are normally difficult to reach with traditional classroom tactics, through our hands-on approach to environmental education, and our group-building challenge course which has been integrated throughout our community garden.
The Gaia Renaissance
The name “Gaia Renaissance” was chosen by Bro/Sis members to represent their efforts to learn about environmental issues and engage in environmental activism. “Gaia” is the ancient Greek goddess that symbolizes Mother Earth.
Gaia Summer Internships
The Gaia Summer Internship is the primary entry-point into the Gaia Renaissance Collective. Over the course of the 7-week internship members work and learn through a combination of hands-on gardening and construction activities, educational workshops, and leadership development projects.
Gaia Renaissance Collective
Following the Summer Internship, participants join the Gaia Renaissance Collective, the leadership Collective of our Environmental Program. These members are responsible for assisting with the coordination of all aspects of the program. Over the course of the school year they meet on a weekly basis to plan activities and continue the learning and development that began during the summer. Our environmental curriculum is focused on developing members awareness around 6 themes: Food Empowerment; Leadership Development; Waste Management; Sustainable Design; Community Organizing; and Horticulture Science.
As with all Bro-Sis programs, alumni of the Environmental Program tend to stay involved. Upon graduation, these members join our informal group of “Gaia Gurus” who support the learning experiences of younger members.
Bro-Sis members in elementary and Jr. High School may join our “Junior Gaia” program. Over the course of the school year they learn about environmental and health issues, assist with maintenance of our community garden, and collaborate with collective members.
Our work in the Frank White Memorial Garden is supported by a host of community residents who assist with the gardening, maintenance and supervision of activities. Some of these volunteers have been involved since the garden was founded.
Hamilton Heights Youth Market
Our youth-run Farmer’s Market operates every Wednesday from July through November. Each season we sell over 4 tons of fresh and healthy food to local residents, and educate residents on the importance of healthy lifestyles. In addition, through workshops and hands-on management of the market, youth develop business skills and explore career opportunities in the environmental sector.
Group Challenge Course
Throughout the Frank White Garden we have constructed an exciting challenge course with a series of team-building activities. Each challenge requires groups to use teamwork and creativity to succeed. Over the course of their leadership development, members of the Gaia Renaissance Collective develop the ability to guide groups of visitors (and other Bro/Sis members) through the challenge course, improving their bond and leadership capacity.
As a high-school student, Environmental Program Coordinator, Nando Rodriguez designed a unique composting bin. This original design is currently used by members to build bins for our garden. Over the course of the year members collect organic material from our headquarters, local residents and the garden itself, and engage in experiments with various composting techniques.
Each year members and volunteers gather to determine new components of the community garden. Paths, planting beds, benches and gazebos are all designed and built by our youth members and volunteers.
Innovative Growing Techniques
Within our garden we grow over 20 varieties of fruits and vegetables. We are constantly experimenting with innovative techniques. All of the produce we grow is either consumed by members and community residents, or sold at our youth market.
Each year members develop environmental workshops designed to educate their peers. They also bring together organizations and individuals to work collectively towards community improvement efforts.