There is an ongoing conversation about Nature Deficiency Disorder, suggesting that children who lose touch with nature and their natural surroundings miss out on the calming effect of the outdoors. As an Emmy-nominated media producer looking to combine a love of science, children, and gardening, starting the iDig2Learn initiative in March 2012 seemed natural for me. The philosophy behind iDig2Learn is that working together to create green spaces like science gardens builds knowledge, and creates another source of interest that will strengthen the bonds of friendship in diverse communities for years to come. Our mission is to provide hands-on opportunities where children and their families can explore science and healthy food through plant life.
But don’t be fooled. This initiative goes way beyond healthy fruit and vegetables. Educational gardens, or “transformative green spaces,” are the hooks that captivate and excite. Once you have your audience, you can sneak in the science, renewable energy, nutrition, technology, and vital career skills. Interconnectivity is becoming the norm, and it seems we are in the golden age of policy that reflects our need to work with nature, not against it.
Cities worldwide are having conversations about the growing human population, limited access to clean water, and prevalent illness. Our entire food system is under review as people wish for local, clean food, and cities look to save on healthcare costs. Architects are drawing self-sufficient vertical farms for cities in hopes that they will be created. One creative design by Vincent Callebaut Architectures imagined Roosevelt Island as a vertical farm location and called it Dragonfly. It is an exciting time of problems, and the fun part of any problem is finding creative solutions. How better than to pose a question to children?
It is a joy inspiring young people to promote community engagement, or look for ways to improve their environment using their own creative ideas. In one particular instance, the leaders of our Girl Scouts troop wanted the girls to understand a public project and the structure of how to get one off the ground. We used the recent good news of the 6,750-square-foot PS/IS 217 Green Roof project making it to the District 5 Participatory Budget ballot as a long-term legacy project that would benefit the community. We had a lively discussion with the Girl Scouts, starting with a simple question: What do you do when you want something? Answers included “beg my parents” (i.e., negotiate with someone who has the power to say yes) and “ask friends to help” (i.e., get the community involved). The Scouts realized that a campaign was necessary, and are talking to the community at the Farmer’s Market and other venues leading up to Participatory Budgeting voting week. This was a fun way to create a framework with an action plan while illustrating that every voice matters.
iDig2Learn also provides enrichment sessions in the spring and fall at the Youth Center. As part of collaboration with Charlie DeFino, Executive Director of the Roosevelt Island Youth Program, students participate in hands-on science in a renovated outdoor learning center space. Often, corporate volunteers and other groups help out, which builds bonds between organizations that may have the same goal, but have not had the opportunity to work with each other. We can be inspired by other interesting initiatives, like a landscape-architecture project that created a rooftop farm for residents in the South Bronx to use and enjoy in a modern affordable housing project called Via Verde. There, they helped tenants create a Garden Club, providing ongoing programming for years. The 5,000-square-foot communal garden produced an assortment of organic heirloom herbs, vegetables, and edible flowers in the first season. A thousand pounds went to Via Verde Garden Club members, a Brownsville food pantry, and an elementary school in nearby Mott Haven.
Whether it is following in the footsteps of the Historical Society’s founder, Judy Berdy, the first to host a massive daffodil planting, or working with the community to produce an Earth Day celebration, or guiding inspiration tours with PS/IS 217 students to the beautiful community garden to meet the Garden Club, all is possible when everyone says “yes.” And the iDig2Learn initiative has been overwhelmed with “yes.”
This spring, thanks to a Grow to Learn Mini-Grant from the Mayor’s Fund to Advance NYC, iDig2Learn will host science-garden sessions in the Youth Center’s outdoor courtyard space. We will use the courtyard as an environmental learning center to enrich the school science curriculum by allowing students to collect data, measure growth, explore living systems, understand weather, plant vegetables, and understand how plants aid our daily lives. This program will be available to first-, second-, and third-grade students at PS 217, as well as hundreds of children who are at the Youth Center after school.
The Earth gives us so much – oxygen, water, trees, clean food, medicine, clothing, furniture, spices, coffee, and chocolate! It seems only right that we show our appreciation with a proper party. Join us next Saturday on the Tram lawn. Our sponsors at Riverwalk, Shops on Main, Manhattan Park, Rivercross Tenants’ Corporation, and Roosevelt Landings support this free event for all ages. While there, please vote at the Visitor Kiosk (11:00 a.m.-5:00 p.m.) for two Island projects on the Participatory Budgeting ballot.
For more about iDig2Learn, go to iDig2Learn.org.