Nonprofit Teens for Food Justice (TFFJ) has been awarded a $300,000, three-year grant by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) to expand its school-based, indoor hydroponic farming program throughout the Rockaway Peninsula. In partnership with the Queens South Borough Office of the New York City Department of Education (NYCDOE), TFFJ will leverage this funding to establish its farms and programming at four Rockaway Peninsula school campuses and improve access to healthy and affordable food and diet-related health outcomes in this highly isolated, under-resourced area of Queens. According to the Rockaway Business Alliance, there are only 31 delis, bodegas, and supermarkets among 1,809 retail businesses, limiting the access to healthy produce.
The USDA recently announced more than $6 million in grants and cooperative agreements through its Office of Urban Agriculture and Innovative Production (UAIP). USDA's Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) Chief Terry Cosby said, "These projects nourish communities with fresh, healthy food, teach generations the joy and fulfillment of farming and partnerships, and produce environmental benefits by reducing food waste and creating compost that can be used in a variety of farming operations."
"We are honored and thrilled to be one of only 11 Implementation Projects selected by the USDA, nationwide. This funding will allow us to significantly expand our efforts to eliminate food insecurity and its direct negative impacts on health, by placing our next generation of leaders on the frontlines of this work," said Katherine Soll, TFFJ CEO and Co-Founder.
"The Queens South NYCDOE Borough Office embraces a holistic approach in supporting schools, which is why we've advocated so strongly to expand TFFJ's program in our community. We believe this four-site farm hub will help build a lasting foundation for increased food security and equity in the borough, and specifically on the Far Rockaway Peninsula, for years to come," said Narine Bharat, the office's Director of Operations.
By the end of the grant period in 2024, through partnerships with the DOE's Queens South Borough Office, Community School District 27, the Far Rockaway High School Educational Complex, Scholars' Academy, Dr. Richard R. Green School, The School by the Sea, and the nonprofits Rockaway Youth Task Force and GrowNYC, TFFJ projects significant positive outcomes in the Rockaway Peninsula community, including:
- Engaging more than 4,000 students in hands-on STEM education and leadership development.
- Connecting students to career paths and opportunities in school-based hydroponic farms, urban agriculture, and advocacy.
- Producing 20,000 pounds of fresh produce for distribution through school lunches and within the community.
- Training approximately 20 teachers to use hydroponic farms as hands-on labs for STEM and agriculture studies.
TFFJ operates high-capacity hydroponic farms on five school campuses across four New York City boroughs. TFFJ students use real-world 21st-century science and technology to grow up to 10,000 pounds (per school) of hydroponic produce annually. Through the program, TFFJ's farmers develop a meaningful solution to food insecurity, transform their relationship with the food they eat, and develop cutting-edge STEM skills needed in a new green sector economy. The TFFJ program will launch in Denver and Miami public Schools by 2022.