Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Botanic Garden ‘Grows’ Kids With Green Values

On Saturday, as temperatures rose to unseasonably high levels and the sun came out, the Brooklyn Botanic Garden (BBG) held its 28th annual Making Brooklyn Bloom event.

Adults and children alike came out in droves to the garden for this year’s theme, “Growing Up Green: Guiding Youth From Gardening to Green-Collar Jobs.”

The theme was designed to engage kids in gardening and thus to mobilize the “greening” of urban communities, which wil
l hopefully then lead more people to green-collar careers. Scot Medbury, BBG president, said that one of the reasons the garden chose this theme was because of the “popular support for a new green-collar economy by President Obama.”

Participants attended morning and afternoon workshops, on topics ranging from cooking to gardening to composting, and perused exhibits in the Palm House (right).

The exhibits were given by greening groups from not only Brooklyn but New York City as a whole. Among the exhibitors were the Center for the Urban Environment, the Brooklyn Compost Project, East New York Farms and Slow Food NYC.

GreenBridge, the garden’s community horticulture program, gave out free plants at the Urban Oasis exhibit. At Solar One’s exhibit, attendants made solar-powered cars and at the Wyckoff Farmhouse Museum exhibit, children helped make apple cider.

Green-Collar Job Panel
One of the workshops was a panel discussing emerging green-collar jobs. Panelists were Kate Zidar (below, far right) of the North Brooklyn Compost Project, Omar Freilla (below center) of the Green Worker Cooperative in the Bronx, Ian Marvy (below, second from left) of Added Value, Annette Williams (below, second from right) of Sustainable South Bronx and Brian Aucoin (below, far left) of MillionTreesNYC Training Program.

Discussion was generated through questions from the audience, many of which were geared toward the current economic climate.

One prominent topic was how to generate revenue for a green start-up. Aucoin said, “You get it where y
ou can, any way possible,” and stressed the importance of fundraising. Freilla spoke about the New York Regional Association of Grantmakers (NYRAG), but Marvy told the audience, “it’s going to be tough for you to get a grant this year.”

He continued by saying that if you’re interested in starting a green initiative, “look at what community investment means.” He explained that he might look to his neighbors and ask them to forgo a cup of coffee a day, instead putting that money toward the initiative.

Zidar added that because of the “economic doom and gloom ,the local model starts to make more and more sense.” She gave the example of waste oil from restaurants. These restaurants could pay to have it removed, or a local business could take that oil and convert it into biodiesel fuel.

The consensus among the panelists was that it might be difficult because of the economy, but there are still many opportunities to start a green-collar career. “Grab on to a vision,” Marvy said. “It’s about leadership and finding people to work on your vision.”

Speaker Addresses Importance of Youth

The keynote speaker at the garden’s event was Maurice Small (below), program coordinator of City Fresh, an organization dedicated to building a sustainable food system in Northeast Ohio by making locally grown food more available. Small enlists underprivileged youth to help him build community gardens.

“To have entrepreneurs, you have to have confidence,” he said. “I like to think these young people are like plants. The better you nurture them the better they’ll grow. I’m confident that these young people can change countries.”

Youth in Small’s programs learn how to make compost and grow food, which they then sell. He said there was nothing more exciting to him than seeing a young person eating food that they themselves have grown.

“There is an incredible renaissance going on here,” said GreenBridge director Robin Simmen. She explained that despite recent budget cuts, the organization has figured out how to extend the Brooklyn Compost Project — “Maybe the New York City’s greenest project ever” — to 2010.

“The public is more eager than ever to learn about sustainability,” she said.

Top photo is of Elan and Ana Rabiner making apple cider at the Wyckoff Farmhouse Museum's exhibit.

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