Saving Energy: Your Food Next Door
Irene Shen believes that young people best engage in environmental issues when they can connect to nature, find relevancy of those issues in their own lives and witness their actions making a difference. Global topics such as climate change often seem too big to tackle – students may be aware of them, but don’t know how to begin addressing them.
Irene is working to change that! Working in both Brooklyn, NY and in Poughkeepsie, NY, she has introduced teens to the connection between food and climate change. Since we all have to eat, there’s no denying that food is everyone’s issue. Irene is spreading the word that our food choices can have a great impact on the environment.
In Brooklyn, Irene was the partnership director at the Brooklyn Academy of Science and the Environment (BASE), a public high school serving students of color in under-resourced and overdeveloped communities. There she founded a sustainable agriculture program providing opportunities for Brooklyn teens to plant crops, understand community food systems and the politics and history of growing food. Students share their work through a semi-annual Harvest Day event sponsored by the Department of Education’s SchoolFood office and the New York State Department of Agriculture and Markets. For Harvest Day, students grow their own food to serve for school lunch.
Upstate in Poughkeepsie, Irene is doing what she taught her students at BASE to do, but on a larger scale. Irene is a farm intern at the Poughkeepsie Farm Project (PFP), a farm dedicated to growing local, sustainable and equitable food systems. There she helps to produce 10 acres of organically grown mixed vegetable and small fruit crops within the city limits. The food goes to members of the community supported agriculture (CSA), an in-town farmer’s market and local emergency food institutions. PFP is committed to providing access to good, local and healthy food for all people.
Through her Toyota TogetherGreen Fellowship project, “Saving Energy: Your Food Next Door,” Irene created a curriculum to train and educate BASE students and teen visitors at PFP about the connections between food production and climate change. Through the curriculum, BASE students not only provided their peers access to local, naturally grown food, but also gained the knowledge to educate their peers that choosing these foods means choosing to be an energy conservationist. On the farm, many young people come through to help and learn about sustainable growing practices. Now, they also learn about how PFP’s model of food production and distribution has a reduced impact on climate change.
These teens are the agents of change as they are armed with the knowledge that what we choose to eat can help the environment. With young people engaged in both sustainable agriculture and energy conservation, Irene’s project not only helped the local communities, but also the environment at-large.