by Gary Axelbank
October 31, 2018
International superstar Gloria Estefan visited De Witt Clinton HS in the Bronx on Tuesday to offer hands-on support for the Teens For Food Justice (TFFJ) program. She toured the school’s renowned hydroponics farm and, as she talked with the students about their planting and growing techniques and tasted some of the food being produced, she marveled at the quality of the facility and the capabilities of the students who were doing the actual indoor gardening.
Seeing the city’s largest student-built hydroponic farm up close underscored Estefan’s stated passion for food justice and what it will take to combat food insecurities in urban areas.
“I knew what they were doing, but to see it in action, to meet the students who are doing such an amazing job, nurturing these baby plants into adult plants that we then eat,” she said. “Thinking about healthy choices and being able to combine so many different types of classes that can have an impact on the students’ future and our future and they also get an idea about something they’ve never before thought to do with their lives.”
Estefan and her husband Emilio are the honorees for Tuesday night’s fundraising gala for TFFJ. The Gloria Estefan Foundation has already given more than $150,000 to TFFJ and they plan to help launch similar programs in Miami.
“I can envision this growing,” she said. “We should have it in all the schools. I only imagine how great it would be if we could combine government funding with private funding and create like a public/private trust. That would be great for our futures and the fact that the climate is changing so quickly, we don’t know how that’s going to affect food supplies in the future.”
Karolyn Kurkova, a model and actress who accompanied Estefan to the Clinton hydroponic farm reminisced about her own food growing experence as a child in Europe and said she could identify with the Bronx students who were producing 25,000 pounds of food a year from an indoor facility.
“It sounds easy, but it’s not,” she said. “You really have to care and you have to know the science behind it. You have to nurture and finesse them so they grow. It’s eye opening that they do this indoors.”
For her part, predictably, Estefan lent a little of her personal expertise to the growing process telling the students, with a lighthearted emphasis on her own stylings, that in her experience music can help plants thrive.
“It would be an awesome experiment to do something soothing and then if you want them to grow more add in a little rhythmic stuff,” she said. “But on the record, the plants that had my music grew the tallest! Actually hard rock was the toughest on them. Classical went well, but my music, hey, through the roof!”
About Teens for Food Justice
TFFJ operates and is building farms in six high-need New York City schools in four boroughs, where students grow more than 20,000 pounds of produce annually in each location. TFFJ students are empowered as 21st century urban farmers, using real-world science and technology to grow large quantities of hydroponic produce inside their schools, and as educator/ advocates leading their food-insecure communities towards healthier futures. Through the program, our young urban farmers develop a meaningful, working solution to food insecurity, as they transform their relationship to the food they eat, and develop cutting-edge science and technology skills needed in a new green sector economy.