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Meet Manuela Zamora - Executive Director of NY Sun Works

Committed to raising awareness of sustainability by building innovative hydroponics labs in schools, Manuela co-founded a program that teaches science through the lenses of urban farming.

Originally from Bolivia, Manuela Zamora is a consultant in gender, education, and development. She founded the Fundación Carmen, where she created El Dorado (the Route of Fair Trade), a program that promoted sustainable development by training low-income women artisans in production and marketing. Before her work with Fundación Carmen, she coordinated the division of cultural events and volunteer programs in the Office of the First Lady of Bolivia. Now based in New York City, she co-founded the Greenhouse project of NY Sun Works.

NY Sun Works is a non-profit organization that builds innovative science labs in urban schools to teach students sustainability through hydroponic farming technology. These labs were called the Greenhouse Project, and they operate as an integrated part of the school’s curricula and prepare children to exceed NYC’s science standards. It offers all students the opportunity to grow food while learning hands-on about nutrition benefits, water resource management, efficient land use, climate change, biodiversity, conservation, contamination, pollution, waste management, and sustainable development. The organization’s goal is to train a generation of environmental innovators, empowered to create solutions to global resource challenges.

Last week, Chefs for Impact visited the first labs created by NY Sun Works in 2010, a green farm on the rooftops of PS 333 school in the heart of Manhattan. We had an exciting meeting during which we learned a lot from Manuela and Dave Hazan, an urban farmer specialized in aquaponics and hydroponics.

Impactful data:

135: is the number of labs built by NY Sun Works in 10 years

360: is the number of teachers trained

40,000+: is the number of students reached

200: is the varieties of produce grown by The Greenhouse project every year in schools (lettuces, greens, basil, microgreens, kale, cherry tomatoes, cucumbers, peppers, peas, strawberries, edible flowers, pumpkins, zucchini, etc.

100,000 lb: is the labs’ capacity to grow vegetables every year

Like any organization, NY Sun Works has had some challenges: the high cost of facilities, the funding, and the energy required to operate its equipment. But “the benefits and successes are so immense, it's definitely worth it!” – says Manuela. In addition to the learning and enrichment offered by these programs, the organization provides access to healthy food to families who may not have the means or knowledge. The children get to grow and harvest food in their classroom and then take it home. “It’s exciting because they reap the benefits of their efforts. The harvest is like a celebration and it is the foundation of the success of the program” - states Zamora.

When I asked why they chose to develop hydroponic farms rather than soil-ground vegetable gardens in schools, the answer was clear: “Compared to traditional production, hydroponics has the following advantages: more efficient use of water, higher production in the same amount of space, fast-growing so the kids can see the results quickly, controlled environment and production, no pesticides used, and it is from harvest to plate!”

One-third of children in the U.S. are considered overweight or obese. Most schools don’t incorporate food education into their curricula but it can empower youth to make healthier eating behaviors. NY Sun Works is raising awareness of the importance of food and nutrition education.

Thank you and welcome Manuela Zamora to Chefs for Impact!



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