Sweet Success: Bronx Guild High School’s Urban Farm

from Wildlife Promise

By Amy Sirot

Science teacher Bill Lynam (far right) and his students raise chickens and honeybees, grow organic produce and improve green space. Photo: ?

Science teacher Bill Lynam (far right) and his students raise chickens and honeybees, grow organic produce and improve green space. Photo: DNAinfo/Serena Solomon

At Bronx Guild High School, a small inner-city Eco-School with an extremely diverse minority population of 325, students are raising chickens, cultivating honeybees, growing organic produce and improving green space for use as carbon sequestration zones.  The students, led by science teacher William Lynam, have turned a neglected 2-acre lot into an orchard with 150 fruit trees, producing peaches, apples, pears and figs.

An opossum is one of the wild visitors at Bronx Guild High School. Photo: Jose Espinal

An opossum is one of the wild visitors at Bronx Guild High School. Photo: Jose Espinal

Lynam, whose background is in forestry and wildlife biology, with a masters in environmental engineering, and who runs his own farm in Costa Rica, is passionate about farming as a way to teach students life skills.  “The determination, problem solving and dedication our team members invest in their projects helps them develop models applicable for success in many other areas of their lives,” says Lynam.  He and his students meet up to seven days a week to complete the daily tasks required to run and maintain a small urban farm.  ”There’s never enough time to tend all that needs tending,” says Lynam.  “The animals need daily attention all year.  Once the warm weather starts breaking out, it feels like a mad dash til first frost; indoor planting, outdoor planting, tree pruning, invasive species eradication, habitat improvement, composting, weed management, mulching, bed construction, skills transfer, pest management, irrigation, and so on,” he says.

Teacher Bill Lynam and his students raise bees. Photo: Jose Espinal

Teacher Bill Lynam and his students raise bees. Photo: Jose Espinal

During the past two years, Lynam and his students have attended beekeeping workshops and raised enough money to buy several beehives and the basic equipment to maintain them. The hives are concealed by a “barrier” made from discarded Christmas trees that the team collect from the neighborhood. While honey production has been good, they have had to resort to primitive, wasteful techniques in order to separate the honey from the comb, according to Lynam. All that changed this month, when a $500 grant from Eco-Schools corporate sponsor PricewaterhouseCoopers LLC, and additional money raised on Donorschoose.org, allowed the team to upgrade their equipment. “This will allow us to more fully engage in the business of keeping bees and harvesting their sweet product,” said Lynam. “It will ensure continued success for a group of kids who have not been the beneficiaries of a tremendous amount of opportunity in life. They have worked hard from the start, bettering our school, neighborhood and community.”

Watering the trees in the orchard. Photo: Jose Espinal

Watering the trees in the orchard. Photo: Jose Espinal

On March 8th, Bronx Guild’s orchard was the site of a MillionTreesNYC tree giveaway event. Lynam and his students helped distribute 100 trees to community members.  “Every tree planted in our community will impact individuals in positive, multiple ways,” says Lynam.  “We receive an incredible amount of support and positive feedback from our neighborhood.  It’s very encouraging, keeps us energized and moving forward,” he says. In addition to his gift for growing just about anything, Lynam is interested in eliminating waste wherever he can  “We operate from the viewpoint that there is no waste out there,” says Lynam, “only resources that require special management practices. Even the most economically challenged neighborhood around here supplies plenty of castaways for use in our projects,” he says.  This year, Bronx Guild was one of 14 NYC Eco-Schools to receive a $500 grant from the Wrigley Company Foundation to participate in Eco-Schools’ international Litter Less (waste reduction and recycling) campaign.  Bronx Guild will use the grant money to set up a source separation system in the campus dining hall that includes composting and expanded recycling.  Lynam and his students will create an educational campaign to reach the 3,000+ students in all ten high schools in the campus building.

A luscious Bronx Guild High School fig. Photo: Jose Espinal

A luscious Bronx Guild fig. Photo: Jose Espinal

“Bill is a teacher who, through his own passion for farming, gardening and ecology, is making sustainability a regular part of the school day and shaping his students’ vision of the world in ways that will likely have a lasting impact on their lives,” says Emily Fano, NYC Outreach Manager for Eco-Schools USA.  “These sensorial experiences with nature are ones that students will remember into adulthood,” she says. For more information about NYC Eco-Schools, contact Emily Fano at fanoe@nwf.org.

About the author

Amy Sirot is a journalist based in Brooklyn. She has written for Environmental Defense Fund, National Public Radio, and Appalachian Mountain Club’s AMC Outdoors. She has been an Institute for Journalism and Natural Resources Fellow, and holds a Master’s Degree in Journalism from Northwestern University.