New Faculty Spotlight: Annie Hauck-Lawson P'10, '13, Sustainability Curriculum Coordinator
Sharing Her Passions for Greening, Food, and Composting with Poly’s Students and Faculty
The Poly Pulse caught up with the intrepid Dr. Annie Hauck-Lawson P’10, ’13 as she worked in Poly’s greenhouse on our Dyker Heights campus. Hauck-Lawson spoke passionately about her role as Poly’s new Sustainability Curriculum Coordinator and on her plans for the future.
To understand Hauck-Lawson, it helps to understand where that passion comes from. Growing up in 1960s and ‘70s in Park Slope, Hauck-Lawson experienced “a Brooklyn lived through the lens of food: seeing it, growing it, gathering it, giving it, sharing it, at times selling it, cooking it, eating it, and enjoying it.” (Gastropolis: Food & New York City, edited by Annie Hauck-Lawson and Jonathan Deutsch)
What is now termed “sustainability” was a natural part of Hauck-Lawson’s family life. Her mother was born on a farm in Poland and her father had studied agriculture. They lived in a brownstone, but her mother “used every little bit of space in the small yard.” They even had fruit trees. The arrival of an occasional pet pig or live turkey was not uncommon and, for a while, Hauck-Lawson was a very serious beekeeper.
“My mother bought distressed vegetables, and I learned to pare them down,” Hauck-Lawson said. “There was no waste.” Any food scraps went into a compost heap. To this day, Hauck-Lawson and her mother share a plot in Floyd Bennett Field Gardens, Brooklyn’s largest community garden.
As a 20-year-old, Hauck-Lawson and her sister went into business and set up a “healthy food” cart in Downtown Brooklyn, way ahead of its time. The venture was short-lived, but her interest in food continued. She earned a B.A. in foods and nutrition from Brooklyn College and an M.A. in community nutrition and became a registered dietician.
For six and a halfyears she worked at The Door, [http://www.door.org/] a multi-services educational and social service center for adolescents. In her work, Hauck-Lawson traveled to city public schools to study lunch programs “to improve food consumption.” In 1979, Hauck-Lawson gave testimony on school feeding programs to the New York State Assembly and, as a result, received a grant to run school lunch programs, including workshops for food preparers.
For 25 years, Hauck-Lawson taught in the CUNY (City University of New York) system. As Associate Professor in the Department of Health and Nutrition Sciences at Brooklyn College, she served as Food Curator for New York City’s exhibit at the 2001 Smithsonian Folklife Festival in Washington, D.C.
At Kingsborough Community College, she had the opportunity to teach 7th and 8th graders about “kitchen gardening.” Many of them were immigrants, she said. “A student from Pakistan or Russia would tell me that they had gardened the same way with their grandparents as I had with mine.”
Hauck-Lawson came to the point in her professional life when it was “my turn” to follow “my passion,” which was “composting and composting education.” She became a certified master composter.
As a Poly parent, Hauck-Lawson was very familiar with the Dyker Heights campus. She and her husband, Daniel Lawson, had donated bins and composting equipment when Poly’s greenhouse was built in 2009 through the generosity of parents and alumni.
This year, Hauck-Lawson became Poly’s part-time Sustainability Curriculum Coordinator. She is at the Greenhouse all day Monday and Wednesday, caring for the plants, as one of Poly’s “Garden Buddies,” and tending to the compost bins behind the Greenhouse.
Hauck-Lawson’s goal is to support Lower School, Middle School, and Upper School faculty as they seek to integrate sustainability topics into the curriculum. Recently, for example, he invited the faculty to the greenhouse for a reception featuring fruits harvested from the greenhouse and organic gardens nearby and then again, later, for “a chat with the theme of incorporating sustainability into your courses.”
“Going forward, as you envision what could work for you and your students, we will do our best to support that happening,” Hauck-Lawson told teachers.
On a recent morning, Marie Corkhill’s 5th graders came to learn about composting firsthand. They had already studied decomposition in class, but with Hauck-Lawson directing them, they took pitchforks and dug out the compost materials from the wooden compost bin and placed the black material onto a blue tarp for inspection. She showed them the scraps of vegetables, orange rinds, flowers, and eggshells in the process of decomposing. A student spotted a worm, a helper in the process. Hauck-Lawson showed the students an oxygen pipe, which facilitates decomposition and explained the need for the right mix of brown and green materials in the pile to add carbon and nitrogen to the process.
Faculty and staff are welcome to drop off compost materials on Mondays and Wednesdays, Hauck-Lawson said. Food scraps from Commons are also added to the mix. Nearby, leaves were being raked and Hauck-Lawson noted that some are added to the compost mix and some are sent to the Brooklyn Botanic Garden for composting.
Hauck-Lawson also sits in on meetings of the Upper School Environmental Club and has participated in Olivia Tandon’s Upper School Environmental Class field trip to Brighton Beach.
Incorporating sustainability into the curriculum is not limited to botany or biology. Art students come to the greenhouse to sketch. Hauck-Lawson foresees art classes creating pots for greenhouse plants. She is also supervising a senior’s independent study project on food and sustainability.
In anticipation of the 6th grade Ancient Civilizations Festival in March, Hauck-Lawson said she plans to grow plants, which can be used for dyes, to color material for costumes that students will wear.
Last week, Hauck-Lawson began a series of “5-minute 'Pop Up' demonstrations” in the greenhouse, which will be held at the end of Environmental Club meetings on alternate weeks. “The aim is to briefly demonstrate something on a botanical, horticultural, agricultural, or sustainable theme,” Hauck-Lawson said.
In last week's demonstration, she showed how to make “a plant rooting hormone using willow branches.” “When we take cuttings to propagate beautiful plants, this brew—using ingredients from nature—can help your transplants to root faster and with less shock,” Hauck-Lawson explained.
Hauck-Lawson said she welcomes all students, who would like to work in the greenhouse, especially 9th graders who may need on-campus community service hours.