A Brooklyn Preschool Grows Inspiration from (and Soon Roots in) the Hudson Valley
For as long as people have lived in bustling, crowded metropolises, they’ve sought places to retreat and recharge. For New Yorkers, that escape has often been to the Hudson Valley. Every once in a while something happens to those weekend visitors: They don’t go home.
“I had been going up to the Hudson Valley, obsessively reading memoirs about people homesteading and farming, and trying to re-create a bit of that life in the city,” said Lauren Maples. “Then this moment happened where I had the resources to buy something but was feeling so underwhelmed by what I could get in Brooklyn and realized I could actually move up here.”
Maples is the founder of Bija Kids, a preschool in Brooklyn with a focus on food, the arts and community. In 2015 she bought a place in Beacon that she has turned into a homestead with an organic vegetable garden, heritage-breed chickens, a rainwater collection system, composting and solar panels. It’s a place to connect with nature and watch things grow.
“It’s getting closer to my food source and the farms and developing some farming myself,” she said.
But her Beacon homestead is also something more. For Maples and her staff, it’s a place to draw inspiration, to try out new learning experiences and to re-think education for the next generation.
“It’s an active teaching tool for my team,” Maples said. “We’ll grow food and work out lesson plans, or think how we could transplant what we do here to our tiny space in Brooklyn.”
And one day it may be the home of Bija Kids, which has occasionally had Hudson Valley programing. This August, Bija Kids will offer two weeks of five-day, three-day or two-day camps where children ages 4–8 will get their hands dirty growing things, tasting things at the homestead and at other farms and getting to connect with the environment around them and the community. It’s the type of programming that Maples is working to incorporate into a Hudson Valley early education center, with a focus on food and farming, the arts and community engagement.
In March she purchased a rectory built in 1865 in Newburgh that had been vacant since the 1980s. Owned by the city, it’s adjacent to a one-block public park, in which as part of the purchase agreement Maples and Bija Kids will build an urban farm. They also will take on other community initiatives in addition to the school, which tentatively may open in the fall of 2018, although it might take longer if they turn the building into a passive-energy home.