Krista Leahy

PHOTOS: New York Sun Works Plants NYC’s First Public School Greenhouse On Top of P.S. 333

by , 05/25/11

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Over 25 other schools around the country have approached NY Sun Works about incorporating similar projects into their curriculum, but being at the forefront of sustainable education has proved to be a challenge for NY Sun Works. Plenty of red tape lined the path to the opening of the greenhouse, including the approval to use the vegetables and herbs grown by the students in the cafeteria. The 1,500 square foot greenhouse is filled with various growing methods and “experiments,” but has an emphasis on hydroponics. The use of hydroponics allows for a harvest 7 to 8 times larger than conventional soil methods and also keeps the greenhouse much cleaner – a plus any teacher would appreciate. All the water used for the hydroponics is collected from rainwater and stored on site, allowing students to see the full growing process.

The Greenhouse Project was co-founded by Manuela Zamora and Sidsel Robards, parents of students enrolled at P.S. 333, who were fascinated by the Science Barge, an urban floating farm created by NY Sun Works in 2006. The Science Barge was the first fully functioning demonstration of renewable energy supporting the growth of food in NYC. It also functioned as an education center for over 20,000 visitors about issues of sustainability and urban agriculture (the Barge has since been relocated to Yonkers, New York and is under the operation of Groundworks).

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Zamora and Robards really wanted to give their children a hands-on learning experience that they could use for years to come. NY Sun Works works directly with the school to help educate teachers on hydroponic techniques so they can incorporate sustainability into their science programs. New York State has a history of under performing in science courses when compared to New Jersey, Connecticut, and other regional schools, so it really has become a crucial part of NY Sun Works’ efforts to bring science programs in the state up to par. What better way to do that than by giving students the opportunity to take what they learn in the classroom and apply it directly to projects in the greenhouse?

A unique experiment that the students are currently working on is the aquaponic growth process. While the hydroponic technique still requires the students to add nutrients to the water, the greenhouse is currently using a stonewool alternative  called Grodan Rockwool to supply the plants with the additional nutrients needed. The aquaponic tank uses only water with the nutrients coming from the waste of the tilapia that live in the tank. The additional growing technique, plus a small traditional soil planter, allows students to see the various ways to grow vegetables and compare which processes work best for the plants. The greenhouse also maximizes its growing space with a vertical green wall that lines the south facing window and works on a mechanical lever, making it easy for students to access and maintain the plants.

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In addition to over-coming the numerous obstacles such as fire codes and other safety concerns The Greenhouse Project also had to figure out how to keep the temperature just right when school is not in session. The greenhouse uses an exterior auxiliary blower unit to provide heat when the school’s heating system is turned off, and the structure keeps cool with an evaporative cooling system that lines the north wall.

New York Sun Works is in the process of building a second greenhouse in East New York’s P.S. 89, in collaboration with the Cypress Hills Local Development Corporation. On Monday, June 6, the non-profit will be hosting their Annual Benefit at the Standard in Manhattan – all are welcome! The greenhouse at P.S. 333 will also be giving tours and various workshops throughout the summer to help educate New Yorkers on the many benefits of hydroponics and urban agriculture.

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