Nurturing Green Thumbs

In an age when public schools are constantly weighing the importance of subjects and programs against each other, one New York school is getting the ultimate hands-on lesson in sustainability and science. This summer and fall, New York Sun Works constructed a greenhouse atop PS 333, hopefully one of many similar projects. The new greenhouse is a large step from growing seedlings in Dixie Cups on classroom window sills.

The pilot site was inspired by The Science Barge and will serve as an educational center for K-8 classes, teaching them, among other things about nutrition, water resource management, efficient land use, and climate change. The idea of learning through watching and doing is sure to have an impact on students growing in this densely-settled urban environment. It will show them the importance of their actions and choices, as well as open a whole new world of urban sustainability which, for even those of us who try to keep up on these subjects, is baffling at times.

The Sun Works Center greenhouse is equipped with state of the art sustainable systems including solar panels, a hydroponics growing system, a composting system, a rainwater catchment system, a weather station, and an aquaponics system. Energy requirements are lower due to advancement in greenhouse sealing, and the 40,000 gallons of water collected every year will go towards watering and cooling the system. To begin with, the kids might not really understand the awesome technological advancements they’ll be surrounded by; even as they grow up to 8,000 pounds of produce year-round and learn about the environment and how plants grow.

What they will understand is bugs! The composting station will not only contain leftover lunch scraps, but worms that will help break down the organic content. And since pesticides will not be used to keep the produce as healthy as possible, ladybugs will be in abundance, crawling and flying around to protect the growing fruits and veggies. So the kids will learn the fact that creepy crawlies can be used for more than just making your sister scream bloody murder and how bugs contribute to the environment.

To top it all off and make anyone question the awesomeness of the diagram of photosynthesis he or she drew up in elementary school, the greenhouse is created to address the learning levels of different age groups. Up to 600 plants will be grown by the students while they learn age-appropriate information on the environment and sustainability and about cucumbers, strawberries, lettuces, tomatoes, peppers, eggplants and squash, which will make great classroom snacks and cafeteria foods. For the younger growers, two raised soil beds will contain carrots, chives, celery, and beans to teach them how plants are traditionally grown in a nifty experiment about why sun+water+soil=vegetation.

So Mom and Dad don’t worry about trying to explain to Junior that fruits and veggies actually come from the ground, not just from a shelf in a supermarket or from street corner vendors.

We hope to see more of these school greenhouses popping up in urban neighborhoods, perhaps leading to a new trend in cafeteria foods: Mystery Meat Monday may soon find its place next to “Walking Uphill Both Ways in the Snow” fables of terrible school memories past.

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