Schoolhouse Rocks: The Greenhouse Project

A new NYC citywide initiative brings gardening to grade-school kids

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Photosynthesis, aquaponics, decomposition; some concepts are best learned by experience. Fortunately, the Greenhouse Project drops knowledge via hands-on education.

Inspired by the New York Sun Works Science Barge, parents Sidsel Robards and Manuela Zamora teamed up to bring the greenhouse laboratory to the rooftop of their children’s school. That first greenhouse project didn’t just work—it thrived, and the kids with it.

The Sun Works Center at PS1333 became the pilot for a citywide initiative. Now part of NY Sun Works, the Greenhouse Project has built two school-based greenhouses and three in-class hydroponic farms for schools without outdoor or roof access. Robards and Zamora have several greenhouses and hydroponic classroom conversions underway, with a goal to bring the Greenhouse Project to 100 NYC schools.

From watching the worms hard at work composting lunch scraps to watering organic greens and feeding tilapia (who in turn fertilize plants and can become food themselves), the Greenhouse Project’s kindergarten through 12th graders gain a holistic understanding of environmental science, biodiversity and nutrition. What better way to learn about water resource management and sustainable development than by running their own rainwater catchment system and utilizing solar panels?

The children also enjoy the fruits of their labor at school, sometimes literally: The glory of freshly picked, roof-grown strawberries, cucumbers and tomatoes can be a revelation for city kids. Schools can use the produce (potentially 8000 pounds per year!) in the cafeteria, in cooking classes, for their own farm stands or in partnership with local restaurants, food banks and shelters.

While NY Sun Works trains teachers in the greenhouse curriculum, the students themselves become teachers and advocates. One of the program’s greatest effects is its spillover from classroom to home, where many children share their conservation and nutrition know-how with their families. Hear what the Greenhouse Project kids have to say about science and sustainability at the TedX Youth Conference on June 8,2012.

Want to build something green? Learn how to bring the Greenhouse Project to your school. You can donate here; every cent helps, and $500 puts a teacher through New York Sun Works’ training.

Image courtesy of Ari Burling.