A 1400-square foot smart and sustainable hydroponic urban farm
sits on the third floor rooftop of a New York City public school. It’s home to The Greenhouse Project, a strategic partnership between a small group of parents and educators and New York Sun Works, a NYC-based non-profit organization that builds innovative science labs in urban schools. The farm is a laboratory, a dynamic classroom in which city kids learn where their food comes from, how much energy is used to produce it, and the relationships between diet and health, food and the environment.
Inspired by New York Sun Works’s Science Barge, a floating laboratory and urban farm, The Sun Works Centre for Environmental Studies–the flagship Greenhouse Project Science Laboratory–opened in the Autumn of 2010 at the Manhattan School for Children It’s a novel way, not off learning, but rather of experiencing science, in this living lab, which is an integrated part of the school’s curriculum, students learn to appreciate the importance of sustainable development and the connections between cultural and biological diversity, while at the same time they become empowered to make educated choices about their own impact on the environment. It’s a whole learning approach–students make connections between what they are learning in science and social studies and how all of it is reflected in the world in which they live.
Local Learning About Global Issues
To date, about 1200 students students from kindergarten through eighth grade have participated in the project, a hands-on classroom and science lab that brings to the hyper-local level issues of global concern: climate change, the efficient use of water and energy, how to build greener cities, and how to grow a secure and healthy food supply.
“It’s so great seeing the kids working in teams,” said NYSW Director, Laurie Schoeman. “They are learning together–learning critical thinking skills that they can take home with them, apply to their own lives. They see and make connections that they can take from one part of their lives to the next.”
The lab, available every day of the school year, allows 40 children at a time to experience science through interactive technologies such as hydroponic vegetable farming, aquaponics, raised soil beds, solar panels, rainwater catchment system, weather station, wind energy, worm composting, and a kitchen corner.
In lieu of chemicals, the farm makes use of beneficial bugs for pest control. Using smart technologies like the interactive displays in their weather station, students monitor and record variables in humidity, temperature, solar radiation, and carbon dioxide inside and outside the greenhouse.
Cultivating Sustainability Educators
The growing continues beyond the lab, as New York Sun Works has identified teacher support and training as a crucial component of the Greenhouse Project initiative. At The Sun Works Centre, educators from around the city, the region, and the world receive training in the environmental science curriculum. The training allows elementary school teachers to bring STEM + sustainability education back to their own students and classrooms. Participating teachers are provided with all necessary materials, including small hydroponic kits and composting bins for classroom use, however as Schoeman explained, they can still impact schools by providing teachers with a do-it-yourself hydroponic kit and instruction that they can then bring back to the classroom and integrate into their own curriculums. The programme’s objective is simple, to inspire students to ask questions, investigate systems, make predictions, and design solutions while meeting and exceeding NYC Science Standards.