Greenhouse Labs Spur Student Learning on Manhattan Rooftops

Encore: April 10, 2014

PBS NewsHour Weekend‘s Tracy Wholf visits P.S. 333 on the Upper West Side of Manhattan, where students are studying science in their very own rooftop greenhouse — one of 12 built as part of an initiative to put 100 greenhouse labs in New York City schools by 2020. These labs allow students to experiment with hydroponic techniques, and schools donate the extra produce to local charities.

This may look like another commercial greenhouse, but it’s actually a working science lab for students in kindergarten, up through the 8th grade. It’s one of 12 that’s been built as part of an initiative to put 100 greenhouse labs in New York City schools by 2020.

Putting greenhouses in secondary schools isn’t new, but using hydroponic growing systems is. A method of farming using water and nutrients instead of soil – hydroponic farming allows students to study a variety of environmental science concepts and urban sustainability.

New York Sun Works opened this 1400-square foot greenhouse lab on the roof of the school gymnasium in 2010. Because hydroponic growing systems are water-based, they are much lighter than their soil counterparts and easier to install on a roof. There are also several other benefits to hydroponic growing over traditional soil farms:

It requires less space, nutrient levels in water can be more easily controlled than soil, and water is constantly recirculated – which leads to less water usage over time, as compared to traditional soil gardens.

Using a combination of public money, grants and private donations, New York Sun Works helps design and build greenhouse labs that will suit each school’s needs.

The program’s curriculum was designed to fulfill requirements mandated by the New York state science standards. And by using hydroponics as a tool, not only can teachers cover general science topics, it also encourages discussions about developing sustainable systems to help alleviate problems faced in urban environments.

With 20 more greenhouse labs in development, New York Sun Works is well on its way to reaching its goal of 100 labs by 2020. And the trend is catching on in other parts of the country. New York Sun Works has been contacted by school districts in Colorado and Oregon to bring the program to their states.

And with more commercial hydroponic farms opening up in Oklahoma City, St. Louis and Washington D.C., urban farming continues to grow.

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