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New York Sun Works’ Greenhouse Project Builds Hydroponic Labs

New York Sun Works Greenhouse Project brings state-of-the-art hydroponic labs to New York City classrooms. Launched in 2008, The Greenhouse Project was created to help students from kindergarten through high school graduation understand that sustainable agriculture is possible in a dense urban area. 

According to the organization’s website, more than 250 schools have built hydroponic labs, with more than 122,000 students helping to grow over 141,000 pounds of food. The program has also trained 750 teachers.

Photo Courtesy New York Sun Works  

Public school parents and educators, led by Sidsel Robards and Manuela Zamora, started the Greenhouse Project after being inspired by New York Sun Works founder Dr. Ted Caplow. Caplow is famous for his Science Barge, a sustainable, urban farm that floats on the Hudson River. 

The project is rooted in teaching sustainability science and climate education, using hands-on learning to grow hundreds of pounds of vegetables every single year.

Its curriculum touches on biodiversity, how to best conserve resources, pollution, waste management, climate change, and a better understanding of Earth’s living environment. Each lab includes pest management, weather stations, fish farms, and vermicomposting alongside the hydroponic growing system.

Photo Courtesy New York Sun Works 

“[The labs] provide students with the opportunity to grow food while learning hands-on about science and climate education, as well as food justice and community service,” said Manuela Zamora, New York Sun Work executive director, in the Astoria Post. “Moreover, [they] provide bountiful harvests of leafy greens for the greater school community.” 

In 2010, The Greenhouse Project built its first hydroponic classroom at Manhattan’s PS 333. Today, there are labs in 14% of the city’s public schools. By the end of this year, the nonprofit plans to build hydroponic classrooms at an additional 70 schools. Schools can choose from two options: a classroom conversion or a full-scale greenhouse.

“We use the farming technology to teach the science of sustainability, the how, the why,” said  Megan Nordgren, New York Sun Works director of program development, in the Queens Chronicle. “It’s a wonderful hands-on way for kids to experiment and explore and connect with nature.”

Video Courtesy NY Sun Works

The labs not only help teach students how to grow food sustainably, but they also benefit the neighborhoods.

All produce grown in the classroom — including kale, lettuce, Swiss chard, cucumbers, tomatoes, and numerous herbs — is shared with the surrounding community free of charge. The program also offers cooking demos, farm stands, and harvest celebrations to spread the word in each school’s neighborhood.

Overall, New York Sun Works teaches children about the importance of science — particularly the science of sustainability — to protect the future of the planet. By introducing sustainable, circular, and local agricultural methods, the Greenhouse Project creates a brighter, hopeful future for the students. It also provides delicious and nutritious food at no cost to the community.

Photo Courtesy NY Sun Works’ Greenhouse Project

“A lot of our students and families live in dwellings where they really don’t have the space outside to plant their own gardens,” said Patricia Hanley, Queens PS 54 Principal, in the Queens Chronicle. “This is 21st-century learning. This is the future. We want our students to be able to engage with this kind of thinking, learning, and growing.”

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