Alternative East Village School Unveils Million Dollar Rooftop Garden

By Serena Solomon on October 12, 2012 9:27pm 

EAST VILLAGE — An alternative neighborhood public school unveiled a million dollar rooftop garden Friday that will allow its students to study the natural world by growing produce.

The sleek 2,400-square-foot rooftop space, an initiative of a nonprofit group called Fifth Street Farm, now sits atop 600 East Sixth St. to be tended to by students from the Earth School. Fifth Street Farm has spent six years raising funds and planning for the garden, which will give Earth School students insight into what it takes to grow and harvest fruits and vegetables.

"There are so few opportunities for children growing up in urban areas to touch soil, let alone plant, tend and harvest their own garden," said Anita Eliot of Fifth Street Farm, which describes itself as "a grassroots organization of teachers, parents and friends."

"To have this opportunity within their school day, and then integrate learning experiences in science, math, art and writing, will enrich the children’s education immeasurably," she said.

The garden was designed free of charge by 9/11 Memorial architect Michael Arad, whose kids previously attended the Earth School. It features a drip irrigation system as well as a composting station.

The cost to build it reached about $1 million, according to Douglas Fountain, who is assisting in the ongoing management of the project. 

Funding was pulled together from city and state governments with the help of Councilwoman Rosie Mendez, State Senator Daniel Squadron and Borough President Scott Stringer, according to Fifth Street Farm.

Stringer, who was on hand to cut the ribbon along with Squadron and Mendez, christened the space as "a rooftop where dreams come true" and a "model for sustainable schools." 

Students at the Earth School have been planting seeds for the last four weeks to prepare for Friday's unveiling. Potato plants, kale and mustard greens were all growing strong in the numerous garden beds that lined the roof.

"It is nice to seeing things grow because people grow but they grow a lot slower," said Malik Shahia, a fourth grader from the Earth School, who was serving a salad at the unveiling made with produce mostly from the garden.  Malik said tending to the garden had already made him realize the effort needed to grow food.

"I imagined popping a seed in, covering it with dirt and watering it," he said.

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