By Leslie Albrecht
UPPER WEST SIDE — A rooftop greenhouse that will grow up to 8,000 pounds of fruits and vegetables a year and provide state-of-the art science education for students was unveiled Monday at the Manhattan School for Children.
The 1,420 square-foot greenhouse is home to a sustainable urban farm that will grow arugula, tomatoes, strawberries and other produce to be used in meals prepared in the school's cafeteria.
Along the way, students will learn about environmentally-friendly farming practices. The greenhouse includes solar panels, a hydroponics growing system, and a composting station, among other features. Instead of pesticides, ladybugs will protect plants from pests.
The greenhouse was spearheaded by three moms at the Manhattan School for Children, on West 93rd Street between Amsterdam and Columbus avenues, who partnered with New York Sun Works, a nonprofit whose mission is to promote "urban sustainability" through science education.
"When you read the statistics in this country, and how students in the United States rank very low [in science achievement] compared to other countries, we thought we really needed to do something," said Manuela Zamora, one of the parents who led the effort to build the greenhouse.
At Monday's opening, Manhattan School For Children students were posted at stations in the greenhouse, ready to show off their new knowledge.
Standing next to a tray of plants atop a blue tank full of tilapia fish were Inaki Latorre, a 10-year-old fifth-grader and Russell Silverman, a 6-year-old first-grader, wearing nametags that identified them as experts in aquaponics.
Latorre explained that aquaponics is a combination of hydroponics — when plants are grown without soil — and aquaculture, the raising of fish.
"When the fish poop, the plants like to eat the poop," Latorre explained. "It's like fertilizer for the plants. The plants kind of clean up the water so the fish can live in it."
Silverman said the rooftop greenhouse is "cool" because it teaches the students how plants grow. "And it's kind of cool because fish poop is good for plants," he added, unsucessfully suppressing a giggle at the mention of fish poop.
The greenhouse cost about $800,000 to build, most of it raised through grants and fundraisers, said Zamora. It's the first of 100 similar greenhouses organizers hope to build on school rooftops throughout New York over the next 20 years.
"I think there's something magical about this space," said City Councilwoman Gale Brewer, who donated some of her discretionary money toward building the greenhouse. "It's not just that it's going to be a learning lab with 8,000 pound of produce a year, but it's a place people can be proud of for years to come."