April 26, 2022 By Allie Griffin
A group of young residents of the Astoria Houses NYCHA development held a ceremonial ribbon cutting Monday to celebrate the opening of an indoor greenhouse inside the housing complex’s community center.
The state-of-the-art greenhouse will double as a food source and science lab for children and their families.
The lab, which was built by the nonprofit New York Sun Works with funding from the New York Power Authority, uses hydroponics to grow crops indoors without any soil and includes seeding stations, a tower garden, hanging vines and a composting station.
“The Astoria Houses garden is a learning lab that integrates science and sustainability into a fun program that everyone will enjoy,” Lisa Payne Wansley, NYPA’s vice president of Environmental Justice, said in a statement.
The greenhouse is expected to grow more than 500 pounds of vegetables per school year.
The harvest will go to residents of the Astoria Houses who participate in programming associated with the greenhouse lab, with surplus produce donated to local soup kitchens. Programs will be available to both children and adults and will include harvest celebrations, cooking demonstrations, urban gardening lessons and more.
“Families will learn about cutting-edge technology through sustainable urban farming and be inspired to ask questions, investigate systems, and design solutions,” Payne Wansley said. “Learning about STEM concepts will open up opportunities for young people and others who want to benefit from being part of New York State’s emerging clean energy economy.”
Educators with HANAC Cornerstone, a nonprofit that offers afterschool programs in the community center at the Astoria Houses, will use the greenhouse lab to teach children about agriculture, nutrition, sustainability and environmental science. HANAC Cornerstone will also maintain the lab and its crops.
“The installation of this state-of-the-art community greenhouse lab at Astoria Houses will provide a fertile training ground for environmental science and food education, and we are grateful to the Power Authority and HANAC Cornerstone for facilitating this innovative source of youth programming,” NYCHA Chair and CEO Greg Russ said in a statement.
The greenhouse lab is already producing vegetables and herbs. More than a dozen elementary- and middle-schoolers showed off the crops they helped grow from seeds at the ribbon-cutting ceremony Monday. They offered cucumber and basil samples, paired with mozzarella and balsamic vinegar.
The initiative is part of NYPA’s environmental justice STEM program, which provides educational resources to students from underserved communities that host the power authority’s generating facilities.