Feeding New York City With Renewable Energy
The Science Barge is a working farm and environmental education center that uses renewable energy to grow its crops. It’s located on a small, flat boat that is docked on the Hudson River at Yonkers, New York.
Its whirling wind turbines, solar panels, greenhouse structures and large, recycled shipping container give it its eclectic and exotic appearance. Every few minutes someone walking by stops to ask, “What is this place?” I was one of them.
Over several visits, I learned that the Science Barge is a serious scientific experiment whose methods and results are studied worldwide. Its mission is to teach people, children in particular, how to use renewable energy to produce food on a local level. How local? Very local.
The Science Barge’s creators believe New York City’s rooftops can be converted into small farms that use renewable energy to grow food. We’re not talking about a few summer tomatoes, either.
The math shows that New York City has enough rooftop space to grow all the food it needs. When visiting the barge, picture what you’re seeing on hundreds or, better yet, thousands of rooftops around the city.
The Science Barge was created by Dr. Ted Caplow, an environmental engineer who was trying to answer two questions that dropped anchor in his mind:
- Can New York City grow enough food to feed its 8.5 million inhabitants?
- Can this food be grown using clean, renewable energy?
Oh, Waiter, I’ll Have The Sustainable Salad, Please
It’s vital that New York City get a head start answering these questions. About 50% of the Earth’s people now live in cities and 75% are projected to by mid-century.
Not counting grandma’s backyard tomatoes, the city is 100% dependent on food brought from outside its borders.
The more New York City depends on other states and countries for food, the greater its vulnerability. Rising fuel prices, pollution, nuclear accidents, political disagreements, genetic modification and natural calamities all influence the quality, quantity and price of the city’s sustenance.
Dr. Caplow founded the organization New York Sun Works to help answer his questions. He and his colleagues sharpened their pencils and did some calculations.They found that with enough rooftop micro-farms using renewable energy, New York City could declare itself self-sufficient in food production.
The Science Barge shows visitors how the city can do this with little effect on the environment. Using solar energy, wind energy, biodiesel fuels, collected rainwater and aquatic farming techniques, the barge grows about a ton (900 kg) of food per year.
Carbon emissions are zero, net water consumption is zero and neither soil nor pesticides are used. Traditional soil farming would require an area four times larger to grow this amount of food.
The water farming techniques used, known as hydroponics and aquaponics, distribute water and nutrients directly to a plant’s roots.
When plants don’t compete with each other for space, water or nutrients, they funnel their energy into growing to their full potential. Crops grow faster in this monastery-like environment.
Some plants are grown in a tube system that circulates water to their roots (hydroponics). Others are placed in a bed of porous clay balls which absorb water pumped from a fish tank (aquaponics). For these plants, the nutrient-rich fish waste is a hearty meal.
Other crops, like tomatoes and cucumbers, are encouraged to grow vertically. This “Verti-Grow” technique allows plants to yield more produce while occupying less space.
Different Location, Same Lesson
In 2008, Groundwork Hudson Valley acquired the Science Barge from New York Sun Works for $2 and moved it from Manhattan’s West Side to the Yonkers waterfront.
Rick Magder, the current Executive Director of Groundwork Hudson Valley, was instrumental in acquiring the Science Barge and preventing its dismantling.
When the barge was preserved, so was its message: the closer food is grown to where it will be eaten, the better. It’s a concept more and more people are thinking about.
In the future, this idea will be repeated often and loudly by a chorus that wants healthy, clean and affordable food. The Science Barge teaches how to accomplish this one visitor at a time.
Science Barge Questions
Where Can I Learn More?
When Can I Visit And What Does It Cost?
The barge is open: April 15th to Novemember 15th, on Saturdays and Sundays only, between 12 p.m. and 6 p.m. Weekdays are reserved for visiting school groups. There is a $3 suggested donation per person.
I’m A Teacher And Would Like My Students To Visit
Contact Gwen Hill, Director of Education Programs: [email protected]
How Do I Get There?
The Yonkers railroad station is right next to the Science Barge. Use the station’s address for MapQuest.com or GPS directions: 5 Buena Vista Ave., Yonkers, N.Y. 10701.
Bring quarters to feed the parking meters.
Train From Grand Central Terminal
From Grand Central Terminal, take a Metro-North “Hudson Line” train to the “Yonkers” station. This trip takes between 26 and 31 minutes.
For schedule and fare information, visit Metro-North. Your destination would be “Yonkers.”
When You Arrive At The Yonkers Metro-North Train Station
Walk to the bottom of the stairs and turn right. Go out the doors at the back of the station and walk towards the river. You can’t miss it.
What’s Close By?
Just a block away is the Beczak Environmental Education Center.