“Do you know what hydroponics is?” asked Haylee, a willowy 6th grader with a flower-crown headband. No, she wasn’t trying to sell me weed. She was talking about the new 1,524-square-foot greenhouse atop PS 84 José de Diego in Williamsburg. Brooklyn’s first rooftop greenhouse science lab made its debut this morning.
Green roofs like the food-centric garden on top of Umbrella House have been popping up all over the city. The new one at PS 84, an arts and science-focused school, serves as both an urban farm and a hydroponic lab that will host science classes.
When I arrived at PS 84 this cold and sunny morning, Haylee, holding a handful of flyers, immediately whisked me upstairs to the school’s roof, where the sun shined cheerfully through the double-glass panels of the greenhouse walls and bathed the space in light. Manhattan’s skyline was clearly visible in the distance, with the Empire State Building jutting out from behind the tomato vines.
Before I could tell Haylee that I in fact knew nothing about hydroponics, she explained that they were a method of agriculture that only relied on nutrient-rich water and forwent the use of any soil. The school’s greenhouse relies completely on hydroponics to grow its herbs, tomatoes, peppers, squash, and cucumbers, which are all intended for both the school’s use and for donations. Apparently, hydroponic farming also uses ten times less water than field agriculture (and requires significantly less space), thus making it a perfect fit for urban environments.
The greenhouse also contains an aquaponics tank, which will be filled with tilapia in order to provide nutrient-rich water for plants (as well as being a tasty source of food themselves), and an enclosure full of ladybugs, which are employed as a natural pest control (no chemical pesticides allowed in this greenhouse). Oh, and the greenhouse has an independent water supply via a rainwater collection method!
Clare Miflin, an architect from Kiss + Cathcart, which designed the greenhouse, said that the idea originally came from the Manhattan School for Children’s greenhouse on 93rd Street. That one, like the one at PS 84, was designed by New York Sun Works, a non-profit organization focused on providing sustainable labs and classrooms in schools throughout the city. With the help of the president and vice president of the PS 84 Parent-Teacher Association, and through funding efforts from the New York City Council and Brooklyn Borough Hall, NY Sun Works had now helped set up Brooklyn’s first sustainable school greenhouse and hydroponic lab.
“It took about nine months to design,” Miflin said, but the actual fundraising process took over three years.
Sereida S. Rodriguez-Guerra, PS 84’s principal, initiated the opening ceremony for the greenhouse by emphasizing the importance of the project’s role for the neighborhood. “If you know the history of Williamsburg, if you know the history of Los Sures [another name for South Williamsburg], then you know that this is a diverse community,” she said, referring to the school’s emphasis on using the greenhouse to also donate food and fertilizer to similar projects in the neighborhood, as well as praising the different forces among local government, the school community, and local non-profits.
Diana Reyna, the Deputy Borough President of Brooklyn, who spoke after Principal Rodriguez-Guerra, also indicated that BP Eric Adams would be interested in installing more such projects in collaboration with NY Sun Works throughout Brooklyn in the future. Other attendees included city council members Antonio Reynoso and Steven Levin, as well as NY State Assemblyman Joseph Lentol.