By Lori Bystrom, PhD
Its not everyday you see an environmental education center and urban farm floating on a river. Docked in the Hudson River, about 15 miles north of New York City, you can find the Science Barge. This 138-foot barge has been attracting visitors to the Yonkers waterfront since 2008 when Groundwork Hudson Valley, a nonprofit environmental advocacy group, acquired it and established its permanent home in the Hudson Valley.
The self-sustaining barge obtains all of its energy from renewable resources: solar panels, wind turbines, and biofuels. Moreover, rainwater and purified river water provide irrigation for its greenhouse. Yes, that’s right, it has a greenhouse, in which you can find lettuce, melons, tomatoes, and cucumbers among various other plants. All of the produce is grown by hydroponic methods, which is to say they use liquid nutrient solutions instead of soil. In addition, this urban farm does not have pesticides or runoff, and has zero net carbon emissions.
During my tour of the barge, I discovered vine spinach (Basellla alba) for the first time, as two volunteers — one climbing a ladder and the other providing string — showed me the growing vine as they guided it upward against one of the glass walls. All the plants looked healthy and many were ready to harvest, including several appetizing melons, which hung from some of the plants above. I also discovered a tank of goldfish located below some of the smaller plants. According to Bob Walters, the director of the Science Barge, the waste generated by the fish was used to provide nutrients for plants.
Towards the end of my tour, I was able to speak with several of the volunteer students who clearly expressed how much they enjoyed their time there. I also discovered the Science Barge was a very popular field trip destination for students of all ages. Mr. Walters informed me that they have school kids come from as far as Japan. Based on my experience t
here, I can fully recommend this educational center as a stimulating location for children and adults who wish to learn more about sustainable agriculture in urban environments.
The 2014 growing season for the Science Barge goes from April 12th to November 8th. It is open to the public on Saturdays and Sundays from 12 pm to 6 pm (free for children 10 and younger).