On a rainy June morning I hurried onto the Governor's Island Ferry, twenty or so Bronx sixth-graders in my wake. We were all heading out to experience the GrowNYC Teaching Garden located on the military base-turned-public park. A short ferry ride later, we were walking along the well-maintained paths to the other side of the island.
The site is elegantly utilitarian. The first thing you will see is a bright yellow shipping container which serves as an open kitchen. Teachable moments in sustainability are integrated into the garden: rain barrels for water collection, repurposed pallets made into vertical gardens, and a donated solar stove open up conversations on sustainable living.
GrowNYC created and maintains the 8,000 square foot garden with the express purpose of engaging, exciting, and educating New York City public school and summer camp students in all aspects of urban farming. Urban students often lack access to nature. The Teaching Garden facilitates conversation and education around where our foods come from, making healthy choices, and the environmental benefits of urban farming. School groups seed, plant, weed, water, and harvest at different intervals to keep the garden active.
The GrowNYC staff works hard to make the garden fun for students. With a focus on hands-on learning, they share experiences like the crisp snap of a snow pea, the novelty of edible flowers, and a pizza garden full of fresh herbs and tomatoes. Unsurprisingly, strawberries remain the most popular of the garden plants. There's a flower bed just for attracting bees for pollination and apple tree with six different grafts. It was interesting to me to see a blueberry bush for the first time, different parts of it in different stages of development.
Students harvest what's ripe and cook a light lunch in the outdoor kitchen housed in the yellow shipping container. This day, they made spring roll wraps filled with fresh veggies. Reviews were mixed.
Trips are open to summer school and summer camp groups and are available Tuesdays, Wednesdays, and Thursdays July 7th through August 20th. In addition to scheduled school visits, the garden will be open to the public during weekends from May 24 through September 28. GrowNYC will provide tours, volunteer opportunities, and activities for children and families. Bonus: on Saturdays and Sundays, there is no fare on 10am, 11am, and 11:30am ferries from Manhattan or the 11am and 11:30am ferries from Brooklyn.
For more information on the Teaching Garden, visit the GrowNYC website.