It’s Elementary: PS 333’s Rooftop Hydroponic Farm Even Comes with Picnic Tables

Yesterday when we were waiting to eat pancakes with almond frangipane, toasted almonds and raspberries at Clinton Street Baking Co.–hey, it’s pancake month!–we met Sidsel Robards, who is a director of program development and events with New York Sun Works. They’re the folks behind the original Science Barge, the 2007 prototype floating hydroponic farm in the Hudson River, and now a similar rooftop farm project at PS333 in the Upper West Side.

The Greenhouse Project, aka PS 333’s rooftop hydroponic farm.

Yesterday when we were waiting to eat pancakes with frangipane, toasted almonds and raspberries at Clinton Street Baking Co.–hey, it’s pancake month!–we met Sidsel Robards, who is a director of program development and events with New York Sun Works. They’re the folks behind the original Science Barge,  the 2007 prototype floating hydroponic farm in the Hudson River, and now a similar rooftop farm project that opened in late 2010 at  PS333 in the Upper West Side. We’d heard of the hydroponic farmette, called The Greenhouse Project, but until Robards handed us a flyer, we had no idea the extent of its form and function.

The rooftop farm includes not just raised beds growing tomatoes, cucumbers and peas, but an aquaponic component (that’s an integrated Asian-inspired farming system where you raise fish with crops and their waste fertilizes your future food), a composting station, a weather tracking station, and wind and solar power components and rainwater collection. And picnic tables, of course, seeing as it’s on top of an elementary school.

Turns out Neil Kleinberg and DeDe Lahman, the owners of Clinton Baking Co., have long helped support PS 333 by serving as occasional guest chefs. They live in the neighborhood, and own Community Food & Juice nearby on Broadway near W. 113th Street, and and now even send their daughter there. These days they get to cook with what’s raised right on the rooftop farm, which is being integrated into every part of school curriculum–kids even draw its leafy greens, says Lahman.

It’s also meant to be a prototype for other schools, Lahman told me, and is part of the Wellness in the Schools not-for-profit program we covered in 2009–that’s designed to introduce better food and eating habits to kids in public schools.  Lahman and her husband are supporters of the roof-top farm project–they’ve always been fans of local farmers at their restaurants–and they’re helping Robards plan a massive benefit for April 23rd to help raise funds to do more hydroponic farms in other public schools. So save the date, and look for more details on the fundraiser and the farm–we hope to visit the beautiful space soon–right here.

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Rachel Wharton is the former deputy editor of Edible Brooklyn and Edible Manhattan. She won a 2010 James Beard food journalism award, holds a master’s degree in Food Studies from New York University, and has more than 15 years of experience as a writer, editor and reporter. A North Carolina native and a former features food reporter for the New York Daily News, she edited the Edible Brooklyn cookbook and was the co-author of both Handheld Pies and DiPalo's Guide to the Essential Foods of Italy. Her work also appears in publications such as The New York Times, the Wall Street Journal and Saveur.