Volume 80, Number 50 | May 12 - 18, 2011
West and East Village, Chelsea, Soho, Noho, Little Italy, Chinatown and Lower East Side, Since 1933

Virtual gardens have free-standing portable panels, like these.

Students hope virtual garden will become a reality

By Aline Reynolds

There are very few places on the Lower West Side where youths can grow their own vegetables. Neighborhood educators and youths are trying to change that, hoping to pin down some open public space for a collaborative urban gardening project.

The virtual garden would consist of several free-standing, portable wall panels made out of stainless steel and recycled aluminum. The panels, equipped with their own irrigation systems, would act as growing grounds for tomatoes, peppers and other vegetables.

The program’s purpose would be to educate teens about agriculture and nutrition and engage at-risk youths in a productive pastime, according to Community Board 2, a proponent of the project. It would be a joint effort between two Greenwich Village public schools — P.S. 3 and City-As-School — and would cost up to $10,000 to set up.

P.S. 3 already has its own vertical gardening program. Shino Tanikawa, whose third-grade daughter is participating in it, said, “Our children don’t have enough exposure to soil and water, where their food comes from. If we can provide them with the opportunity to connect their lives to nature — and, in particular, issues surrounding food — it would be really beneficial.”

The schools, along with C.B. 2, are hoping to install a temporary demonstration at the tip of Pier 40, at West Houston St., in Hudson River Park.

The pier, however, is not a viable option, according to Noreen Doyle, acting president of the Hudson River Park Trust, which owns and operates the mammoth-sized pier.

“It’s a nice idea,” she said, “but I think there’s a whole community of places that should be explored. It couldn’t be something we could just approve without engineering work underneath the pier.”

The Trust, Doyle added, has to come up with a redevelopment plan for Pier 40 before considering allocating space on it to the community. In the meantime, the pier’s roof, stairs and elevators will be renovated as soon as funds are secured, she said.

“The reason why the schools wanted to do it on Pier 40 is they wanted to be able to push the panels in somewhere at night, so nobody could vandalize or damage them,” said Arthur Schwartz, chairperson of Community Board 2’s Waterfront Committee, referring to the structure’s pier shed. “I’m not sure I’d give up so fast on Pier 40 — it’s something I’d like to explore more with Noreen.”

“If we experiment with this project now,” Schwartz continued, “we can use what we learned to have a more expansive garden in Hudson River Park in the future.”

The community is also eyeing the water-shaft construction site at Hudson and Clarkson Sts. — right near City-As-School — for an eventual park that could house the vertical garden, as well as a dog run, youth sports and other community amenities.

A spokesperson said the city’s Department of Environmental Preservation is considering the proposal.

“We are in discussion with the Parks Department, and they will work with the community on developing open space and parkland at this location when construction of the underground water tunnel is complete in 2013,” Mercedes Padilla said.

A Parks spokesperson declined to comment, but confirmed D.E.P.’s statement.

“I’ve been teaching 12 years, and I’ve never had such enthusiasm before from teenagers,” said Naima Freitas, a biology teacher and adviser at City-As-School, of the virtual-garden project.

The school’s former greenhouse, located in its courtyard for 10 years, was recently demolished due to construction at the school.

“It seems more exciting to work with the community, and have a place where there are different groups,” said Freitas.

City-As-School students are excited about the prospect of the vertical garden.

“I love to grow my own food — I think it’s really incredible you can do it in the city,” said Sarah Temple-Raston, 19. “The more time I can spend in the garden, the better.”

Alison Lance, 18, another City-As-Schooler, has been growing tomatoes, basil and squash in the 1-acre “urban farm” that opened last month near the World Financial Center.

“I really love it,” she said. “I haven’t been able to grow things in school since I was a kid.”

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