CONEY ISLAND – A total of $4.6 million has been secured for a brand new STEM greenhouse facility at Rachel Carson High School for Coastal Studies, Council Member Mark Treyger announced.
The greenhouse will be located on the east side of the school site and will focus on expanding the availability of fresh food and sustainable agricultural practices for students, families, and the entire school community. It is currently in the design phase and construction will be shortly after that is complete. The project is respected to take 18-24 months to complete, and will include:
- State-of-the-art greenhouse and urban farm
- Create an edible garden from seed to table
- Expansion of the hydroponics and aquaponics programs
- Provide the greater Coney Island community with access to fresh and healthy produce options
- Connect to a project-based curriculum centered on sustainability, environment, and green-based career planning for students
- New curriculum based on sustainable urban farming and healthy nutritional programming
“In this amazing structure, there will be an edible garden where students and staff can grow fruits and vegetables from seed to table, the expansion of Rachel Carson’s hydroponics and aquaponics program, and connecting this new and exciting resource to the greater Coney Island community by providing fresh and healthy food options to our community member,” Treyger said in the virtual Zoom conference this afternoon. “Coney Island is a community that really lacks adequate access to healthy and fresh produce. It is a food desert in many respects and it is a community that, quite frankly, has been very hard hit by this pandemic.”
Treyger explained that when a community lacks healthy food options, it can lead to disparities in healthcare outcomes. The greenhouse will go a long way of breaking down barriers and improvising access “to community members who are geographically isolated and really are a part of the outer, outer borough,” he said.
The greenhouse project will be connected to a project-based curriculum, which will be centered around sustainability, environmental studies, and green-based career planning for the students.
“This is a project that really has that wonderful potential and ability to connect our students to real-life, both educational and career, opportunities and I believe has the potential to create an in-district school pipeline where we have children at our local elementary schools who are learning about sustainability, building this up to our middle schools and high schools, and really providing great options for our local students in our Coney Island community,” Treyger said. “I think it’s also an opportunity for local community partnerships to increase, utilizing this amazing space to community-based organizations and making sure that we connect our residents to every opportunity for healthy, fresh produce, educational opportunities, and just really making coney island closer together.”
Stephen McNally, the principal at Rachel Carson High School for Coastal Studies, explained that the new greenhouse will be a gamechanger for the school and the community. He said it was a chance for students to actually get their hands dirty.
“It’s an opportunity to not only making learning relevant for our students, but to make it real. Our students will have an opportunity to really get their hands dirty and be active participants in the messy process of learning. Through this greenhouse, our students will learn about sustainable urban farming, about healthy eating and habits, and about the impacts of food insecurities on our neighborhood and on our communities,” he said. “There’s no doubt that this project is going to have a long-lasting impact on our school and our school’s community.”
A few years ago, Treyger funded a hydroponics and aquaponics lab at the school. Now, with a greenhouse added to the mix, Hannah O’Leary, the school’s science research teacher, believes that students will have the opportunity to expose everything they are curious about on a bigger scale.
“Working with my students last year was an absolutely incredible and powerful experience. As they learned about plants and helped them grow, so did their personalities. They weren’t scared to get their hands dirty in the worm bin or to collaborate on building projects. They traded in their bags of chips for fresh cucumbers picked right off the vine every day,” O’Leary said.
“They prepared and shared healthy meals with enthusiasm and they even learned public speaking skills that helped them to talk about the sustainability work that they’ve been doing. This new greenhouse classroom will allow us to offer this learning opportunity to a much broader ranger of our student body. Our goal is to have students working in this greenhouse to learn agricultural skills, as well as the business, advertising, engineering, and management skills necessary to run an affordable organic farmers market for our community.”