By Naomi Cohen
On a windy afternoon, 13-year-old Hannah Quirk is on her school’s roof, a tray of biodegradable cups of tender green mustard salad in hand. Her peers pace the garden aisles of the two-block deck—one boasting the flavor of the freshly picked Asian kale salad, another discussing solar panels with Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer, a third watering the leeks. Under their feet, over 1,000 students of the Earth School, PS 64, and Tompkins Square Middle School in the East Village are tuning in to the press conference happening upstairs through a livestream.
Michael Arad, architect of the Sept. 11 Memorial and designer of the farm, first conceived of the idea for the garden when he toyed with inflating 70 kiddie pools for rooftop irrigation. Four years and a million dollars later, the Fifth Street Farm was unveiled Oct. 12 by two handfuls of community organizations, politicians, teachers and parent visionaries who collaborated in its completion. After the ribbon-cutting and planting ceremony, a fair in the recess yard introduced students to garden history, foods and nutrition.
“It’s like a blackboard,” Arad said of the farm, which teachers can use to teach anything from the most complicated formula to the alphabet. Each of the three schools submitted 10 ideas of how to utilize the space, from a star observatory to a weather station and windmills to beehives. Even arts and humanities teachers are vying for roof time—Quirk said she is especially excited about drawing plants, flowers and the skyline in real life rather than pictures.
Stringer praised the initiative for offering a kind of education beyond multiple choice. Earth School science teacher and Green Committee founder Abbe Futterman said she was inspired by the school’s philosophy to “de-school the school.” Though other city schools have green roofs, the FSF was built as a new model in environmental and nutritional education, with its own composting, academic curriculum and Garden to Café food program all run by an independent nonprofit.
Though the cold months are approaching, the herbs, flowers and vegetables—all chosen and planted by students—were green and abundant. Composting expert Maxwell Lard, 10, said he looks forward to growing melons, squash and other large crops because watching them develop reminds him he’s not the only one.
“We go to school and we learn and we grow—as do plants,” he said.
Though the School Construction Authority prolonged the farm’s completion, it gave the project special attention for its small scale. With support from Stringer, state Sen. Daniel Squadron and City Council Member Rosie Méndez, the farm found all of its funding amid a season of budget cuts. The students, unfazed, are already thinking about solar panels, which Stringer said is the next step.
“I’ve sharpened my teeth on this,” said FSF Board of Directors member Douglas Fountain. He started the “labor of love” with his children, who recently graduated from TSMS, but is looking to help on similar projects at PS 6, PS 41 and other neighborhood schools.
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