Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Teens Chew on Hydroponics at Boswyck Farms

Richard (left) and Becky (right) are guest bloggers from our Summer Youth Employment Program at the High School for Public Service Youth Farm in partnership with the Expeditionary Learning School for Growing Leaders and their Growing Leaders program.

What are hydroponic systems? They are another system for growing plants only using water and soil alternatives. “Hydro” means water and “ponos” means labor. Any system using soil alternatives and water is a hydroponic system.

There are many hydroponic farms, one of them that we visited was a hydroponic farm called Boswyck Farms located on DeKalb Ave in Brooklyn. Before we went, we imagined their farms to be outdoors like ours. Instead we found Boswyck Farms to be indoors. Here, we realized that growing plants can happen in rooms and other smaller spaces, even when there is no soil. Growing hydroponically is water-efficient, high-yield, and reuses some waste products like coconut husks. We were overwhelmed by the scenery that was around us. We met Lee Mandall (Chief Hydroponicist) and Chloƫ Bass (Community Outreach Specialist) who gave us a tour of their wonderful farm and answered our questions about how hydroponics work. He showed us many different systems that relied on water. One of them was an aeroponics system which places plants in a sponge to hold them in place and absorb water as nutrients are sprayed onto the roots of the plants. During the tour Lee told us that many experiments failed, but keeps working on the more experiments for better success in the future.

Many of the fruits and vegetable were shaped differently. In our farm, we would have soil to compact the growing vegetables to the shape that they grow into. Without soil, the plants here grew into different molded shapes. Some vegetables that they planted indoors were radishes, carrots, basil, lettuce, chard and others.

Next, we visited their roof top site. There, they had tomatoes, sunflowers, chard, cucumbers, kale, and more. The tomatoes that we tasted were different from the ones that we grew. Theirs were shaped like pears while ours are round. The cucumbers were also a different variety, apple cucumbers. They were shaped like apples, whereas ours are cylindrical. Apple cucumbers are reddish inside when they are ripe. There, Lee talked about how food systems have changed ever since WWII. In our food markets today, we do not see pear shaped tomatoes, nor apple cucumbers. Lee is always experimenting with things that not many people grow anymore. He believes that seeds from the past should be preserved, and that we should continue planting different varieties of food like we used to, instead of planting the same things like our centralized system right now.

After the Lee's tour, we were instructed to make our own hydroponic systems using recycled bottles. We enjoyed learning how simple a hydroponic system can be and got to bring those systems home with us by the end of the day. In addition, we met some other new friends besides Lee and —their cats, Hopper and Isaac, and Boswyck the sheep. We would like to thank Lee and ChloĆ« for sharing a wonderful time during the visit and workshop.