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Community greenhouse celebrated at Astoria Houses

A community greenhouse lab in Astoria Houses is being celebrated as a first-of-its-kind facility which offers students a hands-on opportunity to learn about urban agriculture and environmental science.

Emani Smith, 9, was eager to show off the sprouting cucumbers, heads of lettuce and even watermelons growing in the hydroponic garden inside the community room of the western Queens NYCHA development building.

“I can’t wait to eat the watermelon,” said Smith. “It’s my favorite.”

The green classroom will be operated under the auspices of the New York Power Authority as part of its Environmental Justice program, which provides educational resources to students from underserved communities.

HANAC, a citywide nonprofit, will host and maintain the lab for its afterschool programs.

Community members and elected officials gathered at the greenhouse lab for a ribbon-cutting event, as well as inspiring students like Smith to engage in STEM learning and sustainability programming.

Council member Tiffany Caban spoke to students about the importance of feeding our own communities, especially in the face of a climate crisis.

“You’re at the forefront,” Caban said. “We are bearing the brunt of the challenges we’re facing from the climate and this is part of the solution.”

New York Sun Works, a nonprofit organization that builds hydroponic classrooms, helped to set up and organize the garden that has seen two harvests already in the past few months.

Over the past three years, 18 classrooms and two green community laboratories have been developed in New York City, with its average hydroponic classroom producing more than 500 pounds of vegetables per school year.

NYPA and New York Sun Works will offer programs available to both students and adults, eventually expanding to intergenerational programming.

“The Astoria Houses garden is a learning lab that integrates science and sustainability into a fun program that everyone will enjoy,” said Lisa Payne Wansley, NYPA’s vice president of Environmental Justice. “Families will learn about cutting-edge technology through sustainable urban farming and be inspired to ask questions, investigate systems, and design solutions. Learning about STEM concepts will open up opportunities for young people and others who want to benefit from being part of New York State’s emerging clean energy economy.”

Former City Council member Costa Constantinides said that learning about energy efficiency and how a garden works could spark an interest in science in the city’s youth. He said the room used to be used for senior programming, but a recent transformation project now turns the room back over to the kids.

“We are looking forward to many more years of great things happening at Astoria Houses,” said Constantinides. “It was long overdue.”

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