Governor’s Island is NYC’s favorite car-free oasis. Just a 7 minute ferry ride from Manhattan you find yourself on an uninhabited island with million dollar views of the Statue of Liberty, Lower Manhattan, Brooklyn Bridge and Jersey City. The excitement for our upcoming family glamping adventure on the island (see Part II of this post coming mid- July!) has been building since March and though we’ve lived in NYC for over 2 years, we had never been. Recently, I was invited by a friend to tour GrowNYC’s teaching garden on Governor’s Island and jumped at the opportunity. You see, GrowNYC is the non-profit that brings greenmarkets to the five boroughs so city dwellers can buy fresh local produce, drop off food scraps for composting and recycle unwanted clothes, shoes and textiles. It was also a great way to get in a sneak peek at the island!
We met our tour group and took the short ferry ride to Governor’s Island, then walked 10 minutes or so to the half-acre teaching garden, passing by barracks, an old hospital, pedestrians, and bicyclists. GrowNYC’s garden is open 7 days a week. On weekends it is open to the public for self-guided tours, and during the week it is reserved for school groups.
Since inception, the teaching garden has hosted over 5,000 public school students from across the city who have learned about growing plants, harvesting, watering, composting and ecology all while getting their hands dirty. When we were there a group of kids had taken off their gloves and were happily playing with earthworms. The garden is grown using organic practices, and visitors are encouraged to sample herbs and veggies right from the plant. As part of the school tour, children help prepare a snack of freshly picked veggies, hummus with herbs they have chosen to harvest and the freshest possible salad. The fruits, veggies and herbs grown at the garden are mainly used for sampling by the school groups, but extra produce is sold to local island restaurants or at the garden’s weekend farm stand. Along with learning about the types of plants that we eat, GrowNYC has set up a “weed library” where students learn about the types of plants we are not trying to cultivate.
The garden also has some pretty interesting gadgets to teach about renewable resources:
- There is a “blender bike” so students can harness their own kinetic energy to make hummus dip;
- NYC’s largest solar cooker, made out of an old bed frame and mirrors, heats up to more than 600 F and is used to make popcorn. They tried pizza and grilled cheese in the past but temperature control is an issue!
- A rain garden to help mitigate excess storm water; and
- A solar powered aquaponics system featuring tilapia. Fish waste is used as fertilizer to grow veggies on a soil free, rooftop rock garden.
The tour was wonderful and culminated with our group receiving a reusable GrowNYC produce bag and harvesting radishes, turnips and a head of lettuce to take home. We discussed recipes (including radish top pesto and sauteed turnip greens) and walked back to catch our ferry. The experience was very educational and opened my eyes to the variety of programming available to city residents through GrowNYC. In a city where most people live in apartments and outdoor space is at a premium, it is wonderful to have an organization that supports immersive learning experiences in the natural environment. Personally, I will be back to Governor’s Island this July for “glamping” and will definitely return to the teaching garden with my family for a self-guided public tour.