By Brandon Huck, Energy Project Working Group – story and photos
On Saturday, September 15th, members of the Energy Project working group (of the UNA-USA’s Southern NY State Division) visited ‘The Science Barge’ in Yonkers, New York. The Science Barge is a prototype sustainable urban farm floating on the Hudson River and moored at the revitalized Yonkers Waterfront. Developed by New York Sun Works and acquired by Groundwork Hudson Valley in October 2008, the barge is maintained by a small full-time staff and several rotating volunteers (often student interns). More information at: http://www.groundworkhv.org/programs/science-barge/ To join the UNA-SNY Energy Project, email: firstname.lastname@example.org
The Science Barge operates primarily as an environmental and energy education center. It is the only fully functioning demonstration of renewable energy supporting sustainable food production in New York. The staff uses the technology of ‘hydroponics’, or the cultivation of plants in a nutrient-rich liquid’ – in this case with marble-sized clay pebbles serving as a supporting medium. The barge grows an abundant variety of fresh produce, including tomatoes, melons, chili peppers, greens, and lettuce. All of this is accomplished with zero net carbon emissions, zero pesticides, and zero run-off, thus allowing the Science Barge to operate completely ‘off the grid’.
All of the energy needed to power the Science Barge is generated by solar panels, wind turbines, and biofuels on the barge itself. Its greenhouse is irrigated solely by collected rainwater and purified river water. Even the toilet uses composting technology to reduce water usage and environmental impact. According to Robert Walters, Director of The Science Barge, this setup enables the unique farm to yield 7x the production of a comparably sized operation while using just 25% of the water normally needed. Proceeds from the sale of fruits and vegetables grown on the barge help support its operational costs.
In addition to produce, The Science Barge currently hosts a tub of live goldfish, a cotton plant, and a myriad of non-indigenous plants. There is also a small oyster farm maintained just off the barge in the Hudson River. These curiosities serve as additional tools to educate local schoolchildren and visitors of all ages who come to the barge. Besides students and members of the general public, recent guests on the Science Barge have included scientists, businesspeople, and public officials from as far away as Korea, Japan, and Bhutan, all of whom come to study the barge’s sustainable technologies and practices.
The Science Barge is open to the public on Saturdays and Sundays from 12-6PM. There is no entry fee, but it accepts donations, with a suggested amount of $3 per person. The Science Barge is located at 22 Main Street in Yonkers and can be accessed with public transportation by taking Metro North’s ‘Hudson River Valley’ rail line to the Yonkers train station. From there, it’s a short, downhill walk to the waterfront where the barge is easily visible. There is also limited street parking (metered except for Sundays) available nearby for those wishing to drive.