Nowhere is our civilization’s lifeline more visible than in the practice of agriculture and how it reveals our reliance on the organization of sunlight and water to make food. Since we’ve been at it for thousands of years, and most of us now live in cities not knowing the difference between straw and hay, how can we, the urban population, not take agriculture for granted and become as proficient at growing things to sustain ourselves as our rural or past counterparts? One answer is floating in the Hudson River. As told by Science Barge creators New York Sun Works Center for Sustainable Engineering, “The Science Barge is a sustainable urban farm powered by solar, wind, and biofuels, and irrigated by rainwater and purified riverwater. We grow fresh fruit and vegetables using recirculating hydroponics.”
While the individual technologies and techniques employed by the Barge are nothing new, putting them together on a self-sustaining and definitely fun floating platform is an educational masterpiece. The Science Barge speaks to the child and adult, the expert and novice, the eco-skeptic and eco-believer alike. The act of growing food is clearly one of the best educational tools for understanding natural cycles. But unlike museum and classroom exhibits that try to stimulate a younger audience in a conceptual way, the Barge is 100% show-and-tell, easy to visually navigate and actually producing a quality yield, while drawing all their power from on-board alternative energy sources and using 75% less water than farming a comparably-sized piece of land.
For a city mouse, seeing the Barge’s greenhouse and “green energy” elements working together is a treat. Admittedly naive, it is a pleasure to follow the sun-solar panel-power cord-battery sequence and know that is why the lights and water pumps are running; then to turn and face the other way and see the rain gutter-water storage tank-water pipe-growing bed system and know that is how the plants are watered. In its self-contained simplicity the Science Barge reminds the visitor of the cycles of nature, presenting the sun, water and other materials as physical facts, acting together.
Maybe it is because I am a city mouse that I react to this simple greenhouse environment in such an excited way. Providing a working example of how food can be grown specifically in the urban environment, exciting the city mouse is just the point New York Sun Works makes with the Barge–a contemporary solution to a thousand-year-old challenge–to succeed in growing things with few material resources and without a lot of space, in a way that can be repeated by others.
1. grass or other plants that are cut, dried, and then used as fodder.
1. the stalks of threshed cereal crops such as wheat or barley.