Republics of Sunshine, Greenhouses In Winter!
Greenhouses in Winter!
“Even though this planet is round, there are just too many spots where you can find yourself
hanging onto the edge, unless there’s some space, some place to take a breather for a while.” —
Imagine a warm, nurturing place where everybody knows your name. As we peer
closer, we see our highest ideals practiced. In this place, our society’s tools, rituals,
skills, values and harvest align with nature. Real human needs are met on multiple
levels. We might call such places republics of sunshine. They’re real here in Brooklyn.
They exist both at institutional and community scales. We’ll visit some in this article!
When you love the outdoors, the seasons pass like jazz quartets play. It’s live
every time you step outside. When winter winds replace summer percussion, plants
either sleep or bop to Mama nature’s beat indoors. Let’s explore this multi-generational
culture that thrives beneath glass and clear plastic held up by aluminum alloy and
Active learning environments often engage a learner in ways lecture and high-
stakes testing formats can’t. Perhaps that’s the magic of the Brooklyn Children’s
Museum. It’s a local landmark as the first “green” museum in all NYC according
to the national Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) program.
But its greenhouse isn’t new, it’s just more energy efficient after a fancy renovation
from 2008. Here, diverse programs grow from a plant collection that surprises with
each visit. They’ve displayed such novelties as edible flower gardens bursting with
nasturtiums, dianthus, and pansies.
Across town, I interviewed SUNY Farmingdale’s Brother Yusuf Abdul-Wasi
(who writes for the Children & Nature Network and independently runs his Youth Ed-
Venture program) about his seasonal trips to Brooklyn Botanic Garden’s world famous
greenhouses. This academic visits and knows of every major natural science venue
state-wide. I love that he chooses to come here. Brother Yusuf—who grew up in
Bed-Stuy’s Marcy Houses and attended local public schools through junior high—is a
naturalist who’s run a number of NYS Dept. of Environmental Conservation programs
over the years. When asked to explain the value of these places, he replied “By sharing
an appreciation of nature with urban youth and their families, we enhance their lives
and promote a societal conservation ethic. Make the connections: get outdoors!”
Do you know Kingsboro Psychiatric Hospital? Their Urban Oasis business incubator
and farmers’ market began in ’97. Beatrix McLeod, other staff, and patients consistently dazzle
shoppers with superbly grown organic produce. This Rehabilitation Services Department program
is sponsored by the NYS Office of Mental Health. Since 2002, they’ve donated thousands of herb
and vegetable sprouts each spring. Regional community gardeners receive these greenhouse-
grown gifts. Citizens like you do great things too!
The neighborhoods of Brownsville, East New York, Ocean Hill, and Williamsburgh
show how. Respectively, Abib Newborn Garden, UCC Youth Farms, Saratoga Square
Senior Center, and P.S. 84’s unfolding greenhouse classroom are all committed to
four season growth. These are the places where greenhouses of different styles yield
multiple blessings from our generous sun. Very diverse hands harness solar energy
that’s journeyed 92+ million miles to Brooklyn!
Abib Newborn Garden’s new solar-powered fan is the pride of Danilo. Four
seasons of community gardening reflect the commitment of this volunteer liaison to
GreenThumb—the Dept. of Parks and Recreation’s community gardening program.
The passive solar design here makes this hoop house at 495 Osborn Street perfect for
late winter (February) seed sowing. The resulting sprouts come outdoors once spring
arrives. Some of them leave for East New York. That’s where he tends two additional
plots at Hands and Heart Garden on Newport Street. Further east on New Lots Avenue,
one can see United Community Centers’ Youth Farm on Schenck Street. There, Daryl
Marshall, UCC Community Organizer, and his team get a jump on spring. In 60 days
of so, teens will sow bitter melon, scallion, pepper, kale, basil and collard seeds. This
micro-enterprise will then sell those plants, once mature, from June to November at
their farmers market. Each site reflects unique conditions.
There’s a houseplant hospital at the intersection of Broadway and Halsey Street.
More paneled in than rolled over, this true greenhouse has a concrete foundation and
winter heat piped in from the senior towers that enclose it. Sylvester Yavana, who
trained in architecture at Pratt and Columbia, hosts tenant programs at Saratoga Houses
Senior Center. This New York City Housing Authority gardening consultant is perfect
for Saratoga. He’s equally capable of reviving cacti and rubber plants while overseeing
this structure’s mechanical systems: vents, fans, steam, and drainage. He spreads his
knowledge too! He’s consulted to Imani Gardens of Crown Heights and beyond.
Across town, Public School 84’s rooftop greenhouse classroom is taking shape.
Mr. Everard Findlay, the consummate Black bohemian and active PTA member,
proposed this expansion of existing green programs two years ago. Now Williamsburgh
elected officials are allocating funds to make this hydroponic growing and learning
environment real for the kids. What could be more hopeful than introducing our next
generation to a culture of production?
Morgan Powell is a horticulturist and landscape designer. He’s also a blogger at