Republics of Sunshine: 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.”  –Gloria Naylor

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.  We’ll visit some in Brooklyn.  They exist both at institutional and community scales.  

          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 dedication!

          Active learning environments have the power to engage learners in ways high-stakes testing formats can’t.  Perhaps that’s the magic of the Brooklyn Children’s Museum.  It’s a 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 Brother Yusuf Abdul-Wasi of the Children & Nature Network about his seasonal trips to Brooklyn Botanic Garden’s world famous greenhouses.  He visits and knows of every major natural science venue state-wide.  Brother Yusuf—who grew up in Bed-Stuy’s Marcy Houses and attended local public schools through junior high—is a naturalist.  He is a former New York State Department of Environmental Conservation Environmental Educator and independently runs his Youth Ed-Venture program in Albany, NY.  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!”  Pictured below are Shaquana Boykins & Xavier Miller.  They are both Children and Nature Network-trained Natural Leaders.

Shaquana Boykins & Xavier Miller

          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 to community gardeners throughout New York City.  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 New York! 

          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 in 2011.  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?

 Brooklyn Botanic Garden greenhouse

Morgan Powell is a horticulturist and landscape designer.  He’s also a blogger at Outdoor Afro.  This story originally appeared in the Dec. 26, 2013 edition of Our Time Press, a weekly newspaper.

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2 thoughts on “Republics of Sunshine: greenhouses in winter!

  1. czvasser says:

    Reblogged this on Community Green and commented:

    Just as the days have begun to lengthen since the winter solstice, I have begun to grow towards my gardens and Morgan’s marvelous comments make me appreciate greenhouses all the more. Even better, he’s identified several locations and people in the green!

  2. Brother Yusuf says:

    Shaquana and Xavier are highlighted on the spirit of reconnecting with nature. They are 2 outstanding Natural Leaders making their mark on the next generation of leaders for the environment. The Children and Nature Network’s Natural Leaders Network empowers a worldwide youth movement to strengthen the bond between children and nature. – 2014 Natural Leaders Legacy Camp applications will be available in May of 2014.

    I am looking for a Northeast Natural Leaders “huddle” on a collaborative EARTH DAY Event. How about it crew? I can be reached at 518.330.6320 or e-mail: wasi@nycap.rr.com Brother Yusuf

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