Science Barge in Yonkers: All aboard
The Science Barge, a completely self-reliant, floating hydroponic greenhouse facility, has been calling Yonkers home since 2008. It was started by New York Sun Works in 2007 before being taken over by Groundwork Hudson Valley.
While talking about the latest news concerning the Science Barge, Bob Walters’ thoughts were temporarily interrupted by a question.
“Excuse me. How much is it?” asked an elementary-school-aged child as he walked across the ramp that helps anchor the barge to its current Hudson River resting place along the Yonkers shoreline. “It’s free for you guys,” Walters said.
Walters has served as the director of the Science Barge -- a very rare completely self-reliant hydroponic greenhouse -- ever since it was acquired by Groundwork Hudson Valley in 2008, after being originally started by New York Sun Works.
On this day, there is a $3 suggested donation for the opportunity to come aboard, submit a vote for the barge’s fourth edition of its Floating Sculpture Competition and Exhibit and enjoy some refreshments. No one, though, was forced to donate -- and kids 10 and younger are always free. The event, held on June 23-24, is just one of several activities that Walters and the rest of the barge’s staff have used as a vehicle to build community awareness of the vessel itself and its overall mission.
The Science Barge grows vegetables that are given to the local food bank or farmers' market in Yonkers.
“It’s an active place,” Walters said. “We run it is a community-based organization, so whether you’re rich or poor, you’re welcome to come to the Science Barge and everybody learns very important things, not only about food, but renewable energy, so we make this place special and that’s why we get people from all over the world here is that we combine the two.”
In fact, the barge recently played host to a Japanese TV travel channel crew. The group from eco-conscious “Cosmo Space of America” show stopped by in mid June to film a segment that is scheduled to air on July 17 in honor of Japan’s “Marine Day.” With the country’s horrific earthquake and resulting tsunami now more than a year in the past, there is an increased interest in all matters related to renewable energy and how to grow vegetables in the most efficient means possible as the country continues to rebuild its farming systems, Walters said. A TV crew from France was expected to stop by this week as well.
Walters pointed out that the type of hydroponic farming done on the barge, which currently is producing vegetables such as tomatoes and lettuce in about six-week cycles, uses only 25 percent of the water of traditional farming while growing seven times the amount of crops.
Bob Walters, the director of the Science Barge, annonuces the winner of the most recent floating sculpture competition on June 24 on the barge, which is stationed on the Hudson River in Yonkers.
Speaking of international visitors, Walters recalled when father-and-son farming tandem from Bhutan, a landlocked south Asian country located at the eastern end of the Himalayas, stopped by and inquired about the recipes for nutrients needed for hydroponic farming. Walters set them on a picnic table before the men took photos of the seven pages with their cell phones.
“I call the Science Barge like an oasis,” Walters said. “It’s not only an oasis for plants, but it’s an oasis for information because if you go into a commercial hydroponic greenhouse and you say ‘I want your recipes,’ guess what they’re going to say? ‘Forget it.’ But on the Science Barge we share.”
Most of the barge’s visitors -- approximately 3,000 people per weekend -- are comprised of locals who may be curious of the odd vessel as they make their way around the Yonkers waterfront. This certainly was the case last Sunday.
Anyone was welcome to step aboard and check out the facility and submit their vote for the floating sculpture competition -- even if he or she couldn't afford the suggested $3 donation for weekend visitors.
“Considering Yonkers is trying to do a downtown revitalization or a riverfront revitalization we feel like this is a very important part of getting people here,” said Jamie Korb, the competition’s coordinator.
With the help of volunteers, Korb constructed an entry for the competition called “Music” which featured a guitar structure composed largely out of an old vertical CD rack as well as colored wires and semi-precious stones.
The winning entry ended up being “Heliostawpolis,” a piece created by Denise Chacoian, a Yonkers High School art teacher. It featured a three-dimensional sun that glowed at night.
Janet Bedney, a local artist from Riverdale, submitted “Wind Tower,” which was composed of cigar boxes and pinwheels among other materials, all of which were reused or recycled. “I like the promise of anything that won’t ruin the environment,” she said.
Yonkers resident Barbara Glasser had two entries composed of bottle caps: one was patriotic with red, white and blue caps; the other was Jewish-themed with white and yellow caps and Hebrew lettering. Glasser had been compiling a drawer full of bottle caps -- but did not realize it. “And then one day my daughter opened the drawer, by accident, I guess looking for something and she said ‘Oh the insanity drawer’ – any opportunity to put a mother down,” Glasser said with a chuckle.
The winner of the fourth annual Floating Sculpture Competition and Exhibit was "Heliostrawpolis," a work by Yonkers High School art teacher Denise Chacoian.
Jamie Korb earned second place for her work, "Music." A group of volunteers helped her put togehter the scupture, which features an old CD rack. "Bottle Caps" by Barbara Glasser floats in the back of it.
The Science Barge, which has close to 60 volunteers help give tours and do other tasks, runs from April to November. It is open for weekday educational programs and field trips. For more information, visit its site or its blog.
Have you ever been aboard the Science Barge? Are you planning to schedule a trip? If so, we’d love to hear from you.
Three of the artists in the scuplting competition strike a pose: Jamie Korb, left, Janet Bedney and Barbara Glasser.