On a School Rooftop, Hydroponic Greens for Little Gardeners

Shakira Castronovo stood in a classroom at the Manhattan School for Children on West 93rd Street on a recent afternoon and hushed a squirming group of kindergartners perched around a blue carpet.

“Where do you think I picked this?” she asked, pinching a leafy-looking thing between her index finger and thumb. “It was picked fresh just few minutes ago.”

Someone wondered if it had come from the recess yard. Maybe from a farmers market? A minute later, a little girl in pink came up with the answer. “Greenhouse!” she shrieked as her hand shot into the air.

“This is called mizuna,” Ms. Castronovo said, enunciating the new word. “And we are finally ready to harvest some of our lettuces.”

Mizuna? “It’s the kind of thing that adults put with other lettuces when they have a salad,” she explained. “But you can still take a nibble.”

The grown-up lettuce came from what its founders say is the first hydroponic laboratory greenhouse on a New York City public school roof. The garden will officially open Dec. 6. But plants are already sprouting, making their way into classrooms.

At its heart, the project is about making science both accessible and exciting “in a natural way,” said Ms. Castronovo, the school’s science teacher. Explosions always grab attention. But how many kids voluntarily eat something weird and green and leafy? (“We really, really, really loved the leaf,” one kindergartner said near the end of the mizuna lesson.) read more…