Sit along the iconic Yonkers riverfront long enough and you’ll see boats of all shapes and sizes meander up and down the Hudson. But, thanks to a local environmental group, one unique boat moored off of Dock Street is here to stay—and so is its continuous, yearlong harvest. In 2008, the Yonkers-based urban-renewal group Groundwork Hudson Valley bought from Chelsea Piers the Science Barge, a completely sustainable floating farm. “It was going to be dismantled,” says Science Barge’s Executive Director Bob Walters.
The barge is an “urban farm with some unique twists,” Walters says. For sure. Among the twists: It floats on a river; the electricity needed is produced by solar panels and wind turbines; and it is completely independent from the land, with no water or electricity from onshore. “I like to call it a ‘river oasis,’ because it’s a fully sustainable, closed-looped environment system,” Walters says. That means zero net carbon emissions, zero pesticides, and zero runoff. Plants are grown using nutrient-enriched water in lieu of soil. “We use only twenty-five percent of the water used in traditional soil-based agriculture to produce seven times the food”—making the barge 28 times more efficient than traditional farms. By generating its own water and electricity, the Science Barge operates off the grid; it’s the only fully functioning example of renewable energy supporting sustainable food production in New York.
Its efficiencies also extend to the space it uses—or doesn’t. “We grow twenty tomato plants in a space of two feet by fifteen feet,” Walters reports. “And with our Verti-Gro stacked-boxed system, we can grow eighty plants in a one-foot-by-three-foot area, from floor to ceiling. It’s what we call ‘intensive agriculture.’” The barge also raises and maintains fish. “The fish waste is used for fertilizer,” Walters says.
Most of its crops are donated to local food pantries; the rest are sold at a small farmers’ market maintained on site. The Science Barge is open to the public on the weekends from April to November. Admission is free, though a $3 donation is suggested for adults to help keep the barge afloat.