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Floating farm is the wave of the future

Article from LoHud.com

By Greg Clary

The first time I heard the term "urban farming," I thought it was one of those humorous oxymorons, like "military intelligence" or "jumbo shrimp."

I grew up in rural America, the grandson of farmers, and the idea of fields of corn growing through concrete sidewalks, next to huge skyscrapers, seemed wacky.

Devon Spencer, The Science Barge's educational director, tends to tomatoes at the barge in Yonkers. The Science Barge is a fully sustainable ecosystem that grows vegetables and herbs hydroponically by using recirculated water, rather than soil, as in traditional farming.

Devon Spencer, The Science Barge's educational director, tends to tomatoes at the barge in Yonkers. The Science Barge is a fully sustainable ecosystem that grows vegetables and herbs hydroponically by using recirculated water, rather than soil, as in traditional farming. (Ricky Flores/The Journal News)

Hydroponically grown tomatoes thrive at The Science Barge. Lettuce grows hydroponically at the barge. Hydroponics uses 70 percent less water than traditional soil-based farming.

Hydroponically grown tomatoes thrive at The Science Barge. Lettuce grows hydroponically at the barge. Hydroponics uses 70 percent less water than traditional soil-based farming. (Ricky Flores/The Journal News)

Turns out it's not.

There are for-profit organizations out there creating urban farms on 10,000-square-foot New York City parcels - without soil.

Supporters say growing food in water, called hydroponics, is the future and can provide healthier diets for city dwellers without having to truck food long distances.

One of the best examples so far of how to do this is The Science Barge, moored on Yonkers' Hudson River waterfront, a stone's throw north of Peter X. Kelly's restaurant X20.

It's a demonstration project that just about breaks even with low-priced group tours and suggested donations for individual visitors, an educational project run by Groundwork Hudson Valley, an environmental nonprofit that is part of a national network.

The barge is tiny as far as farms go, but still a fully sustainable ecosystem that grows tomatoes and cooking herbs tasty enough to entice Kelly's chefs as they prepare their menus.

And that, in a nutshell, is the theory behind urban farming.

Plant food in a small space, in a sustainable way, using nutrients, the sun and recirculated water rather than a soil-based model.

Grow produce that tastes better than the stuff that's trucked in from thousands of miles away, and get it to consumers who can eat vine-ripened tomatoes the same day they're picked.

"It's shocking how quickly food grows using hydroponics and how good it tastes," said 29-year-old Brooklyn resident Devon Spencer, the barge's educational director. "People like basil, parsley and chives. If we were a commercial entity, I'd stick with lettuce and basil."

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