Thursday, October 27 was a great day to be a garden, as torrential downpours doused the Bronx.
But that didn’t stop over 100 people from celebrating the impending construction of a new educational garden facility at the New York Botanical Garden.
Dozens of NYBG board members, employees and donors were joined in a wet, muddy field by Borough President Ruben Diaz Jr., Assemblyman Jeffrey Dinowitz and NYC Commissioner of Cultural Affairs Tom Finkelpearl for the groundbreaking of a major expansion of the popular Edible Academy program under a large canopy that also included 50 local school children.
Not far away, a three-piece bluegrass band strummed away under another canopy.
The NYBG’s Edible Academy grew out of the Ruth Rea Howell Family Garden started 30 years ago, and allows local school children to grow crops and then learn to cook them.
CEO Gregory Long said the board decided to expand the program several years ago, partly due to the excellent staff already on board.
“We made decision in our strategic plan quite a few years ago to give the Family Garden more real estate and have the edible academy run year-round,” Long told a crowd at a formal indoor lunch following the groundbreaking.
The original family garden will remain relatively untouched, Long said, save for a few improvements.
The facility will allow the program to add additional edible gardening and STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Math) programing for local school children, said NYBG board chair Maureen Chilton.
“We are serving 50,000 school children a year, and we’ll be able to double that amount,” Chilton said.
The $28 million project will include two classrooms, display gardens, an apiary, a teaching greenhouse, a 350-seat terraced lawn amphitheater, and a new, covered tram stop.
Work is already underway, and the project is expected to be completed by spring of 2018.
The LEED-certified facility will also have a green roof, freestanding solar panels and composting toilets and will draw heat and cooling from geothermal wells.
The building was designed by New York architecture and design firm Cooper Robertson and won the Mayor’s Award for Design Excellence in 2014.
In addition to $11 million in city and state funding, which included millions secured by Jeffrey Klein and Carl Heastie, the Edible Academy also received $17 million in corporate contributions from Adobe, Chobani, Green Mountain Energy Sun Club, Kitchen Aid, MetLife and Newman’s Own.
As a New York City tenant, heat and lighting expenses at the botanical gardens are paid for by the city, which also provides operating support and capital support, Finklepearl said.
Dinowitz said all 11 Bronx Assembly members supported the project, and said the Edible Academy was a way to address the obesity and type II diabetes crisis among young people in the borough.
“This is one way to help address those issues,” Dinowitz said. “It’s a very valuable thing for our community and people throughout the Bronx,”
Diaz Jr. said the botanical garden were a destination for tourists from around the world and provided an essential financial shot in the arm to the Bronx economy.
He also praised the edible academy for helping to educate young people not just about math and science, but also how to live a healthier lifestyle.
“What they are learning isn’t just nurturing their body, it’s nurturing their brains as well,” Diaz said.