Student-Run Rooftop Garden Begins to Sprout Amidst Spring Weather

by Kiersten Thompson & Adrianne Hutto, Staff Writer & Asst. Production Editor

Students on campus may have noticed planters on the roof of the student parking garage. These planters are a part of an initiative run by the Environmental Studies department called A Green Roof. The Green Roofs, which collect rainwater and help to cool the roof, was started by Nathan Hunter, a Manhattan College alumni who now works for the Bronx River Alliance. Another one of these roofs can be found on the top of Kelly Commons, working to ser ve the same goal. The garden is now overseen by the Director of Environmental Studies Department, Professor Dart Westphal.

Westphal explained that the garden is maintained in large part due to the help of student volunteers. The vegetables harvested from the garden are donated to a farmers market run by teenagers at the Amalgamated house, which is a part of a housing co-op started by the Amalgamated Clothing Workers Union years ago.

“The Van Cortlandt Park Alliance has a teen program with teens all over the place who work at the market and they have a garden too in the park down over there so we bring all the veggies together and supplement them and they are sold by the teens as a part of their teen program,” Westphal said. “This is done in tandem with the teen program which allows students to get an early college credit for the program over the summer.

Green roof on the top of the student parking lot prepares for revival as students begin summer internships. ADRIANNE HUTTO/ THE QUADRANGLE

The main focus of the program is not the plants themselves, but the dangers of the rainwater falling off of the roof. “All the rain falls down on this roof goes into the sewer and we try to prevent that as much as we can, the whole city of new york is trying to prevent that,” Westphal said.

Looking down from the roof, there is a noticeable valley, with Riverdale Hill on one side and Kingsbridge Heights on the other. All the rain falls down into Tibbetts Avenue, named for Tibbetts Brook which used to be in its place.

“When the stormwater fills, because it goes to the same sewers as the toilets, all the sewage and all the rainwater goes in the same pipe and when the pipe is too small to handle it, when it rains a lot the pipe overflows into the [Harlem] river,” Westphal said.

This problem is increasing- ly relevant as it is the worst one in the city. The big project being worked on right now is called Daylight, which is an attempt to resolve the rainwater runoff problem. The goal of the proj- ect would be to make a stream that could run down from a small waterfall in Van Cortlandt Park to the sewage system, act- ing as a sort of greenway and allowing for less overflow. This project will be carried out over the summer.

Nina Bjorkman, a junior environmental science major, through the Environmental Honor Society, started working on the rooftop garden this year. She has had prior experience with her family’s garden, hav- ing grown crops like potatoes, onions, and carrots. However,

she has learned much about sustainability from her time working on the rooftop garden and how it doesn’t have to “look pretty all the time”.

“I feel like a lot of things now that people brand as sus- tainable have to look so classy and clean … I just feel like it’s easy to kind of put a stamp on sustainable stuff and say they’re supposed to look a cer- tain way, they’re supposed to be minimalistic … no plastic, but I mean our irrigation sys- tem is made out of plastic, for example, because what else are we supposed to use? Are we supposed to use metal? Well … that degrades over time,” Bjorkman said.

Bjorkman will be staying on campus during the summer for the Women Inspiring Success- ful Enterprise (W.I.S.E) pro- gram and hopes to use that as an opportunity to work on the rooftop garden. She is current- ly working with other students from the Environmental Honor Society on the garden outside of Lee.

Dillon Kadish, a senior envi- ronmental studies major, start- ed working on the rooftop gar- den in his freshman year. He previously had around six years of experience with community gardening, doing a lot of butter- fly/bee gardening in his home state of Florida. Kadish thinks that community gardens can help tackle the problem of food insecurity that has been exac- erbated by the pandemic. How- ever, he notes that steps must be carefully taken to make sure this solution is effective.

For students interested in helping out with the roof- top garden, Wednesdays from noon to one there is always someone there. Take the ele- vator up to the 5th floor of the garage and take the stairs from there. However, if the given time is not feasible, students are welcome to reach out to Professor Westphal to find a time that works for them (dart.

“The rooftop has taught me how vital urban agriculture can be,” Kadish wrote in an email. “During the COVID pandemic, food insecurity around the world has risen incredibly, and New York City is no exception. Projects like our rooftop garden have the ability to affect food insecurity in a big way. We can use urban agriculture to create food security, but it needs to be done intentionally. In New York City, community gardens created in lower-income areas with the main goal of fostering food security often end up being the first step to gentrification and displacement. This is because landlords start to raise rent prices as a result of the garden, which is highly sought after in the city. To stop this damaging practice that only exacerbates the problem, we need to be tak- ing concrete steps towards rent control to help mitigate food in- security at the root.”

Currently, the garden is currently growing everything from tomatoes, beans, and zuc- chini, to thyme, oregano, and basil. However, is it not just environmental studies majors who are encouraged to partic- ipate in the cultivation of this project.

“We try to get somebody from each of the different schools, if we get one from ev- ery school that’s the best but we don’t always,” Westphal said.