NYC’s floating gardens: an upgrade from the Aztecs?

How many barges are needed to feed the city?

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The Aztecs’ floating gardens were capable of providing one-half to two-thirds of the foods consumed by the city of Tenochtitlan. With modern technology, can NYC compete?

Is this the future of NYC’s floating gardens?

 A barge with a greenhouse on the Hudson River in New York City

Photo: National Geographic

The Science Barge, pictured above, is an environmental classroom and greenhouse currently located on the Hudson River and docked in Yonkers. The farm, built in 2007 by the nonprofit New York Sun Works, is powered by twelve solar panels, five wind turbines, and vegetable biofuels. The water used to grow the farm’s tomatoes, cucumbers, lettuce, and peppers is irrigated from rainwater and purified river water. The barge is carbon neutral, has no net water consumption, and does not produce a waste stream. Water for the garden is collected in two ways: the first is rainwater collection, and the second is desalinized water collected from rivers.


In a place like NYC where land is scarce and the closest farmland is many miles away, we have to depend on resources that are easily accessible to us and abundant. The water surrounding Manhattan fits these criteria. The garden uses no land; produce is grown hydroponically, growing plants with nutrients from water instead of soil. The hydroponic water is then recirculated throughout the system. This type of production uses seven times less land and four times less water than crops grown on fields. Additionally, the floating garden prevents excess nutrient runoff from fertilizers to other ecosystems. Another benefit of using the water right next to Manhattan is that it reduces fuel use, lowers carbon emissions, particulate release, and nitrogen and sulfur oxide emissions due to shorter food transportation distances.

You can visit the barge during weekend walk-ons. There is a $3 suggested donation but the visit is free for children under 10. From Mid-April to November, the barge is open from Saturdays and Sundays from 12 p.m. to 6 p.m. The address is 99 Dock St. Yonkers, NY 10701.

Questions to ask if you decide to visit the barge include:

How much did the project cost, and is it cost effective?

Is there a limitation to the variety of produce the barge can grow?

How many barges are needed to feed the city?

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