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Here they grow: Students produce own garden at solar house

Camp Anchor students and campers with disabilities are

Camp Anchor students and campers with disabilities are learning about sustainability by growing crops at a Hempstead Town-operated solar house in Point Lookout. Credit: Newsday / Morgan Campbell

Camp Anchor students and campers with disabilities are learning about self-sustainability by growing their own crops at a Hempstead Town-operated solar house in Lido Beach.

Students make weekly pilgrimages to the town’s West Marina, where they are tending to plants, including zucchini, kale, tomatoes and eggplant that will be donated to senior citizens or sold at local farmers markets.

The project, spearheaded by the town and Hofstra University, brings together campers and Hofstra and Nassau BOCES students to learn how to grow and maintain food sources.

“Part of being sustainable is understanding where food comes from and getting food locally,” said Tara Schneider-Moran, a senior conservation biologist for the town. “We’re teaching how far food is transported locally and how we can be more sustainable from an energy standpoint.”

A portion of vegetables harvested, such as a two-foot zucchini picked last week, will be donated to a senior center across the street.

The town converted a solar house built in 2007 by the New York Institute of Technology into Long Island’s first smart home to be operated by the town. The home faces Reynolds Channel next to the Loop Parkway bridge.

“I think any time the assets of the Town of Hempstead help the community, we’re doing a good thing,” said Councilwoman Erin King Sweeney, whose district includes Lido Beach. “The town has long been committed to sustainability and the environment. This is another example of forward thinking in the Town of Hempstead.”

Town officials added planters and gardens at the home, using a $10,000 grant from the Nassau Soil and Water Conservation District. The grant also covers plans to add a greenhouse at the site.

“Students get the experience of getting their hands in the dirt to maintain plants, and they get to see the efforts to care for plants during the full cycle,” Schneider-Moran said.

Bob Watson, 46, of Malverne, was one of the Camp Anchor members tending to the plants last week. He said they water once a week and weed and pick vegetables.

“I like it so much,” he said. “It’s cool. I never garden in my backyard, and I wanted to do that this year. It’s important to my family.”

Hempstead Supervisor Laura Gillen said the program is important to teach sustainability and how to create a greener world.

“We know the course we’re on with the depletion of natural resources, and we can’t continue that trajectory,” Gillen said. “We need to do whatever we can to be sustainable.”

Hofstra’s program includes three students working with the town as mentors to other students, working with tools necessary to grow their own food.

Annetta Centrella-Vitale, Hofstra’s graduate director of sustainability studies, said it’s crucial to teach sustainability in case an event, such as superstorm Sandy, limits access to food.

“I think in order for us to be resilient with the changes taking place,"  she said, "it’s important we take care of ourselves and this environment.”

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