Scientist Grows Fish in Hell's Kitchen, Vegetables in Prison

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Can fish grow in Hell\'s Kitchen?For a glimpse into the future of urban farming, take a look inside a Hell’s Kitchen high school campus, a former public school in the Bronx, or even a nearby prison on Rikers Island.  Either way, you’ll see the hand of Cornell University horticulture specialist Philson Warner at work.  Warner has spent the past 20 years experimenting with hydroponic and aquaculture systems to develop more efficient methods for raising fish and vegetables in an urban environment, and sharing his knowledge with young people.

Growing Fish in the Bronx

Warner’s laboratory is based in the former Public School 39 on Longwood Avenue in the Bronx.  In an article by writer Timothy Greenleaf, Warner explains how his system combines hydroponics with aquaculture.  The fish droppings fertilize the plants, which in turn purify the water for return to the fish tanks.  Aside from yielding up to twenty vegetable crops per year and hundreds of pounds of fish, the lab functions as a teaching center for visiting schoolchildren.

Fish in Hell’s Kitchen

This past summer, Warner introduced his hydroponic/aquaculture system into a high school campus in the heart of the Hell’s Kitchen district of Manhattan.  Spread over two floors, it is an ambitious undertaking that will eventually include a retail store and greenhouse.

Growing Vegetables in Prison

Life being what it is, Warner’s work is not accessible to high school students behind bars just a short distance away, at the Rikers Island prison complex.  So, Warner has brought his lab to the prison, at the urging of social worker Christine Schmidt.  Starting two years ago with just three classes, the program has grown to include eight labs dispersed among the complex’s two high schools, with 15 teachers trained to use them.

Warner’s program at Rikers Island is part of a rapidly growing wave of green rehab projects and work programs for America’s enormous incarcerated population, including reclaiming waste for use in organic compost, and building solar modules.  If we can credit the Department of Defense with inventing the internet, perhaps it’s not too far-fetched to look behind our prison walls for sustainability solutions.

Image: suneko at flickr.


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Tina Casey

Tina specializes in advanced energy technology, military sustainability, emerging materials, biofuels, ESG and related policy and political matters. Views expressed are her own. Follow her on LinkedIn, Threads, or Bluesky.

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