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Wednesday, August 21st, 2019

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Clinton’s Hydroponic Farm Teaches Healthy and Sustainable Living

Thierno Bah, 16-year-old sophomore, cuts lettuce at the root and prepares it for either the school’s cafeteria or a food pantry (photo by Gary Axelbank)

by Diego Barcacel and Gary Axelbank

May 25, 2018

The students don gloves, wield stem clippers, and each holds a small counter to keep track of the produce.  

What used to be the third floor chemistry lab at DeWitt Clinton High School has been transformed into an indoor farm with plants that sit on metal trays and others that hang from hooks.  Real food, fresh food, and it’s grown right in their school.

Students at work in their hydroponic farm. (Teens for Food Justice)

Through Teens for Food Justice (TFFJ) a program that aims to provide hands-on, STEM-based hydroponic science education, DeWitt Clinton students are learning food justice advocacy as well as developing their green thumbs as part of an academic program in sustainability.

Ray Pultinas in ‘Meg’s Garden’ (TTBX screen shot)

Funding from Green Mountain Energy Sun Club, an organization that provides food insecure communities with sustainablility solutions, and Councilman Andrew Cohen helped create the school’s $126,870 hydroponic farm. It was designed to continue the on-going sustainable education program at the school started by teacher Ray Pultinas (now retired, but still comes in to work with the farm and school’s garden programs).


thisistheBronX was LIVE on Facebook at the Clinton Hydroponics Lab 


Cucumbers being grown through vertical umbrella pruning, which allows these plants to grow from runners that grow from the original plants (photo by Gary Axelbank)

The DeWitt Clinton Sun Club farm debuted during the 8th Annual Fall Harvest Celebration at the school’s campus this past fall, and runs on a vertical hydroponic system that allows students to effectively grow crops in water with natural fertilizer instead of soil.

Over 25,000 pounds of plants a year are grown in the urban farm and are distributed to students, in the cafeteria, and given to food pantries around the area through City Harvest, according to the Harrison Hillier, the hydroponics Manager. About 30 pounds of produce are used to feed students in the school’s cafeteria each week.

Food justice advocacy is especially important because the Clinton campus is located in one of the most healthy food-starved communities in the City, according to TFFJ. The students are now getting an education that will help them fight for a healthier Bronx.

“It’s important because some people may not have the resources,” Beata Tutu, a 14-year-old freshman said while she was working at the initial process of turning seeds into edibile plants. “I could go outside and buy food, but that doesn’t mean that I’m in a food secure area where there is healthy food.”

Derek Morales, 16-year-old Sophomore, counts romaine lettuce inventory (photo by Gary Axelbank)

The Bronx is often referred to as ‘the unhealthiest borough’, but students like Thierno Bah and Derek Morales, both 16-year-old sophomores, are doing what they can to dethrone the moniker for their generation and Bronx generations to come.

Bah, who is also on the Governer’s football and track teams has already seen the short term effects of healthy living.

“I have to eat healthy in order to play well and now my body is more in shape.  I feel more energized, more active,” he said.

For Morales, it’s about spreading what he’s learned to his family. 

“My little brother is seven-years-old and I tell him from time to time that junk food isn’t really good for you,” he said. “Hopefully when he gets older he can teach this to his kids and they will keep passing it on and on.”


Clinton HS, along with TFFJ, the American Heart Association, and Good Shepherd Services  will hold its annual Unity In The Community Health and Wellness Celebration on Saturday, June 2nd from 10am-3pm on the school’s soccer field at 100 W Mosholu Parkway South.  The community block party is designed to  to raise awareness of nutrition, health, and the need for equitable food access in the Bronx, as well as engage the broader community in bold, student-led initiatives.


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4 thoughts on “Clinton’s Hydroponic Farm Teaches Healthy and Sustainable Living”

  1. Sounds like Ray Pultinas had a passion to do this, and was supported by the students and school community. Kudos to Councilman Andrew Cohen and the foundations that fund this project. Simply grand!

  2. Ray Pultinas is an educator role model…what a commitment, concern can do to bring schools and students to a place of understanding, especially around major sustainability issues. He has been my hero for a LONG TIME.

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