Rooftop Community Garden Serves as Launching Pad for New College Readiness Program

Local high school students are earning college credits while learning sustainable practices in their backyard.

Community garden with produce growingThis summer, Manhattan College’s rooftop community garden is serving as an urban laboratory for local young people.

The garden is a key part of a new college readiness initiative that Manhattan College is offering to high school students in the Bronx and Manhattan. Dart Westphal, adjunct professor of environmental studies, is teaching a college-level course, Sustainable Cities, with a focus on the communities around Van Cortlandt Park.

Students who participate in the Van Cortlandt Park Alliance’s Urban Ecology Teen Internship are enrolled in the course at no cost. Current Manhattan College students have also served as mentors in the community garden.

After completing the course in August, the group of 16 teenagers earned three college credits. In the course, students have examined particular uses of the environment like methods of stormwater capture, issues, storage, and distribution. Students also are looking at how Van Cortlandt Park and the surrounding area exemplifies sustainability, or does not. 

“Van Cortlandt Park is becoming a ‘field school’ for Manhattan College students in the liberal arts, sciences and engineering,” Westphal says. “This is a great opportunity for us to continue to strengthen that relationship with the park and our greater community.”  

The New Yankee Stadium Community Benefits Fund also has supported the initiative with a $5,000 grant.

Established in 2012, the rooftop community garden was designed and built by Manhattan College students to provide food to the community and hands-on learning for their peers. It has become a key component of Manhattan College’s work toward making its campus more sustainable and decreasing its carbon footprint.

The garden produces about 200 pounds of food annually, which has included watermelon, corn, tomatoes, bell peppers, spinach, squash, broccoli, lettuce, pumpkins and beans. The food is distributed to Bronx residents, including at the Van Cortlandt Park Alliance Teen Market.