Vertical Farm Grows in Lobby of JCC to Kick Off Yearlong Celebration

UPPER WEST SIDE — Amid a mob of strollers, toddlers, nannies and parents crowding the lobby of the JCC in Manhattan, a wall of 88 plastic bottles gurgles away, with the containers getting greener each day as algae grows inside.

On other walls, eggplants, peppers, tomatoes, herbs and succulents reach upward inside stacked planters.

The greenhouse-style setup is part of a new exhibit at the JCC in Manhattan that transformed the center’s lobby into a vertical urban farm.

Drawing inspiration from the large ecology center he runs back home, Israeli artist and environmentalist Avital Geva created the hydroponic vertical garden that fills two of the lobby’s back walls. He also set up an algae cultivation wall using recycled plastic 1-liter bottles.

The collaboration stems from the JCC’s admiration for Geva’s work on alternative farming, but also from the start of shmita, a yearlong Jewish celebration that centers on the concept of renewal, explained Megan Whitman, senior director of arts and ideas at the center.

Shmita, which occurs every seven years, begins with the Jewish New Year in early October and has traditionally involved farmers letting their land lay fallow for the year, she said.

With vertical farming, “by not using the ground, we can still give the land a rest,” Whitman said. The embodiment of this concept helps visitors connect with shmita, she explained.

The greenhouse exhibit also serves as a reminder of another key message of shmita: “Using everything to its fullest but not overusing,” said Rabbi Ayelet Cohen, the director of the Center for Jewish Living at the JCC.

The overflowing planters, dotted with pops of red and purple vegetables, will surprise visitors and force them to pause and enjoy the green in a personal moment of restoration, Cohen hopes.

As part of its celebration of shmita, the center is calling on social media users to write in with examples of their own restorative activities using the hashtag #JCCrestore.

In October, Geva will help construct a one-of-a-kind rooftop hut for the celebration of Sukkot. During the holiday, Jews are supposed to eat, sleep and spend time under a hut known as a sukkah, which is supposed to offer shelter but remain open to the stars, Cohen said.

However, there are no rules about how to construct the walls of the sukkah, so the JCC has commissioned Geva to create four “algae walls” — rows and rows of plastic bottles containing algae — like in the lobby.

The center is calling on locals to help supply the 1,000 recycled bottles needed.

A couple hundred more bottles will go toward the construction of a sidewalk sukkah that will sit outside by the entrance.

“It’s an opportunity to experience the holiday in a new way,” Cohen added. “To be within something that’s growing will be amazing.”

The greenhouse exhibit, “The Greenhouse of Ein Shemer,” is free and open to the public in the JCC’s lobby level Laurie M. Tisch Gallery through Nov. 1.


Photo caption: Vertical Farm Takes Over JCC Lobby

View original article at: Vertical Farm Grows in Lobby of JCC to Kick Off Yearlong Celebration


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