After years of planning East Boston’s first self-sustaining, zero-emission, geothermal greenhouse officially opened last week at 6 Chelsea Terrace.
Run by Eastie Farm, the new greenhouse will provide year-round growing of nutritious foods for the community through Eastie Farm’s Community Supported Agriculture Program.
“It’s a zero emissions greenhouse,” said Eastie Farm Founder and Director Kannan Thiruvengadam. “What that means is in the operations of the greenhouse, there will not be any carbon emitted. All greenhouses require some heating in the winter because our winters get harsh. However, greenhouses leak, and even the idea behind a greenhouse is that it traps heat as the sunlight gets through the glass but because the winter is so harsh, it loses a lot of the heat. So you really have to heat greenhouses in the winter.”
The solution for Eastie’s first greenhouse is the use of geothermal energy.
“We drilled three wells 55 feet, reaching down to a temperature of 48 degrees and that temperature will be exchanged with the air temperature in the greenhouse and that’s what will keep the greenhouse warm in the winter and cool in the summer,” said Thiruvengadam. “This will allow us to be able to grow fresh food all year because the soil will not freeze and the plants can continue to take nutrients from the soil. That also means that we are not restricted to annuals. We can grow perennials, we can grow little trees.”
Thiruvengadam said the community has already expressed interest in some programming at the greenhouse.
“It seems to me that the community wants to use the space for some activities as well so we will accommodate that,” he said. “There have been some requests for growing tree saplings so it can serve as a tree nursery, so we can allocate some space to do that.”
The original idea for an Eastie greenhouse percolated up from Boston Public School students that were taking part in educational activities at Eastie Farm’s original location on Sumner Street.
“There is a BPS-owned school lot right next to us and we’re very excited about collaborating with them,” said Thiruvengadam. “The school hasn’t been built yet but there will be a middle school there soon enough so that will be one of the schools we collaborate with as well as continuing our collaborations with the Donald McKay School, who has been a partner with us for more than four years in our education programming, as well as the Dante Alighieri School and Samuel Adams School. The original idea for the greenhouse came from the kids that we work with at the Donald Mckay School. They were saying they were having fun in the spring and fall coming to the farm space on Sumner Street but were disappointed there were no farm activities in the winter.”
The materials used to build the greenhouse came from a company based in the Netherlands known for providing top quality greenhouses around the globe.
“Every drop of water that falls on the greenhouse will be collected and will be stored in a rain barrel and whatever excess will send it to the ground,” said Thiruvengadam. “The greenhouse sort of lends itself well to the stormwater collection because we don’t believe in sending stormwater into the city’s drains and into the harbor.”
The greenhouse was made possible through federal funding, state funding earmarked by Rep. Adrian Madaro and the former Sen. Joseph Boncore, as well as grants from the East Boston Foundation and the city’s Grassroots and Community Preservation Act.
However, Thiruvengadam said Eastie Farm is still fundraising for the greenhouse to add landscaping, rain gardens as well as other programming.
At the grand opening last week, Rep. Madaro said, “There’s no better way to celebrate Earth Day than in community with neighbors and Eastie Farm at their geothermal greenhouse. I’m excited to see this site bring us closer to a greener and more sustainable future for all of us.”
At-Large City Councilor Ruthzie Louijeune, who was at the event, added, “My office and I had a great time at Eastie Farm’s Earth Day event. They are really charting the course with their zero-emissions greenhouse which was wonderful to see. The Farm empowers so many community members to grow their own food, teach others about composting, and steward land is a way that centers climate justice. It was just a beautiful community-centered day.”
Sen. Lydia Edwards, who planted a tree at the new greenhouse with the help of Rep. Madaro said she was honored to spend Earth Day in community with friends and neighbors at Eastie Farm’s new greenhouse.
“Thanks Kannan Thiruvengadam, Eastie Farm, Plumbers and Gasfitters Local 12, Building and Construction Trades Council, Insulators Union, and the Greater Boston Labor Council for coming together to bring green jobs and infrastructure to our neighborhood,” she said.
Congresswoman Ayana Pressley went on to say, “With so many great community and climate benefits, Eastie Farm’s geothermal greenhouse is a blueprint for future development.“