Far­mPod goes to school


Me­owWolf, which sprouted in an old bowl­ing al­ley off Cer­ril­los Road, is not the only game-chang­ing ven­ture borne last year from Santa Fe’s cre­ative heart, gutsy soul, and lov­ing con­sious­ness. Far­mPod, which sprang into ac­tion in the Solana Cen­ter, could end up hav­ing an even deeper im­pact on civ­i­liza­tion.

True, Far­mPod has al­ready gone miss­ing fromits 2016 lo­ca­tion in front of La Mon­tanita Coop, but it moved to Santa Fe Com­mu­nity Col­lege and is vig­or­ously grow­ing food. Al­ready you can take cour­ses in aquapon­ics, learn all about the pod, and then — if you’re smart, com­mit­ted, and­maybe a lit­tle lucky — start feed­ing the world.

Reg­u­lar trav­el­ers ofWest Alameda will re­mem­ber the bizarre two-story ed­i­fice ofwhich I speak. Start­ing as a stan­dard 20-foot-metal-stor­age-con­tainer, the pod quickly grew a green­house on top. The sys­tem, with its yummy-look­ing straw­ber­ries, let­tuce, greens, herbs, and fish got press in­The NewMex­i­can, and it even made the evening news.

In­vented by lo­cal com­puter ex­pertMike Straight, his “Farm of the Fu­ture” has four fish tanks down­stairs and 600 plant-grow­ing sta­tions up­stairs. Ac­cord­ing to the web­site www.farmi­na­pod.com, Straight’s goal is to man­u­fac­ture highly au­to­mated Far­mPods for use by restau­rants, schools, re­sorts, hos­pi­tals, neigh­bor­hood mar­kets, com­mu­nity sup­ported agri­cul­ture, shel­ters, aid agen­cies, and com­mu­ni­ties.

Com­pared to other forms of agricul- ture, in aquapon­ics sys­tems in­puts are as­ton­ish­ingly low and yields are sur­pris­ingly high. Although it’s not as phys­i­cally de­mand­ing as typ­i­cal farm-la­bor, aquapon­ics re­quires reg­u­lar mon­i­tor­ing, pre­cise data anal­y­sis, in­stant de­ci­sion­mak­ing, and at least a splash of in­tu­ition. If aquapon­ics is not a sil­ver bul­let for hu­man­ity, it seems des­tined to help cat­a­pult main­stream cul­ture to­ward a more sus­tain­able so­ci­ety.

En­ter 25-year veteran aquapon­ics-guru Char­lie Shultz, who re­cently moved to Santa Fe. With his team of ded­i­cated SFCC stu­dents, Shultz has been ro­bustly test­ing Straight’s pod. First, Shultz and his stu­dents learned that the wa­ter in the Far­mPod’s fish tanks took a long time to warm up. This made con­di­tions dif­fi­cult for the fish and the crops. The wa­ter is warmer now, and the pod is crank­ing.

The class also learned that the ir­ri­ga­tion emit­ters used in the pod’s ver­ti­cal plant­ing tow­ers get clogged eas­ily. Now, tow­ers are main­tained daily. The fix— a few pokes with a pa­per­clip — is easy, but the threat of death on the high-tech farm still looms. A third chal­lenge stu­dents dis­cov­ered was that work­ing with the pod’s ver­ti­cal plant­ing tow­ers in­volved a sig­nif­i­cant amount la­bor com­pared to work­ing with the hor­i­zon­tal aquapon­ics beds that the col­lege main­tains in its neigh­bor­ing ge­o­desic dome green­house.

Straight’s ul­ti­mate goal is to sell Far­mPods all over the world. This meant he had to move his­man­u­fac­tur­ing op­er­a­tion to a port city, so he moved to the is­land of St. Croix. He was lucky to con­vince Shultz to main­tain and mon­i­tor his pro­to­type here in Santa Fe to re­port back on all of the pod’s suc­cesses—and chal­lenges—that new tech­nolo­gies have. As Straight trav­els on, let’s thank him­for be­stow­ing Santa Fe with his com­plex and hope-in­spir­ing in­ven­tion and for leav­ing it in such qual­i­fied hands.

Nate Downey started Santa Fe Per­ma­cul­ture in 1992, au­thored Roof-Re­liant Land­scap­ing (2008) and Har­vest the Rain (2010), and is the pres­i­dent of Per­maDe­sign, Inc. He can be reached via www. per­made­sign.com or 505-690-7939.

Mike Straights’s Far­mPod grows food at its new home in front of the ge­o­desic dome green­house be­hind the Trades and Ad­vanced Tech­nol­ogy Cen­ter at Santa Fe Com­mu­nity Col­lege. Be­low, Olga As­coli and Billy Roop, stu­dents of aquapon­ics at SFCC, say one of the most im­por­tant tools for a Far­mPod is a pa­per clip

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