Like many people, researchers in Antarctica want to feast on fresh, wholesome produce whenever the craving strikes. But for people who live in an area that is perpetually -100ºF outside, access to fresh produce gets a little tricky. Which is why engineers at the German Aerospace Center (GAC) are building a high-tech, 135-square-foot growhouse, capable of supporting 30 to 50 varieties of plants, and giving the snow-bound scientists an extra boost of nutrients.
Called the Eden-ISS, the farm is already under construction and will grow food for all who are stationed at the Neumayer III polar station on the Ekstrom Ice Shelf. Getting food to this region is not the easiest task. The only way to get food in is by plane or boat, and most food arrives dry or frozen. During the summer, for example, scientists may receive one shipment of fresh food a week. This farm hopes to change all of that.
The greenhouse will be in a climate-controlled shipping container and will utilize vertical farming techniques. Vertical farming – which involves growing food in trays stacked on shelves – is lauded as a sustainable form of agriculture that yields more crops per square meter than traditional farming or greenhouses, uses less water, grows plants faster, can be used year-round and can, in theory, be built anywhere. Hence the appeal for Antarctica.
Eden-ISS will hold 42 LED lights tuned to red and blue wavelengths to create optimal growing conditions for leafy greens, peppers, radishes, strawberries, tomatoes, herbs and more. The farm will also have extra carbon dioxide pumped in to help the plants thrive, and the temperature will always be set to an idyllic 75ºF.
The greenhouse will be finished sometime in October, according to Business Insider. The infrastructure is ready to go – the GAC team grew its first cucumber in the greenhouse in July. But to finish up the farm, engineers are waiting for a final shipment of supplies, which will arrive next month. If the Eden-ISS experiment succeeds, researchers see the potential of using this same system to help astronauts grow food in space.