Partnership Provides Pounds of Lettuce

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Partnership Provides Pounds of Lettuce

January 17, 2020

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Food Pod Project Offers Mama T. Rex Fresh Local Greens Year-Round

Partnership promotes innovative food production, new ways to learn and grow

A Tyrannosaurus rex doesn’t traditionally eat lettuce, but Mama T. Rex, the dinosaur on the prairie of the Children’s Museum of South Dakota, will be seeing a lot more of the green stuff in the near future thanks to a partnership with Missouri River Energy Services (MRES), the Electric Power Research Institute (EPRI), and South Dakota State University (SDSU).

A high-tech “farm-in-a box” was delivered and installed on the campus of SDSU in Brookings, S.D., on January 10. The food pod is capable of producing up to 110 pounds a week of Red Rosie Romaine lettuce regardless of the season.

Food trailer parked next to the Museum's backyard prairie with animatronic T. rex in the background.
Mama T. Rex gets a look at the Food Pod before it is installed on the campus of South Dakota State University

The 40-foot container farm will be operated by graduate students from SDSU’s Department of Agronomy, Horticulture & Plant Science with production anticipated to start in the spring.

Food produced in the container will be donated to the Museum’s Café Coteau. Produce beyond the capacity of the cafe will be donated to local organizations with missions to reduce food insecurity in the region. 

Unlike traditional farms, plants in the container are grown vertically indoors without soil, getting their nutrition from water and light energy from powerful LEDs. The result is a system that operates independently from land, climate, and season. That means fresh greens can be produced locally year-round.  

“This project aligns well with our museum values to promote sustainability and to give back to the community,” said Kate Treiber, executive director of the Children’s Museum of South Dakota.

“This project aligns well with our museum values to promote sustainability and to give back to the community,” said Kate Treiber, executive director of the Children’s Museum of South Dakota. “The research could potentially provide some unique opportunities for us to share information related to sustainable agriculture to our guests as well.”

“Local indoor agriculture has the potential to significantly reduce emissions because less transportation is required,” said Joni Livingston, MRES vice president of member services and communications.

Food pod trailer being set in place by a crane.
The Food Pod is set in place by a crane during a snowy January day.

Leafy greens, like those that will be growing inside the container, currently travel an average of 2,000 miles before reaching a store. Indoor food production also requires significantly less water and chemicals than traditional agriculture.

“As an agency serving public power utilities, such as Brookings Municipal Utilities, we are excited to be a part of an emerging market that has so many potential benefits for local communities and for society as a whole,” Livingston said. 

The project is co-funded by MRES and a grant from the American Public Power Association’s Demonstration of Energy & Efficiency Development program. It is part of a larger, collaborative EPRI effort involving several other indoor agriculture facilities across the country.

“The unique part of being a children’s museum is that we have the opportunity to promote learning. Finding innovative and creative ways to support a healthy world is part of what we do,” said Treiber. “We are proud to be part of a whole network of museums highlighting nutrition and healthy eating and we look forward to seeing what comes next.”

Lettuce is just one fresh, delicious ingredient of many served at Café Coteau.