What do the
Pope, astronauts, and armies at war all have in common? They’ve gotta eat. And they prefer fresh food. So it’s no wonder that farms are popping up to service them, even in the most inhospitable locations. From Antarctica to the International Space Station, here are a few of the world’s craziest farms.
Tilling the South Pole
Not looking all that hospitable, right? Researchers living in Antarctica don’t think so either. But at least they have greenhouses. This October, Eden ISS is set to arrive at the Neumayer III polar station. It’s an inconspicuous shipping container, but
Scientific American reports it will grow something on the order of 40 different plants, including basil and strawberries. Eden is far from the first greenhouse on Antarctica, as polar researchers have been relying on the food these units produce and the psychological comfort plants provide (have you heard of horticultural therapy?) for decades. This new and improved model is designed, like so much else in the south pole, so that it can withstand regular temperature dips below -22 degrees. Like other growth chambers on the forgotten continent, it’s also an elaborate science experiment: the space agencies funding the futuristic farms hope to glean understanding of what it will be like for humans to bear fruit on that other, redder desert, Mars.
Farming in the DMZ
While the ground in the DMZ is more hospitable to farming than Antarctica’s icy shores, the political situation in the
demilitarized zone poses its own challenges. First, a bit of background: North and South Korea are still at war. Because North Korea—the part of Korea that’s attached to the mainland—is one of the most isolated countries in the world, South Korea has essentially become an island, making food difficult and expensive to import. And the major swath of arable land on the Korean peninsula falls between North and South Korea, in the no man’s land known as the DMZ, which is operated by the United Nations and reportedly still brimming with active landmines. South Korea’s solution has been to heavily subsidize farming in the DMZ. There’s a community of about 250 farmers and their families who live under strict rules, but make a tax-free income of around $80,000 (USD) and receive free education, along with other supposed perks. It sounds like quite the place to grow carrots.
The pope’s many residences aren’t just celestial palaces and heavenly places of worship—Castel Gandolfo, where many popes elect to spend the summer, also has a private farm. Or at least, it used to be private, until Pope Francis
opened it up to tourists last year. Established 1929 by Pope Pius XI, the farm’s animals are its main draw. Cows make yogurt and mozzarella cheese. Donkeys produce milk even the lactose intolerant can drink. Free-range chickens provide the pope’s fresh eggs. And the buzzing sound? It’s from the bees who make what I imagine is some truly blessed honey.
Advanced Plant Habitat
Just add plants
Talk about eating local. This startup is growing crops in
World War II-era air raid shelters 100 feet below London’s busy streets. During the war, when the air raid horn went off, up to 8,000 people would cram into these arched shelters. Like the space farm, the Grow Underground team is using LED lights and hydroponic (read: soil-free) techniques to raise 20 different crops, including garlic chives and red mustard. “Farmers have seen climate change happening,” co-founder Steven Dring told The Independent. “So when they see a type of new growing, they are intrigued. They look at it as potential ideas to upgrade their own operations, but also to understand the use of agriculture technology.”
Underwater the sea
Nemo’s Garden is not your average Italian farm. They’re growing their produce not in the town of Genova, but off its coast—some 20 feet underwater. Though the glass enclosures might
look like a greenhouse (or, honestly, a cadre of jellyfish), they aren’t at all similar. This farm doesn’t use LED lights or hydroponic tools; it relies on seawater’s static temperature and the unique red spectrum of sunlight that can break through the ocean’s surface to encourage growth. Right now, it’s pretty expensive to grow underwater, and much of the team’s work is focused on researching the affect of underwater growth on plants. But they hope their soil-free toil leads to the development of pharmaceuticals and advances in agriculture. Maybe one day the pods will even feed the masses, but for now, they’ll just keep swimming.