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Growing crops has always been a precarious business. Vermin, disease, floods, catastrophic loss of entire harvests to frosts or drought are just some of the threats that Farmers have to contend with.
Father and son team Sergio and Luca Gamberini aren't Farmers. Their background is engineering and commerce. But despite having virtually no agricultural experience, they may have just found a long term solution to ensuring a good harvests with increasingly unpredictable climates and diminishing farm land. They have pioneered a way to grow crops in the last place any Farmer would believe possible.
“My Father is a dreamer. There are two types of dreamers. Those who dream only, and those who dream and, somehow make a dream become a reality”
The Orto di Nemo project
or Nemo’s Garden, as it’s called in English, is an underwater farm, covering a surface area of about 100 m2. It is currently enjoying its second successful harvest of Basil, Cabbage, Strawberries and Lettuce, all grown entirely beneath the Mediterranean Sea. Located 100 meters off the shoreline in Noli Bay close to Savona, Italy, Nemo's Garden is composed of 5 air-filled transparent acrylic biospheres. They hold approximately 2000 liters of air and are anchored to the bottom of the sea by 28 chains, floating at different depths of between 6 & 10 metres. Thanks to refracted sunlight the interior of each biosphere becomes significantly warmer than the external sea, thus creating stable climatic conditions
in which plants thrive. Despite looking like something straight out of a Jules Verne novel or a James Cameron movie set the design of the pods is purely functional. The open base of each bubble means that there is a large water surface at the bottom of the bubble, and natural evaporation keeps the garden’s naturally irrigated. A fan creating airflow that reduces the humidity on the plant’s leaves, is powered by solar panels on top of a Control Tower. As well as being insulated from sudden changes in temperature, strong winds and harsh sunlight, the pressurised atmosphere inside each biosphere and concentrated high carbon-dioxide levels, helps plants grow much faster than their land based counterparts. The crops are also protected from insects and airborne disease. There’s no need for pesticides and until rats and birds find away of free diving, traditional vermin pose no threat either.
That’s not to say that the biospheres are completely isolated from the surrounding ocean. Sergio claims that crabs have already climbed up the tether ropes and inside the greenhouses to take a look round, and jellyfish like to shelter underneath. Even the odd Octopus has unwittingly ventured inside. Thankfully none have yet developed a taste for any of the fruit and vegetables grown therein.
But the big question is, how do undersea grown food compare in taste, texture and appearance to
conventional land grown produce? Sergio and Luca say that not only is it as good, it's even better. Perhaps because rather than escape in the evening air, the intoxicating aromas are reabsorbed by the leaves. Maybe it's because the balanced temperature and controlled environment promotes a more intense flavour. Of course, it’s all conjecture at this early stage of the experiment. But it's not just the Gamberinis who think so. Local Farmer's, who've been growing produce in the hills overlooking the bay for generations, are also impressed with the quality.
Success was by no means instant. Several prototype iterations of the biospheres were washed ashore by strong tides and the first few crops were lost to rough seas. But encouraged by Luca's unwavering support, and determined to prove the doubters wrong, Sergio never lost faith in his concept.
Jacques Yves Cousteau
"With Earth's burgeoning human population to feed we must turn to the sea with understanding and new technology. We need to farm it as we farm the land."
“Setbacks happen and things go wrong, but you adapt yourself to the situation. You learn and you become stronger. It's exactly what happens in nature, when there is a storm, some parts of the tree are broken, but the tree grows back stronger. And this is what happened to us. We learnt, and we grew”
Future generations may be thankful for dreamers like Sergio and Luca.
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