Though it uses advanced greenhouse technology, Polydome’s true inventiveness lies in a non-technological strategy: it maximizes food production and variety by operating more like a self-maintaining ecosystem than an industrial farm.
While greenhouses generally produce only one kind of crop, Polydome is a polyculture system with many crops and livestock growing at once. Plants, crops, animals, and insects are strategically interwoven to connect waste, water, and energy flows and capture the benefts of varied space and light conditions. Animals within the system range freely and live naturally, while the design of the crop layout limits the need for repetitive human labor.
The main design challenge behind Polydome was the creation of successful “crop clusters,” groups of interacting plants that use space and nutrients to maximum effect. These crop clusters are like interchangeable Lego blocks, with many functional combinations that can be mixed and matched depending on the desired output of the greenhouse and local market demand.
Depending on the mix of crops and animals, Polydome systems can be fully zero-waste. Plant waste is reused as mulch, compost, or fish feed, while animal wastes are processed into plant nutrient supplements. Rather than shading plants using mechanical screens, shade-loving plants are intercropped below plants with a high demand for direct sunlight.
Mushroom cultivation, chickens, and composting provide supplemental CO2 rather than generators or the combustion of fossil fuels. Using temporal and spatial stacking, companion planting, and the layering of soil crops with hydroponically-grown crops, the Polydome design allows for greater production density than in any other cultivation method.
A Community Asset
On a socio-economic level, the model shows that this system is highly profitable. It allows for high-density production, the capture of several high-value niche markets, and savings on technological inputs. Rather than focusing on the large-scale production of a single, relatively valuable crop (tomatoes, peppers), Polydome produces many high value crops that usually have a limited local market (herbs, mushrooms, berries).
Potential for Urban Agriculture
Polydome produces many high value crops that usually have a limited local market (herbs, mushrooms, berries). By combining a Polydome system with a shop or restaurant, food can be sold directly to customers. Shrinking the distance between producer and consumer also translates into higher profits. Polydome also provides possibilities for urban agriculture that with traditional systems might not be feasible or desirable.
Polydome is designed to last a minimum of 30 years, largely because it relies on many perennial crops that do not need to be replanted every year. This means that an investment can be made in its physical structure and appearance, ensuring that it provides a positive aesthetic contribution to the built environment.
Polydome systems are a step towards truly sustainable agriculture: they produce high quality food efficiently and locally while creating environmental benefits and caring for human and animal welfare. They provide a realistic way of doubling our food production by 2050 while reducing the overall impact of agriculture.
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