Produce grown in container on campus to be used at Children’s Museum of South Dakota

Missouri River Energy Services, the Electric Power Research Institute, South Dakota State University and the Children’s Museum of South Dakota are collaborating on a high-tech “farm-in-a-box” built entirely inside a specialized 40-foot container.

The container was delivered and installed Friday, Jan. 10, on the SDSU campus in Brookings. It will be operated by graduate students from SDSU’s Department of Agronomy, Horticulture and Plant Science. Production is anticipated to start in the spring. 

Courtesy photos: Above, a specialized 40-foot container arrives on the South Dakota State University campus Friday. Food grown in the farm-in-a-box will be donated to the Children’s Museum of South Dakota to be used in Café Coteau. 

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.  

The first crop to be grown in the container will be Red Rosie Romaine lettuce, a variety that is both disease-resistant and tasty. The container is expected to produce up to 110 pounds of produce a week.

Food produced in the container will be donated to the museum’s Cafe Coteau, which focuses on serving locally sourced and healthy foods. Produce that is beyond the capacity of the café will be donated to local organizations with missions to reduce food insecurity in the region. 

“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. Leafy greens, like those that will be growing inside the container, currently travel an average of 2,000 miles before reaching a store, added Livingston. 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.

“We are particularly excited about the opportunity this Food Pod is providing to students for research connected with the long agricultural heritage at SDSU, as well as our recent efforts in the field of precision agriculture,” said Dr. John Killefer, South Dakota Corn Endowed Dean of the SDSU College of Agriculture, Food and Environmental Sciences. “The inclusion of the Food Pod on our campus and our collaboration with the research partners means the SDSU College of Agriculture, Food and Environmental Sciences now has the ability to share agriculture in a learning environment all the way from a highly integrated production system represented by this Food Pod, to our Local Food Education Center which utilizes high tunnels, to multi-thousand-acre food-production systems that utilize no-till and conventional tillage systems in all areas of the land-grant system from teaching, to research, to outreach. Our students are having a chance to experience agriculture throughout the spectrum of these varied production systems.”

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.

MRES is a not-for-profit joint-action agency that provides wholesale electricity and energy services to 61 member municipalities in the states of Iowa, Minnesota, North Dakota and South Dakota. All MRES members own and operate local electric distribution systems. For more information, go to mrenergy.com.

The Children’s Museum of South Dakota, located in Brookings, promotes learning for children of all ages and abilities through interactive, informal, hands-on exhibits and demonstrations. The museum has welcomed more than 750,000 guests from around the world who make memories while learning through play. More information is available at prairieplay.org. 

Café Coteau, located in the museum, serves fresh, healthy food with a focus on local fare, and is open to the public Tuesday through Saturday, 8 a.m. to 5 p.m., and Sunday, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.

By: Missouri River Energy Services

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