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Pomona's Organic Farm Is Branching Out

A new tearoom is scheduled to open on campus next fall. It won’t have scones or cucumber sandwiches, but it will have something most tearooms don’t have—its own solar rover. Built by students as part of an independent study class, the rover will make its home at the organic Farm on south campus, where it will be used to power a hot plate in the adobe dome’s “tearoom” and to supply electricity for tools, lighting and sound equipment.

Named for the Mars rovers that have been exploring the red planet for the past decade, the Pomona solar rover is the brainchild of Richard Hazlett, professor of geology and environmental analysis, and Juan Araya, Farm technician. “Five students will work with us this fall as part of an independent study called ‘Inventing Solar Energy,’” says Hazlett. “They’ll learn how solar power works and then they’ll actually put together a portable power station.” Anchored to a flat garden cart, the rover will be about the size of an office desk and will be equipped with four solar panels and storage cell batteries. It may also have a small biodiesel generator that can produce fuel for gasoline-powered equipment.

Although the rover won’t be able to move on its own like its Martian namesakes, it could be ported around campus to supply electricity for the sound systems at graduation or a rock music performance at Walker Beach.

Its main mission, however, will be generating electricity on south campus as part of a larger effort to make the Farm sustainable, says Hazlett. “There is so much that is already happening or in the planning stages. This fall a student will do an independent study in bio-intensive cultivation. The idea is to maximize the amount of crop coming off a piece of land—about 120 square feet—with little external input aside from the seeds.” Other projects being discussed include a pond that will filtrate with solar power and wind turbines that can store electricity on site.

The Farm, which was started by students along the Wash almost 10 years ago, now has an orchard of about 60 trees, as well as plantings of perennial shrubs, berries, herbs, flowers and annual vegetables. Last year, a section of land near the dome became a part of the Environmental Analysis Department, serving as a laboratory for the Farms and Gardens course. “In essence, we’re building a human-engineered ecosystem, which brings another dimension to the department,” says Hazlett. “Just as with any of the sciences, it’s important for students to get out there and put theory into practice.”

In addition to efforts to increase sustainability, students have continued to work on the dome, which will be used to store tools and seeds and as a gathering place with a reference library, exhibit space, and, of course, a self-service tearoom. Bamboo furniture, made by students during the summer, will supply seating inside the dome and will replace the Farm’s rusting collection of outdoor furniture. Many of these improvements will be on display at the first annual Harvest Festival in late October, when the rover will power up the lights for a schedule of events ranging from bluegrass and apple dunking to pumpkin carving and pie eating contests.

“The Farm is meant to be a facility that can serve a lot of interests—from students who continue to plant their own gardens to archeology classes that will be able come here and use the reeds from the pond to make cordage in the same way Native Americans did,” says Hazlett. “We’d like to see more student art projects and maybe even a play staged here. So on this little God’s green acre, there is a lot we can do. I like to tell people, ‘You haven’t seen anything yet.’”

Read more about:
The Farm

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