Looking for Nemo? Try his underwater farm.

Ag & Food |  2 min. read

“Absurd, psychotic, ridiculous.”

That was his son’s reaction, when Sergio Gamberini first talked about farming under the ocean.

There are indoor farms, yes – vertical farms on racks inside warehouses.  There are automated farms – with self-driving tractors on the ground and drones in the air.  There are even farms (well, gardens) in outer space – on the International Space Station.

But an underwater farm?  That had to be impossible?

And the crop that Sergio Gamberini wanted to grow underwater wasn’t fish, or even seaweed.  It was basil.  The same basil you might grow in a pot.  The same basil that goes into pesto or onto a pizza.

That was, ridiculous.

But today, basil DOES grow underwater, in “Nemo’s Garden” (Gamberini’s name for the project), off the Italian coast near Genoa.  Beans and strawberries and lettuce grow there too.  Still no seaweed though.

What made the ridiculous into reality, the impossible into possible, the psychotic into the possible – was something very simple.  A plastic balloon.

(Photo from Nemo’s Garden)

Six of those “balloons” make up Nemo’s Garden (they call them “pods”) – filled with air, floating 15 to 36 feet below the surface, stretched over a frame anchored to the ocean floor.

Did you know?

Acrylic starts out as an altogether different thing – petroleum.  Using heat, individual molecules of naphtha – a component of crude oil – are “cracked”, broken apart – to produce petrochemicals, like propylene, which is then put through various chemical reactions in the lab to produce (among many other things) – the acrylates used to make the “balloons” for Nemo’s Garden.

The acrylic plastic lets sunlight through – and on the inside of the plastic, water condenses out and is used to irrigate the plants (the bottom is open to the sea, but the air pressure inside keeps the seawater down).  The water temperature at that depth is just right for growing plants, like basil.  The plants themselves grow hydroponically – so no dirt – just a “nutrient-rich solution” flowing through tubes inside the pod.  (Plus, underwater?  No bugs.)

And those sheets of acrylic plastic covering the pods, are transparent enough to let through the maximum amount of light while being strong enough to stand up to salt water and ocean currents.

Those are the facts about how it all works.  But just watching it work:  these balloons/pods, in the filtered light underwater, swaying just a bit back and forth, looks like something from another world.

You can watch the story of how that “other world” came to be below.

Video from Volvo Car UK