It started out as a tool to help feed people in refugee camps—a metal contraption that folded out and up, with a fish tank, wind turbine, solar panel and a one-inch thick “Bio-Quilt” which enables plants to grow with no soil and little water. Then, a United Nations refugee mission in Africa told inventor Paul Giacomantonio that the implementation was too complicated for refugees.
But that didn’t stop him.
Giacomantonio, a former Peace Corps worker who had worked in equatorial Africa and other arid regions, knew that limited water resources in much of the world made farming difficult and knew his “Sun Curve” could help. But while he devised more strategies, the prototype Sun Curve found its way to the Coyote Point Museum for Environmental Education in San Mateo, Calif.
The original Sun Curve
At the museum, visitors to the 8×8-foot wide, 20-foot high mini-farm could learn about the “closed-loop” Sun Curve system that requires only about 10% of the normal amount of water used for farming. Fish in an attached tank provide waste to help grow the food and the solar panel and turbine manage the pump and filtration keeping the loop constant. The result? “Students can now see it in 3-D,” Giaomantonio says, adding that the seeing helps make learning easier.
Wanting to see what else he could design, Giacomantonio (@inventori on Twitter) co-founded San-Francisco-based Inka Biospheric Systems in 2009 to continue inventing, refining and discovering ways to bring sustainability to people’s lives.
Since then, he’s cut out the use of bronze and stainless steel and now uses chain link fencing to create modular aquaponic farms where the solar, fish tank and wind turbine can be added later, which brings the cost down to about $10,000 to $12,000, according to Giacomantonio. And, for now, he’s turned his interest toward educational systems.
Children are the future
Even in school budgets constrained by the economy, there’s interest. For instance, there’s already a mini-farm unit at the Sanchez Elementary School and one under construction at the Rooftop Alternative School, both in San Francisco. And there’s a 25-foot-long stretch garden at the Good Samaritan Resource Center in the same city.
The idea is to “help flesh out the curriculum,” Giacomantonio says. “Students can learn about biology, math, photosynthesis, gardening and more.” And, the students can be challenged themselves to create their own solutions to make food production easier and reduce our environmental impact—something Giacomantonio welcomes.
“We can look at about 10,000 students and see what they come up,” he says, adding that some of their ideas have been quite helpful.
The Sun Curve Design Challenge
Inka collaborated with the open Educational Resources Commons project launched by the Institute for the Study of Knowledge Management in Education to create the Sun Curve Design Challenge. The idea is to bring green-design thinking into classrooms and “give third graders the tools to help them change their world,” says Giacomantonio.