An unusual blend of green technology

Farm at Open Sky Wilderness Therapy circulates underground air to moderate temperature in greenhouse

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Mary Shinn/The Mancos Times Brittany Meyer, the Farm Manager at Open Sky Wilderness Therapy near

While many greenhouses rely on natural gas, an unusual greenhouse at Open Sky Wilderness Therapy near Mancos relies on air circulating through the ground.

Farm manager Brittany Meyers believes her 42-foot geodesic dome with its unique heating and cooling system combines technology to make it one of a kind in the country.

"This is all something completely new," Meyer said.

The air circulates through pipes about 4 feet underneath the ground. As the air circulates, it warms up in winter or cools in summer, taking on the temperature of dirt around it. In the summer, it will cool the air by 20 degrees and keep it from freezing in the winter. The system, called a climate battery, relies on electricity to run fans circulating the air.

The climate control allowed Meyer to start planting last fall when the dome was completed.

During the coming summer, she believes the more stable temperatures and the increased humidity will make it a better environment than growing outside.

Over the winter, Meyer was still in the experimental stage, but she still harvested twice a week for a total of about $400 worth of vegetables sold wholesale.

This summer, the harvest will include tomatoes, eggplants, peppers, melons, squash and basil. Last week, there were 30 heirloom varieties of vegetables in the greenhouse.

The produce is provided to clients at the base camps in coolers. As part of the company's therapy program, clients - including students and families - take backpacking expeditions of three to five days in Colorado and Utah. Meyer believes that providing fresh produce to backpackers is part of a unique experience.

"Open Sky believes that food is medicine," Meyer said.

The programing may someday incorporate the greenhouse into the curriculum for clients in the future as well because the environment is therapeutic.

While the climate control sets the dome apart, it's sustainable down to the vents. Beeswax naturally expands, and contracts with temperature to open and close vents in the dome.

The organic compost includes goldfish in a small indoor pond that provide natural fertilizer through their excrement. In addition, Meyer starts her seeds in small freestanding blocks of dirt made out of a specialized mix of fertilizer, eliminating the plastic containers many nurseries use.

But the dome also presents a few challenges. Since it doesn't freeze in the winter time, the pests never die off.

There's a lot more that goes into maintaining integrated pest management and disease management.

She uses lemon balm because its scent wards off whiteflies and aphids. She also uses alyssum, which provides habitat and supplemental food source for predatory insects such as ground beetles and lacewings.

Meyer brought a background in permaculture, ecology, sustainable agriculture and experiential education to the design and management of the project.

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Mary Shinn/The Mancos Times Brittany Meyer, the Farm Manager at Open Sky Wilderness Therapy, runs