#ProjectMartian: Chapter 1 – Preparing for Launch

The Sultan of Systems (AKA as Jim Bruner)  working with I Know I can Summer Camp Students to set the initial growing beds at PAST Foundation 24 months ago.

By Annalies Corbin and Jim Bruner

This is that moment when work and life happily collide.  At PAST we pride ourselves on helping the tribe bring their inner creativity and passions into the organization as catalysts for innovation.

What many people do not know is that the urban garden project at Mezzacello was started as a direct result of Jim Bruner’s experiences with the design and development of those 19 STEM Outdoor Innovation Labs (SOIL) around the state (last weeks blog post!). This is that moment when work and life happily collide.  At PAST we pride ourselves on helping the tribe bring their inner creativity and passions into the organization as catalysts for innovation. That is exactly what Jim did when he was married his work on the SOIL project to PAST’s desire to highlight food, food safety, food scarcity, equity, culture and Agriculture all together. Jim turned his home in Columbus’ Olde Towne East into Mezzacello, an Urban Garden and outdoor classroom for the community.  He partnered Mezzacello with PAST’s food science program NOURISH and voila, #ProjectMartian was born.

The Original Plan

The original plan for #ProjectMartian was to create compost-enriched beds for PAST Summer Programs and community Maker Mania programming. The five beds are  2.4×1.8m (8’x6’) with a solar-powered watering system, two 2000 L (528 gallon) rain cachements, and some integrated robotics. One of the beds would be devoted to building chemically accelerated compost using enzymes along with brown and green biomaterials (more on this later). The infrastructure was to be put into place to power water irrigation and delivery as well as Agribots (robots deployed in a Ag setting) to tend to basic plants with low-needs.

A good portion of this work was about developing and documenting alongside the students the processes of innovation that can be achieved in multiple settings. In this case the query was, “Can we create #ZeroDirt beds via a repeatable process that can be utilized in almost any urban environment?”.

A good portion of this work was about developing and documenting alongside the students the processes of innovation that can be achieved in multiple settings. In this case the query was, “Can we create #ZeroDirt beds via a repeatable process that can be utilized in almost any urban environment?” So Gentleman Farmer Jim got to work!

The Lead Up to Launch

Structural changes that were made to the SOIL garden beds at PAST in preparation for #ProjectMartian included:

  • Building accessible paths around the raised beds.
  • Raising the height (and volume) of the raised beds.
  • Modifying the beds and removing the heavy, alluvial clay soil from the top layer.
  • Replacing the top layers with layers of cardboard, grass, manure, shredded leaves, sand, straw, and peat moss.
  • Allowing this to decompose down to the new substrate (think engineered forest floor).
  • All of this took place 18 months ago.
  • Since then we have only added compost, sand, and peat moss while amending with manure.

To be clear: These beds were not just dirt; They are what is called a “lasagna garden” (due to the layering) and over time it has become the soil.

When SOIL comes Home

The work, technology and inspiration from SOIL that had influenced Mezzacello was now returning home to the PAST Foundation.

The same principles that were applied at Mezzacello for restarting the ecosystem for growing food were applied at the PAST Innovation Lab location. The work, technology and inspiration from SOIL that had influenced Mezzacello was now returning home. 

  • The existing beds were shored up and leveled with integrated irrigation and a permaculture base of cardboard and mineral, nutrient, and water seeded paper shredding to attract life up into the beds and hold moisture.
  • This was a mission to test a theory about the linkages between growing on earth and growing on Mars.  
  • Soil from Franklin Park Conservatory was to be added and each bed was to be covered over with a jute burlap cover to serve as a mulch.
  • Plants will eventually be planted and cared for by students by cutting through the burlap and direct seeding plants.
  • All materials, nutrients and effort will be tracked and monitored online. 
  • Everything was planned and ready to roll. 

And then, COVID-19 arrived…

Check back next week for #ProjectMartian: Chapter 2 – COVID19 Course Correction!


Partners

The Columbus Foundation:

  • Facebook: @TheColumbusFoundation
  • Twitter: @colsfoundation
  • Instagram: @colsfoundation
  • LinkedIN: @company/the-columbus-foundation/

Scotts Miracle Gro:

  • Facebook: @scottsmiraclegrocompany
  • Twitter: @scotts_MGro
  • Instagram: @miraclegro
  • LinkedIN: company/scottsmiraclegro/

City of Columbus

  • Facebook: @ColumbusGov
  • Twitter: @ColumbusGov
  • Instagram: @ColumbusGov
  • LinkedIN: company/city-of-columbus/

Olde Towne East

  • Facebook: @oldetowneeast
  • Twitter: @oldetowneeast
  • Instagram: @oldetowneeast
  • LinkedIN: in/olde-towne-east-neighborhood-association-60a17314