CMZoo Tests Grow Pod as Sustainable On-Site Source for Lettuce

July 29, 2021

Have you noticed the shipping container next to Cheyenne Mountain Zoo’s historic carousel and wondered what’s going on? CMZoo is planning to grow lettuce using a retired shipping container. But, that’s simplifying things. Inside the modified shipping container’s sturdy walls lies a high-tech, energy efficient, and bio-safe grow house.

It’s hard to find a project much greener than this. The new grow house is energy-, water- and space-efficient. Because the grow pod’s shell was a freezer shipping container in its previous life, it’s heavily insulated. That will protect the plants from Colorado’s extreme temperature ranges.

The hydroponic lettuce growing system inside the container is one of the most efficient ways to grow lettuce – and anyone who has visited our 17-member giraffe herd knows we go through a lot of lettuce.

“It fluctuates throughout the year, but on average, we use more than 3,500 heads of romaine lettuce per month,” said Alex Crochet, CMZoo horticulture curator. “It’s just a small part of the giraffes’ diet, but it’s a huge part of our guests’ experience. The goal is to grow about 55% of the Zoo’s lettuce using grow pods like this one, if this test is successful.”

Crochet’s excitement for this project is contagious, and his hope is to inspire gardeners who visit the Zoo.

“It’s a whole new adventure for our horticulture team, and we’re really excited about all we’re going to learn,” said Crochet. “Eventually, we hope to have our grow pod set up in a way that our guests can learn more about sustainable farming, too. As residents of a drought state, we Coloradans can take advantage of technologies like these to save water and still grow our own produce.”

The single grow pod should produce about an acre’s worth of lettuce using only 40 gallons per day. The system also uses a dehumidifier to capture excess water from the air and filter it back into the watering reservoirs. The ebb-and-flow hydroponic system uses less than a typical shower to fuel hundreds of heads of lettuce, which Crochet hopes to plant and harvest on a schedule that produces delicious fresh lettuce on a weekly basis – eventually.

The test pod is now connected to electricity, and next, it will be hooked up to a water supply. After that, the team will get started on planting. Swing by and take a peek through the glass doors of the container to see the progress for yourself.

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