Friday was our first truly sunny, hot day of the season in Craftsbury Common.  As I pulled into the dusty driveway of Wild Branch Farm I was greeted by faithful, barking farm dogs.  I hopped out, said hello, and proceeded to scramble down and over the hills of the farm, dogs trotting behind.  After a bit of walking I crossed a crooked stream, and finally descended on a small pond, when the contraption came into view.  There it was, cooler than I had imagined — a bright orange floating greenhouse.  A simple concept with huge implications.

Sterling students Rohit Fenn and Hannah Bowen tinkering inside the BlueGreen Nexus prototype

Rohit Fenn (’18) was there, tinkering and testing his prototype.  I was lucky to catch him right before he departed for Amsterdam to participate in the Thought For Food (TFF) Global Summit, an international forum for scholars, innovators, and environmentalists to come together to solve the global food crisis.  Rohit and his team are 1 of only 10 finalists in the TFF Challenge this year, pitching their floating greenhouse (called BlueGreen Nexus) as a solution to ending world hunger by 2050.

Their design recognizes that many of the world’s largest cities are coastal, and that land and real estate in our largest cities is at a high demand — an issue they resolved by designing large-capacity floating greenhouses that “use[s] passive solar energy to distill ocean water into freshwater, creating a land, water, and energy-neutral form of scaleable urban agriculture.”
Focusing on water issues is no new endeavor for Rohit, who was a finalist in the Google Science Fair in 2012 for submitting a prototype of a vacuum-flushing toilet that uses 50% less water than the average latrine.  In fact, it was Rohit’s interest in freshwater conservation and appropriate technology that led him to Sterling.  In his blog post from 2015, just after arriving on campus, he said:
I discovered Sterling College from halfway across the world on the Internet and knew right away this place had something unconventional but beautiful to offer me.  Considering I had spent the majority of my life in tropical South India, there was some uncertainty about how well I would fit in this rural Vermont context.  I’m a little over a month into my time here at Sterling, and I’m absolutely loving it here.  I haven’t felt more comfortable, stimulated, and driven all at the same time anywhere else.  Being here means to be constantly surrounded by people who have that same appreciation for the outdoors and are trying to understand nature through the lends of the scientific process.  A friend with very similar interests and I are already drawing up plans for a high-production intensity hydroponics greenhouse.


Rohit knew, even then, that Sterling would be a good fit, because of the school’s goals for carbon neutrality, and because of our unique juxtaposition with Burlington, VT, a city that has gone to great lengths to use appropriate technology to decrease its carbon footprint.


Designer Rohit Fenn ’18 standing inside his floating greenhouse prototype.

BlueGreen Nexus is meant to cut the costs of socially and economically expensive land for urban agriculture by moving agricultural efforts off-land entirely and promoting floating agriculture.  The floating greenhouse passively harvests humidity from the surrounding air and distills it into fresh water, utilized by a hydroponic system inside.  Rohit said the end goal of BlueGreen Nexus is to achieve complete water neutrality in a sustainable agricultural system.

Team BlueGreen Nexus’ design is right in line with Sterling’s foundational commitment to finding alternative solutions that slow and address climate change worldwide.  Best of luck to the team as they head to Amsterdam this weekend to pitch their floating greenhouse design.  We’re pulling for you!

Filed Under: Community Sustainable Agriculture & Food Systems