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Agriculture goes geothermal in Pagosa Springs

Geothermal Greenhouse Partnership provides year-round production


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PHOTO CREDIT: GEOTHERMAL GREENHOUSE PARTNERSHIP

In Pagosa Springs, local leaders are sustainably harnessing the energy emanating from the world’s deepest hot springs.

The nonprofit 501(c)3 Geothermal Greenhouse Partnership planted crops in the first of three spring-heated growing domes in a park on the San Juan River in late 2016. The geothermal energy allows for year-round production, whereas Pagosa’s average outdoor growing season spans just 11 weeks.

The volunteer-run, public-private project was designed to “take advantage of our significant geothermal energy in downtown Pagosa Springs and develop an entrepreneurial model around year-round food production,” says Sally High, a board member and one of the local “civic entrepreneurs” behind the greenhouses.

The budget for infrastructure improvements and the initial 1,380-square-foot greenhouse was $700,000, and High says the second two greenhouses will be built as fundraising permits. Each dome, fabricated by Pagosa-based Growing Spaces, will cost about $100,000.

The first greenhouse is named the Education Dome for a reason. “Our mission is growing food and community with local energy,” High says. “We’re very much about teaching food production and local horticulture as well as sustainable energy.”

Case in point: Chris Couch teaches fifth-graders science at the adjacent Pagosa Springs Elementary School. In November 2016, his students planted peas in north-facing windows in their classroom and the Education Dome. The greenhouse plants “are thicker and sturdier,” Couch says.

“There are a lot of kids who are just fascinated by it,” he adds. “We’re just scratching the surface.”

The second greenhouse, dubbed the Community Garden Dome, should be up and running by mid-2018. High says the third greenhouse, the Innovation Dome, will be a test bed for new technologies and methods.

Local restaurants and markets will have the opportunity to buy fresh produce grown in the domes. “We’ll sell food in terms of maintaining our project, but the purpose is not to be for-profit,” High says. “Developing a sustainable model is of paramount importance to us.”

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Eric Peterson

Denver-based writer Eric Peterson is the author of Frommer's Colorado, Frommer's Montana & Wyoming, Frommer's Yellowstone & Grand Teton National Parks and the Ramble series of guidebooks, featuring first-person travelogues covering everything from atomic landmarks in New Mexico to celebrity gone wrong in Hollywood. Peterson has also recently written about backpacking in Yosemite, cross-country skiing in Yellowstone and downhill skiing in Colorado for such publications as Denver's Westword and The New York Daily News. He can be reached at Eptcb126@msn.com

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