The Coast Guard Cutter Polar Star was underway off Antarctica this January when 100 unexpectedly green dinner salads showed up in the galley. “It was the freshest produce I’ve eaten on a Coast Guard cutter,” said Cmdr. Tom Przybyla, executive officer on the 399-foot heavy icebreaker. “And it was even more of a treat to have it 30 days out from our most recent port call.”
This farm-to-table feat was possible because the lettuce was grown on the ship. For the past four months, researchers aboard the Polar Star have been experimenting with a vertical, hydroponic garden that has yielded at least three harvests so far.
Both the Navy and the International Space Station have piloted indoor farms in recent years to help provide fresh produce for crews during long deployments where opportunities to resupply are limited. Coast Guard researchers have been intrigued, says Shalane Regan, who is overseeing the project for the Research and Development Center (RDC), but the idea of putting one on a cutter only took root last winter. That was after a last-minute change in port calls left the Coast Guard Cutter Polar Star - and Regan - deployed in the Arctic without any fresh vegetables for weeks on end. “It just seemed (a) pretty fitting place to start," Regan said.
The garden, a three-paneled frame that looks like an oversized vanity with mirror lighting, was designed by RDC researchers in New London, Conn., before it was installed on the Polar Star. The garden was ready as the ship got underway for Operation Deep Freeze, its annual resupply mission to Antarctica.
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