Wind River Grow Our Own helps UW extension build geodesic dome greenhouse

(Statewide) – Various groups have joined forces to build a geodesic dome greenhouse in Sundance, WY for the Learning Lab portion of the University of Wyoming extension campus on the Cook County fairgrounds. The structure will serve as a greenhouse upgrade, with hopes of extending the growing season.

Members of the Wind River Grow Our Own were there to assist, along with Crook County University of Wyoming Extension personnel, UW Extension state small acre/horticulture specialist Jeff Edwards, 4-H and FFA members, and Coleman Griffith, who administers grant funding for the domes from the Wyoming Department of Agriculture (WDA).

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Volunteers leveled the gravel base, connected 10 wooden foundation sides and erected the 2-by-4 spider net of triangles on Tuesday, July 13. Plastic sheathing, a woven polyethylene product, was then slid over the dome and secured with biocomposite lath stitched with screws the next morning.

The entire build took about eight hours.

The Sundance dome is the 10th Griffith has managed. He says directions for many of the dome kits for purchase were indecipherable, so Edwards, Ted Craig with the WDA, and Griffith came up with their own kit and their version of assembly instructions.

“Most of the feedback we get is no one has any idea what you’re trying to do when you give instructions on paper,” Griffith says. “But, once you’ve actually done it and seen it, the next one makes sense.”

“You have people who have never met before, but you’re building something in common,” Edwards stated.

“But, only a couple of us know what the end structure will look like. It’s kind of like the building of the first atomic bomb. Here’s a part, do this, and then you will get to see it at the end.”

The Sundance dome is called a 2V structure, which means it uses two triangles fitted together throughout the dome. The 2-by-4 supports are connected by thick PVC couplings pre-cut and drilled for the lag bolts in the supports. Edwards completes all the prep work for these steps, and also builds the base and the door.

Casper’s Food for Thought took over UW Extension’s high-tunnel building efforts, and Crook County 4-H educator Sara Fleenor secured funding from that organization for the dome.

That funding, in turn, is through the WDA and part of the U.S. Department of Agriculture funding from the specialty crop block grant.

The dome complements what Fleenor calls the Learning Lab at the fairgrounds, where Sundance elementary students learn to grow food and then harvest and prepare meals.

The dome sits beside a small hoop house built by Edwards and other workshop participants in 2011, called the pizza garden. Students will use the tomatoes, herbs and other vegetables growing there to make pizza this fall.

“I think, even in a rural community, such as Sundance, the kids still don’t necessarily know where their food comes from,” Fleenor says. “And I think that is something we are losing. For example, if you have cream, you can make butter. If you’ve got a 20-foot space, you can grow a sustainable garden. That’s really important for anybody.”

Fleenor, a nine-year 4-H educator, says there are no set plans yet for the dome, but it will likely evolve into a community-wide project.

The Grow Your Own project has grant money to build six domes on the Wind River Indian Reservation. Darrah Perez-Good Voice Elk says the first was half-completed, but they needed to attach the plastic and were at Sundance to learn how.

Byron Good Voice Elk had precut the frame and supports in the Farmer Incubator Program at Central Wyoming College. Four domes will be built on the reservation, and two are for schools. A group from Longmont, Colorado is teaming with Grow Your Own to help build the domes.

“The domes are important because what we see is that all of this is getting people back in touch with Mother Earth,” Perez-Good Voice Elk says. “It’s awakening our ancestral memory, which is healing our trauma. A lot of people live in poverty, and a lot of people don’t have food and they worry about what and how they are going to eat.”

“If we can start giving people something to feel good about doing, that right there is what provides the human race the healing.”

Grow Your Own has funds from Wyoming first lady Jennie Gordon’s Wyoming Hunger Initiative, and Perez-Good Voice Elk says collaboration with the hunger initiative and Gordon has been big.

The Sundance dome effort also complements a large greenhouse to be built at the school, says Brian Kennah, Sundance agriculture teacher and FFA adviser, who helped with the build. He hopes to grow four crops a year for sale, with proceeds set to benefit the FFA program.

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