As seniors in the Biodome Club, Arya Kazemnia ’24 and Aman Garg ’24 are cultivating their leadership skills — not to mention a sizable crop of kale and peas.
The biodome that sits behind Gilman’s athletic fields, which has the potential to grow enough produce to sustain a family, has had some obstacles in the past with sustaining student interest to keep up with the project. The structure was built in 2017 but was then neglected for a few years until a few students picked it back up in 2021 for about a year. Beginning in the spring of 2023, there was renewed enthusiasm once again.
“This year we are working on setting up more hydroponics systems,” said Garg, who has been a part of the effort since its restoration in 2021. They updated the plumbing and isolated the systems “so we can test different crops without cross contaminating them.”
“We reoriented the hydroponics systems from vertical to horizontal and from deep-water culture to nutrient film technique, and we reconfigured the piping to make it such that you only need one pump to power it,” added Kazemnia, who joined the club as a junior last year. This change cuts down on power expenses for the biodome as well.
Both students came onto campus over the summer, along with a handful of others, working together to reorient the space and fix it up. They fixed a leak, revamped a number of components, and planted tomatoes.
Now that they have a strong team — about a dozen students in grades 9-12 — and faculty support from science teachers Tim Lauer and Frank Fitzgibbon, the club has identified three major goals for this school year and beyond:
First and foremost, the group wants to produce food. In order to do that efficiently and effectively, they hope to automate some of the greenhouse processes, which will give them more control over the crops when the power goes on and off over different times of the year. They have already made one addition — a black pond, which will regulate the temperature, helping the biodome to become more self-sustaining, so that it doesn’t draw as much power or water from the School. That task was completed outside of their usual club time during afternoon blocks, with significant help from newcomer Liam Higgins ’27, whose personal interest in the biodome made it “an easy decision to get involved” with the club.
Second, they envision the biodome having a bigger educational impact at Gilman and in the community. Up until now, the club has been isolated to just a few Upper School students. On Tuesday, September 26, they welcomed boys from prep-one to the biodome to learn about hydroponics. And that was just the beginning. They intend on involving more groups from the Lower School (like the Gardening Club) and Middle Schoolers from the Life Science class, as well as students outside of Gilman, through affiliations with Middle Grades Partnership and Bridges.
Finally, their plans for the club include a community service component. The group projects that every two to three months, the biodome will yield dozens of heads of leafy greens — too much for a few teenagers to consume — and they will donate them to the Donald Bentley Food Pantry, an organization with a strong connection to Gilman.
Tying together the educational piece with service learning, the club’s leaders presented in front of the Upper School about food insecurity at assembly on Monday, October 9 alongside Assistant Head of School for Community, Inclusion, and Equity (CIE) Michael Molina. “It helps when there is somebody to share in the excitement,” Kazemnia said. Molina, as well as Assistant Head of School for Pre-K – 8 Shonique Alexander and Middle School Design and Woodworking teacher Michael Chamberlain, have been those somebodies for the Biodome Club. Garg added, “Faculty have seen this project go through a journey.” And the adults involved now — and more importantly the boys — are committed to seeing it through.