Growing up, Travis Roberts IV watched as his neighborhood block turned into one big vacant lot. Slowly, more and more houses were torn down with nothing to stand in their stead, abandoned by not only homeowners, but the city as well. But starting this month, the number of empty plots on 14th Street in Detroit will be down by one. The 18-year-old adopted the lot adjacent to his house and he's already started construction. On a GreenDome.
A cousin to the greenhouse, Roberts' GreenDome will house the chickens he plans to raise and the experiments he wants to perform with growing tropical fruits and vegetables. Fruits and vegetables he plans to sell to local businesses and restaurants like Slows Bar BQ, where he works as a prep cook and porter.
After watching poor quality and extremely expensive produce come through the restaurant, Roberts knew there had to be a better way to get fresh crops. So he planted a garden and even bought chickens. After a rough first year (his chickens all mysteriously disappeared), Roberts decided to give the microfarm another go, this time with a makeshift structure to keep everything in place.
"I was just going to go out with two-by-fours and painters plastic," says Roberts. His upstairs neighbor had a different plan. Gregg Newsom, Evolution Detroit founder and self-proclaimed dome salesman, noticed his housemate's new interest in farm fare cultivation and proposed to him an idea he's always had on the backburner. "I said, 'How do you feel about a dome?'" says Newsom.
From there they contacted an engineer and started a pledge drive to raise the funds — a whopping $638. According to Newsom, apart from being visually mind-blowing and incredibly sound structures, domes are also appealingly cheap. He theorizes a GreenDome can be built for as little as $500, whereas greenhouses can cost up to $6,000.
With the help of friends and family, Newsom and Roberts built the dome themselves in a matter of days and are already anxious to get seeds in the ground. They're especially excited for bananas and avocados, two tropical plants that usually ship from across the globe, using lots of time, money and fuel to get to the dining room table. Though the dome is still in its infancy, Newsom already has bigger plans for the structure. He wants to keep it entirely off-grid, meaning no electricity or plumbing will be connected to it. He says the structure will be heated exclusively by the chickens that will live there — a single bird can give off up to 55 BTUs per hour — and he plans to install a tank underground that will regulate heat.
Rain catchment is another big part of the dome's goals. Newsom hopes to create a method where both the dome and the house will catch enough rain water to become independent from city sources. According to Angela Newsom, Gavin's wife and co-founder of Evolution Detroit, a house can catch 100,000 gallons of water every month. The Newsoms and Roberts plan to use that water to do everything from crop irrigation to the dishes.
The dome is also part of their plan to relocalize Detroit. Eventually they plan to employ several people to work at the dome and transport goods grown there. According to Newsom, the dome is just one aspect to the refocusing of culture within The D. "With relocalization, we're creating jobs, growing our own foods," says Newsom. "We're building a resilient culture with a different focus." | RDW
Detroit Domes actively promotes "off the map," low-cost, sustainable tools, techniques and concepts in Detroit. Learn more at detroitdomes.org, or find out what the Newsoms are up to at detroitevolution.com.