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Siesta Key 'garden pod' grows organic mushrooms on the water

May 31, 2023May 31, 2023

Just offshore of a quiet residential neighborhood on Siesta Key, a six-foot-tall metal structure sits on a small platform over the water.

Inside, organic mushrooms are growing with the help of desalinated bay water.

This contraption is called a garden pod.

Developed by Parrish entrepreneur Todd Kleperis, the system uses renewable energy and bay water to create food. Kleperis’ startup company, Tekmara, plans to make more of these pods and sees them as a potential solution to global food needs.

Kleperis said he was motivated to make the pod after his friend passed away a year and a half ago. He said his friend was a "big ocean supporter," and Kleperis liked to talk with him about how they could save the planet.

"When he died, I went forward on a mission to create something that’ll actually be a protection system for our coastlines," he said, adding that it will create clean food, clean water and clean power.

He sees the garden pods as a way to provide people with instantaneous information about the ocean, including the pH, salinity and alkalinity of a location. There are monitoring devices on the pod on Roberts Bay that track these metrics.

Kleperis said drought will pose challenges for agriculture on the land in the future, so he believes that systems like his can help the world produce enough food.

Kleperis, who has founded three other companies during his career, would like to partner with local restaurants and hotels on this new project. These businesses could, for instance, sign up for a year's worth of production of mushrooms, and then serve the fungi to their customers. Kleperis is also planning to grow other kinds of produce in the pods.

The pod on Roberts Bay is the size of a closet. Inside, mushrooms grow in boxes. Refractive lights provide sunlight to the fungi, and a humidifier turns on occasionally. Every so often, water spritzes out from small nozzles, watering the mushrooms. Kleperis’ system desalinates water from the bay.

The garden pod is powered by a few solar panels, but Kleperis plans to add a wave generation system soon, which will provide an additional power source to the pod.

Kleperis has run into a permitting issue with Sarasota County. He believes the device doesn't require a permit. He said he owns the land where the pod is located, and he has registered it as a vessel. The pod has a registration number on it just like boats do.

Staff in Sarasota County's Planning and Development Services department told the Herald-Tribune that growing mushrooms in a structure in the water isn't allowed in the zoning district where the pod is located. Agriculture isn't a permitted principal use in that zoning district and in the adjacent one.

"Sarasota County Planning and Development Building Division staff have contacted the property owner regarding the unpermitted nature of the structure on site," the staff said in a statement. "More information will become available as staff continue to assess the situation and work with the property owner."

Kleperis believes it will be easier for him to implement the pods in other countries than in the U.S. He is planning to set up pods in Panama, the Bahamas and elsewhere.

Kleperis will start building the second garden pod in June.