Mar 19, 2023 - News

Sarasota entrepreneur growing mushrooms on top of the ocean

Kelpris and his Garden Pod, and the mushrooms growing inside it

Kleperis and his pod (left) and the mushrooms growing inside it (right). Photos courtesy of Todd Kleperis

A Sarasota man says he's found the key to sustainable farming — good morels.

Driving the news: Todd Kleperis is growing mushrooms on the waters off Siesta Key in what he calls the OPod.

  • The pod launched on the water two weeks ago, and within the next two months he tells Axios his mushrooms will be in high-end Sarasota restaurants, though he won't yet say which ones.

State of play: The pod is a form of ag-tech similar to indoor vertical farming efforts like Brick Street Farms in St. Petersburg.

Why it matters: Climate change is taking its toll on the farming industry, with climbing temperatures costing farmers an estimated $27 billion in crop insurance losses between 1991 and 2017.

  • Hurricane Ian is a prime example of that in Florida, costing the state more than $1 billion in agriculture losses, the University of Florida reported in a new estimate last month. High winds and drenching rains hit our citrus, cattle, vegetable and melon operations the hardest.

Zoom in: Kleperis' pod uses sustainable power and water, reducing costs and environmental impact compared to traditional farming, he says.

How it works: The pod uses a solar-powered generation system that desalinates ocean water to grow mushrooms in a temperature-controlled environment inside a sea-floating chamber.

  • Kleperis says he chose mushrooms because they're easiest to grow with a small amount of water, power and space. And they're nutrient-dense.
  • Once the mushrooms are harvested, he can replant them in soil inside the pod and start the process all over again.
  • In future harvesting cycles, he'd like to expand into leafy greens and other fruits and vegetables.

The intrigue: Kleperis says his pod is the first of its kind to grow food sustainably on the water.

  • The closest thing that compares, he says, is a company called Nemo's Garden that's growing food in domes underwater off the coast of Italy.

How it happened: Kleperis founded his company, Tekmara, last year to get the pod project off the ground. He says he built the pod itself over the course of about 5 months in his garage.

What he's saying: Kleperis tells Axios he wants to use the pod not only for sustainable farming, but to raise awareness of the importance of protecting our oceans as a food resource.

  • "If we can get out in front of it, we can change a whole industry and radically help populations all around the world," he says.

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