Reprinted from the Pocahontas Free Press… 04/01/2013
Gardening from the Sky
By April Tonta
What do you get when you cross a national space research facility with a grassroots gardening project? Officials from the National Radio Astrological Observatory (NRAO) and the Hi-Rocks Grow Appalachia (HRGA) project hope the answer is lots of out-of-this world vegetables. They are partnering to conduct an experimental program to monitor family gardens with the latest generation of domestic drones.
The drones are essentially flying robots that can record data such as soil moisture, weed growth, and presence of garden pests like Japanese beetles. Two drones will be launched from a command center at NRAO later this month. The garden data they record will be sent via satellite to NRAO and HRGA computers for analysis. HRGA experts will make recommendations to gardeners based on the reports.
The drones will be programmed to visit about 30 participating Grow Appalachia gardens. Grow Appalachia coordinator Erica Marks is enthusiastic about the new partnership. “This is an amazing opportunity for our program. It’s not every day that you get to use state of the art technology to help families grow food. Plus it’s really cool to participate in a research project with such important national applications.”
Pocahontas County was chosen by the US Department of the Interior for this research because of the high quality technological infrastructure, scientists and engineers available at the observatory. The county’s low population density and the positive impact of the HRGA gardening project sealed the deal, according to NRAO spokesperson Allen Gudfunn.
“When we were approached with the idea, my first thought was, ‘This is exactly the kind of thing this area needs.’” said Gudfunn. “It takes so long to drive anywhere on the winding roads in this county, it makes a lot of sense to send something as the crow flies. My second thought was ‘If this is going to happen during spring gobbler season, we’d better do some hunter education.’” The organizations have been posting flyers around the county so that citizens will recognize the drones flying through the forests and across the pastures.
Participating gardener Dawn Bleevit is not sure yet how she will feel about drones visiting her vegetable garden. “Usually, I’m just out there in sweat pants, but if this thing is coming around taking pictures, I’m going to think twice about what I wear to the garden.”
(Editor’s note: This article is totally fake. April Fools! )