OVERLAND, Mo. – MARSfarm, a STEM-education startup based in Overland, designs and manufactures greenhouses that can fit on a classroom desk.
Cofounders Peter Webb and Drew Thomas have been manufacturing counter-sized greenhouses since 2020 and are now in 600 schools across the country. Their goal is not only to impact schools in rural areas where farming is the main economic driver, but also urban areas around St. Louis.
“We have Missouri and Illinois, two juggernauts of agricultural production, right on either side of us,” said Webb.
He estimates that around 20% of jobs in the St. Louis area are tied to the agriculture, food and agriculture industries.
MARSfarm aims to help tie student understanding of food to agriculture in urban areas by bringing the farm into the urban environment.
“So now a school that’s in a very dense area that generally doesn’t have the land to build a greenhouse can bring that greenhouse inside and still teach kids that entire cycle of growth,” said Webb.
It’s a way for these schools to see impacts that weather and climate have on plants by combining agricultural output and meteorological data.
“So you can take all that data and make what we call a climate recipe out of that,” said Thomas. “We can put that into our boxes and control the heat, the light intensity, and the light spectrum. We can control when the plants get water and really try to match that up as much as possible and try to recreate that agricultural output.”
It’s a hands-on approach to teach kids how they can use data and the environment in their greenhouses.
“It’s a great way to teach kids about how they can use data and the environment to get a certain plant they want or a certain product they want out of the plant,” said Thomas.
For both Drew and Peter, this company is personal.
“A brilliant plant geneticist, and I’ve seen all the impact she can make in the world with her field and her skill set. So to me, if I can make 10 students interested in that path go pursue it, then I’ve already expanded my impact on the world more than I ever could on my own,” said Thomas.
“Showing them that you can be interested in software, you can be interested in electronics and robotics and still make an impact on climate, health, and nutrition. Those careers and opportunities really do exist for you,” said Webb.