Manzo Elementary School, located in Tucson, Arizona, is a Flagship School for the University of Arizona Community and School Garden Program and a fellow agrivoltaic site to Biosphere2. The school has had an award-winning ecology program for over a decade, which includes a garden and hen house cared for by the students as a way of learning. In 2015, the school erected a 193-kW (600 PV panels) solar PV array as a part of the Tucson Unified School District Solar Program. This system produces approximately 490-500 MWh per year.
Working with Greg Barron-Gafford from the University of Arizona, the school installed a small garden under the panels and an unshaded control garden to the west of the panels. Plants range from potatoes to tomatoes, basil, beans, and squash. The research on this site is similar to Biophere2 in that they study phenology, soil health, water consumption, and greenhouse gas consumption. Graduate students typically study both sites for a comprehensive thesis.
What makes this site unique is the participation of the Manzo’s students, who take part in the studies by assisting with planting, caring, watering, and harvesting the fruits and vegetables. Once harvested, the food goes to the Food Literacy Program, located in the Manzo cafeteria, so the students can then learn how to wash, prep, and cook the food they grew. Research at the school show similar results to Biosphere 2. A key finding in this research proved that solar garden plants need less watering. This is important for farming in Arizona, where temperatures can reach well over 100oF and water sources are slowly being depleted. Research also found that seeding can take place earlier due to the cooler temperatures under the panels, allowing for a possible second planting and increased production. The solar garden plants can flourish in extreme weather because they are shaded during the hottest times of the day.
Overall, Greg Barron-Gafford and his graduate students are proving that solar and farming can co-exist to benefit landowners and farmers alike. The research being conducted at both Manzo School and Biosphere2 will have positive impacts on the co-existence of solar production and desert farming.