When the Central listening team surveyed the community, residents listed mental health as one of their main areas of concern. The Prolific Oxygen Dome, also known as the POD, is an interactive therapeutic experience that aims to heal and educate the community. Creators of this geodesic dome hope it will play an active role as a mental health resource.
It was important for me to respect the aura of the space, so I made myself available to experience the dome and be open to learning. Located on the green acres of UAI farm, home of Fresh Fest, the POD offers a safe space for people to come and experience mental, physical, and emotional healing.
On this particular day, farm volunteers were fast at work. An unexpected overnight snowfall left a frost over the fields. Farmers and volunteers were trying to salvage a cluster of tomatoes and other seasonal plants.
Aharon Ben-Keymah, creator of the POD and founder of the Prolific Achievers Academy, walks me through one of the farm’s many greenhouses, which sits directly across from the POD. “Smell this,” Ben-Keymah said as he picked some basil and lavender fresh from the stalk and handed it to me. The smell of fresh laundry overcomes me.
Ben-Keymah, known as Farmer Ben to the community, turned to the farm in 2015 for his own fresh start after a court ordered him to complete community service.
“I got caught with a firearm, so I had to do community service. I chose to do it here,” Ben-Keymah said. He took that time to do some self-reflection.
A part of that reflection included Ben-Keymah educating himself on his community and its needs. “There’s a lot of harm in our community. I took the time to ask myself, why was I selling drugs and running around touting guns? Why did I feel like I had to be an entertainer or an athlete to be known as someone sufficient in society?” Ben-Keymah said. “I realized it was the role models and infrastructure that we had.”
“These tomatoes won’t make it,” Ben-Keymah said as he gathered the wilted tomatoes for compost.
“I looked around and saw that the landscape and people were deteriorating. I was actually seeing visible zombies walking in the streets because of poor health and drugs. I saw that I had to create a solution for the reality I was seeing.”
With a new-found perspective, Ben-Keymah decided to tackle what he calls a mental health crisis, which led to the creation of the POD.
The POD experience
“You will have to take your shoes off before entering,” Ben-Keymah told me as we walked from the greenhouse to the POD. Upon entering the dome, I was greeted by warm, therapeutic aromas coming from the various herbs growing inside. The gentle sound of water flowing from a beautifully painted tub fills the room. Dozens of goldfish are in the tub, swimming aimlessly back and forth. The artificial grass is a permanent green, and it feels plush beneath my feet. Guests can help themselves to the fresh, nutrient-dense produce that is grown inside. The solar-powered, temperature-controlled dome immediately makes me feel at home.
To access this experience, you must become a member. People must come in person to the farm to join. Membership is $50 a month, or you can volunteer to assist with farm work in exchange for time in the POD. For every hour of volunteer time served on the farm, you will be awarded 10 minutes of time in the dome.
Visitors can choose between various alternative therapy services. Yoga, sound therapy, reflexology, reiki, art therapy, and acupuncture classes are available.
Ben-Keymah is proud of the POD, which officially opened Oct. 7 after seven years of planning and less than three weeks to build. The Community Police Commission awarded the Prolific Achievers Academy an anti-violence grant to help fund their programming and outreach. He cites the collaboration with the community as a driving force behind completing the dome.
“Our practices and this POD are geared towards helping to mitigate the mental health crises we go through in our community,” Ben-Keymah said. “It’s about community. It’s about bringing the family together. It’s about showing people what healing looks like from a holistic perspective.”