07/18/2008 05:12 am ET Updated May 25, 2011

Feeding The World Through Seawater

A few miles inland from the Sea of Cortez, amid cracked earth and mesquite and sun-bleached cactus, neat rows of emerald plants are sprouting from the desert floor.

The crop is salicornia. It is nourished by seawater flowing from a man-made canal. And if you believe the American who is farming it, this incongruous swath of green has the potential to feed the world, fuel our vehicles and slow global warming.

He is Carl Hodges, a Tucson-based atmospheric physicist who has spent most of his 71 years figuring out how humans can feed themselves in places where good soil and fresh water are in short supply.

The founding director of the University of Arizona's highly regarded Environmental Research Lab, his work has attracted an eclectic band of admirers. They include heads of state, corporate chieftains and Hollywood stars, among them Martin Sheen and the late Marlon Brando.

Hodges' knack for making things grow in odd environments has been on display at the Land Pavilion in the Epcot theme park at Walt Disney World in Florida and the Biosphere 2 project in Arizona.

Here in the northern Mexican state of Sonora, he's thinking much bigger.

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