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Windowfarms Crowdsources to Turn Urban Food Deserts into Food Desserts

Leon Kaye | Friday December 17th, 2010 | 0 Comments

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Home gardening has surged in the past couple of years.  Plenty of reasons account for the partial shift from factory farm to backyard farm: concern over nutrition, environmental issues, and economic worries.

Of course, backyard gardening is a tad difficult if you live in an apartment or home with limited outdoor space.  Community gardens, farmers’ markets, and community supported agriculture all help pick up the slack.  Many neighborhoods from Los Angeles to Cleveland, however, are “food deserts,” and lack decent access to fresh food.  Window sills filled with herbs and lettuces can help put a dent in a diet too dependent on processed or canned food, but such a skill can come easily to one while befuddling his neighbor.  One New York project, however, has integrated design and crowdsourcing to offer folks a way to garden with ease in homes and schools.

Windowfarms’ founders created a web platform that encourages anyone to design gardening systems suited for local conditions.  The project encourages innovation, using technologies such as hydroponics, through what Windowfarms calls the R&D-I-Y process (research and develop it yourself).  Citizens with even the most latent interest in home gardening can share their ideas about window gardening.  The results include at least 13,000 members around the world who have helped hone various designs that urban gardeners, novices and experts, can use.

Windowfarms has only been in operation less than two years, but already the site’s users have created at least 12 designs for window hydroponic gardens.  The community has fostered an impressive archive for apartment gardening enthusiasts who have asked and answered heaps of questions over what kinds of vegetables, fruits, and flowers can grow in a window hydroponic garden.  The project in part is funded by donations, as well as the sale of window kits, which can work in apartment, office, or school windows.

One of the project’s founders is Britta Riley, an artist who was inspired in part by Michael Pollan’s writings.  Riley became interested in growing her own food, but was hindered by her 5th floor apartment in Brooklyn and limited window space.  She eventually created a vertical hydroponic gardening system, and its success led Riley to share her success with others.

Since then Windowfarms has been showcased in a variety of publications, both print and web, and was featured in a Whitney Museum exhibit.  The organization’s impact goes beyond gardening and urban food production, however; recycled bottles are a huge component of Windowfarm’s systems, and are sourced by a non-profit that employs disabled veterans and residents with physical and mental health issues.  It may take a while before windows sporting vegetable gardens becomes mainstream, but Windowfarms has made a difference already in the communities, both urban and virtual, in which it has a presence.


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