If you’re looking for innovative sustainable food solutions, I’ve got two words for you: New York. This city might not be the mecca of technology innovation like Silicon Valley, but it is the place where some of the most creative ideas in the sustainable food space were born, from BrightFarms to vertical farming to new models of CSA for low income communities. And let’s not forget Windowfarms, a hydroponic gardening solution for urban dwellers.
Last year, we introduced this innovative venture, which developed a vertical, hydroponic growing system that allows year-round growing of fresh veggies in almost any window, using natural light, the climate control of your living space, and organic “liquid soil.” This creative solution was developed through the crowdsourcing effort of more than 22,000 members of the Windowfarms’ community. Windowfarms’ co-founder and CEO Britta Riley calls it a R&D-I-Y process (research and develop it yourself), where window farmers worldwide experiment and explore ideas and techniques and share them with other window farmers online.
The Windowfarms system requires empty water bottles, valve needles, an air pump, a hanging system designed for displaying arts and a hydroponic supply. The way it works is that nutrient-spiked water is pumped up from a reservoir at the base of the system and trickles down from bottle to bottle, bathing the roots along the way. Water and nutrients that are not absorbed collect in the reservoir and are pumped through again at the next interval. The system design has continually been improved over the last two years, thanks to the innovative ideas of community members. For example, it now uses a silencer made from a vitamin bottle with holes in it.
Now it’s going to get even easier with a new version that, according to Riley, uses the T-valve approach with components from environmentally friendly plastic and wire. One of the biggest changes is the replacement of the water bottles with new cups that mimic the water bottles but are cheaper to produce with safe, recycled plastics. This new upgraded system is presenting a big change not just from a technical-design perspective, but also conceptually as the DIY approach. It is symbolized by the reuse of empty water bottles and other materials, which is an integral part of the Windowfarms concept. Yet, as Riley admits, not everybody who wants a Windowfarm is McGyver. The new techie version will help to get more people, who are not the DIY type, involved with window farming.
Other than its beautiful design, the new Windowfarms system will provide two significant advantages – a reduced price ($99, down from $249) and simplification, which will decrease the assembly time from a full day to about ten minutes. “We are excited to offer this simplified and lower-cost option. We believe in the power of our community to change the way people grow and eat food, and hope that this redesign will enable thousands of new windowfarmers throughout the world to join our movement,” says Riley.
To start manufacturing the new systems, Windowfarms needs funding and it was only natural for them to get it through Kickstarter. Their goal is to reach $50,000 by December 7. So far they’re doing pretty well with 277 backers pledging a total of $40,097. It means that Windowfarms still needs to raise about $10,000 in 14 days. To those who are interested in supporting this project, Windowfarms offers great gifts. Choose either the classic Windowfarm, ready for you to start growing your first crops for a minimum donation of $99, or the four-column Windowfarm plus a subscription for one year of baby plant and nutrient delivery for those who are willing to back it up with at least a $599 donation. If you order before November 30, you’ll receive your Windowfarm in March 2012.
The new Windowfarm system will probably not solve our food system problems, but it provides households in the city with an affordable and relatively simple option to grow their own salad greens and herbs and even cherry tomatoes, peppers and strawberries. Being able to grow produce at home is not just a great way to enrich your diet, but is also an educational experience that helps to reconnect us, even if we live in the city, to the food we consume.
So if you are looking for a cool and sustainable gift for the holidays, check out Windowfarms’ page on Kickstarter or give yourself a nice gift and become a window farmer. After all, it can’t get more local than that.
Raz Godelnik is the co-founder of Eco-Libris, a green company working to green up the book industry in the digital age. He is also an adjunct professor in the University of Delaware’s Alfred Lerner College of Business and Economics.