A Farm in Every Window

\nBarely a year old, the Windowfarms project is art come to life. First researched and developed in the South Williamsburg kitchen of co-founder Britta Riley and then later at the Eyebeam Labs, the project is popping up in art galleries and kitchens throughout the world. “It’s really about making it possible for anybody to grow food in an urban place,” says Riley.
With more than half the world’s population now living in urban spaces, it’s a solution that could provide much needed relief to “food deserts”—communities sorely lacking fresh produce. Using an open source methodology to work out kinks and create new releases, an online community of window farmers from Louisville to Stockholm are creating edible gardens in urban kitchens around the world. We talked to Riley about how this is done, exactly.
GOOD: What is a Window Farm? Is it as straightforward as it sounds?\n
BRITTA RILEY: A window farm allows anybody to grow some of their own food in an urban place even if they don’t have access to dirt using a hydroponic system, which is really just a way of using water to provide all the nutrients to the plants. Someone figured out about a century or so ago that you could basically take all the nutrients out of soil and dissolve them into water. It actually allows the plant to absorb the nutrients more rapidly.
G: How did you build your first model?\n
BR: I was fascinated by hydroponics and I knew that it was a real problem to grow food in New York City, so I thought why not do hydroponics on a roof—a hydroponic roof top farm. But I didn’t have access to the roof in my building … and so it was more about finding a way to do this inside my own space … and how to not take up a lot of floor space. The windows had all this light coming through and so it just seemed like the most obvious place. And so it was really about starting off with this idea and knowing that it was kind of crazy. The first system was super janky.
G: Were you having a hard time finding fresh food in your neighborhood?\n
BR: I’m in South Williamsburg and there’s not a lot of great grocery stores. There are mostly bodegas but the guy who stocks the food there doesn’t actually know where the food comes from.
G: So that was part of the inspiration for building the first Windowfarm?\n
BR: Yeah. I’ve got a really busy schedule and so for me to be able to make it to the farmer’s market was really hard. Even if I did, by the time I got around to cooking, the vegetables wouldn’t really be that fresh.
G: What are your plans now? Do you want to get this into the urban “food deserts” and to people who don’t have experience growing food?\n
BR: Yes. Right now you can build this yourself. We have free how tos on the internet and we’re about to come out with a new version release, kind of like software, and the new version is much easier than the previous versions, but you do need a drill. We’ve really concentrated on making it possible for just about anybody to build one of the systems and to use our website so you can ask other window farmers, “why am i getting these bugs?” We want to bring this to [low income] neighborhoods … to get these systems installed in peoples’ homes and not just the art galleries.

This post originally appeared on, as part of GOOD's collaboration with the Pepsi Refresh Project, a catalyst for world-changing ideas. Find out more about the Refresh campaign, or submit your own idea today.\n
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