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Could Grassroots ‘Cactivism’ Be the Cure for California’s Drought?

Designer Ali Chen thinks all we need is a little help from our prickly plant friends to help win this epic water battle.

The California drought has finally reached epic proportions. Just this week it was announced that the Golden State is so strapped for water that they will actually be borrowing some of precious liquid silver from equally parched Las Vegas. As local governments scratch their heads, many in the design community are looking for out-of-the-box, innovative solutions. Recently online publication Archinect held its first ever ‘Dry Futures’ competition, which challenged architects and creatives to reimagine water-use infrastructure – splitting the contest into “speculative” and “pragmatic” categories. The winner of the former was an ambitious “grassroots cactivism” scheme by LA’s Ali Chen to utilize cacti to clean polluted water and provide an alterior form of vegetation to feed CA’s lifestock (which takes up much of the state’s resources).


According to DesignBoom,“Grassroots Cactivism utilizes the nopales cactus, a drought tolerant plant that’s fit for both human and animal consumption, and remarkably, is able to effectively clean polluted water. Of the plant, the cacti mucilage — or inner pulp — can be adapted to improve and revolutionize existing wastewater management systems.”

By harnessing the power of our prickly friends, Chen hopes to create new ways of both filtering water and creating a more sustainable source of food.

The result, if built, will be a series of “hybrid farms” that will also function as eco-resorts, featuring cooking workshops, a water museum, and cactus gardens. The ultimate goal of this potential farm will be to shift the public’s perception of the cacti as useless, and raise the plant to a “staple of contemporary life and cuisine”—while also providing a center for research, sustainability, and even future city planning.

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