Window Farms Food Security Project


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The idea for the project came from a community eco-design forum that featured the innovative work of Brita Riley. Riley created the first hydroponic window farm installation located in New York City in February of 2009 (Riley). Her objective was to teach those who lived in urban food deserts and worked in office buildings an affordable and easily maintainable way to grow their own food and personally involve them in issues related to agriculture and the environment. Food deserts are an area where large-scale supermarkets have abandoned--leaving the entire community with little or no access to affordable, quality food (Bullard). Riley created a community forum using social media in order to encourage other artists and gardening enthusiasts to develop their own versions of her hydroponic, soilless, gardening system. And she states that

The ultimate aim of the Windowfarms project, however, is not to create a perfected
physical object or product. Rather, the most highly valued result is a rewarding
experience with crowsdsourced innovation. We are interested in the participants’
experience as they design for their own microenvironments, share ideas, rediscover the
power of their own capacity to innovate, and witness themselves playing an active role in
the green revolution (Riley).

Even though low income groups produce the lowest ecological footprints, cohort groups who fall below the poverty threshold would benefit in many ways from learning about sustainability practices because they demonstrate the largest need for these principles (Echo). While some low income Americans have learned little about the corporate “green movement” advertised in the media and its impact on the environment, if these cohort groups had better access to information about the income barriers and other economic factors that limit access to education...

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  • Food security is an issue that affects many people all over the world, especially in the global south. The areas with the highest level of food insecurity are those that use unsustainable agriculture and irrigation methods, have acidic soil due to heavy mineral contents, where they do a lot of mining and have a concentration of resource conflicts, exploitation and violations of human rights.
  • Believe it or not, the areas within the United states with the highest levels of food insecurity experience a lot of similar problems. While there are many that we could discuss, today we’re going to just look at a brief picture of what we refer to in the United States as the food desert.
  • Why don’t we start by first getting a better understanding of what food insecurity actually means. (refer to chart)
  • Here we have the Food Environment Atlas generator online courtesy of the USDA that shows the poverty rates by percentages all over the U.S. A lot of this poverty is concentrated in the American South, or in regions that have high resource exploitation or have acidic soils due to high mineral concentrations, and in the case of some of these coastal regions salt water -- which makes it difficult to grow food.
  • This map shows the states with the highest number of SNAP participants. Snap stands for Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Programs, such as food stamps.
  • Yet ironically, we have an interesting phenomenon here, that some of the same areas with the highest densities of poverty and people who rely upon government assistance are paying considerably more than the national average for food per person.
  • All of that data was for the year 2008. In 2008, we also witness a phenomenon in which the states with the highest levels of poverty hold the highest levels of obesity
  • Americans today look at obesity as one of the biggest threats to public health. And there is a negative assumption made that obesity is the result of poor health choices, laziness, and American overconsumption. The way that obesity is portrayed in the media is that American obesity is the status quo, part of the American lifestyle.
  • Nutritional disorders can affect any system in the body and the senses of sight, taste, and smell. They may also produce anxiety , changes in mood, and other psychiatric symptoms. Malnutrition begins with changes in nutrient levels in blood and tissues. Alterations in enzyme levels, tissue abnormalities, and organ malfunction may be followed by illness and death. Poverty and lack of food are the primary reasons why malnutrition occurs in the United States. Ten percent of all members of low income households do not always have enough healthful food to eat. Protein-energy malnutrition occurs in 50% of surgical patients and in 48% of all other hospital patients.
  • If you look back at the CDC’s statistics for Diet Related Diseases, African Americans represent the highest percentage of those living with diabetes and hypertension -- followed by hispanics and then whites.
  • Let’s look and see where the highest concentrations of the African American population reside.
  • Does that look kind of familiar to you? if I go back and show you the poverty map the density of low income populations fall within some of the same regions of
  • Yet when you look at this map of diabetes rates, you might notice that with some notable exceptions for California, New Mexico and Colorado, a lot of the areas with the highest diabetes rates also fall in these low poverty areas with high obesity. They also fall within areas with high urban concentrations. But that may not be news to you. So what separates places like the states who did not follow this trend from those in high areas?
  • So let’s look at this map. Here we have the density of fast food restaurants per 1000 people. But the fast food data doesn’t really explain the trends that we saw with obesity, poverty or diabetes.
  • But the trend that DOES begin to exhibit some similarities is the high concentrations of low income areas that have limited access to grocery stores. This is where you begin to see our food deserts
  • And for those of you who don’t know, a food desert is an area in which people have as large and isolated geographic areas where mainstream grocery stores are absent or distant. Currently there is a food desert research initiative going on that has been tracking the statistical link between Food Deserts and worse diet-related health outcomes.
  • So in places like New Mexico, Colorado and Arizona, where you might see farmer’s markets, within the grain and feed belt or community based agriculture, you see people with better access to a safer quality of food than you do in those high poverty areas.
  • This picture of Berea College students was taken from an article featuring the top 10 greenest colleges.
  • If you take a look at how much people who live in high poverty areas have to pay for snacks
  • Versus the price the same people have to pay for vegetables in grocery stores, It kind of makes you wonder. People in low income areas have less money to work with, they live in areas where they have very little access to grocery stores and it cost more to buy vegetables than it does to buy junk food, I don’t know that you can really point your finger at the people.
  • Britta Riley and Rebecca Bray are artists working to create crowd-sourced R&D solutions for environmental issues. They envision the DIY aspect, not as a nostalgia-inducing hobby or a compromise during hard financial times, but as a futuristic infrastructure-light alternative to big R&D. They work to frame a movement where people feel validated, welcomed into an effort to break apart scientific breakthroughs into actionable tasks, and motivated to contribute. They believe it's time to take the potential contributions of the general public to the environmental movement more seriously. They are currently residents at Eyebeam , the art and technology atelier in New York.
  • The kind of areas that Riley and Bray design for are urban areas; areas like we have illustrated here that are full of “convenience stores with no gas/ 1000 population was considered an indicator of food insecurity. But then I remembered that in many urban areas with poor food security that’s the only place where people can buy food if they don’t have access to transportation.
  • I don’t know how many people remember the convocation speaker who came and spoke about environmental justice, Dr. Robert Bullard of Clark Atlanta University. Bullard is known as the “father of environmental justice” shared in one of his publications that about Only 8 percent of African Americans live in a census tract with a supermarket, compared to 31 percent of whites. Many of Atlanta's black neighborhoods are saturated with fast food outlets, liquor stores, and convenience stores that make their profits off junk food, beer, wine, and cigarettes. Convenience stores industry account for 27 percent of teen purchases of tobacco. Food redlining forces many poor black Atlantans to spend more money and time, and travel farther and accept lower quality and less healthy food. Food shopping at convenience stores takes its toll in higher prices in health costs. Convenience stores mark up food prices by at least 20 percent, amounting to a tax of $1,200 a year per family in higher food expenses for residents of "food deserts.“ Bullard also critiques the lack of investment in including more African Americans in “green” and sustainability initiatives and training for green jobs. Bullard who is an activist believes that in Atlanta, the area where he mostly focuses this particular environmental justice argument, that Black Atlantans should be demanding more equitable development from their government, especially when their tax dollars are being used to fund, support, and subsidize public-private smart growth, new urbanism, and green initiatives.
  • And while I’ve lived on both sides of the tracks and participated in some very active groups on both sides of the tracks, I would have to say in my experience that while I believe that sustainability has tremendous applications to help lift and keep low income communities out of poverty when I look around and see the lack of African American participation at sustainable community development programs I wonder, are we really doing enough to prepare African Americans for green jobs? Most of the African Americans I know don’t even understand how helpful sustainability can be in helping deal with issues such as reducing hunger, creating economic opportunities in their own communities and improving their health. And we haven’t even scratched the surface. If you were to ask any African American student on campus about how the principles and applications of sustainability can help saves them money or what lessons in sustainability that they have had that they can take home that they can use to give back to their communities, I’m not sure that you’d hear very encouraging answers to those questions. But the good news is, that by stumbling across the work of the window farm developers, I was given a really cool mechanism to get more American American and low income students directly involved into a field that very few people (proportionally speaking) are prepared for. So it becomes a good opportunity to look at what are some of the issues that we can address that would enable us to close the achievement gap.
  • In my background paper I address some key issues and challenges that this project and my experience working on this project have presented. This project has left me with many questions such as: Access to Education, Cultural Barriers, Learning to Engages Young African Americans, Lack of Identifiable Leadership, How do we develop more Practical Methods & Engaged Methods for exposing a more diverse group of students to the benefits of sustainability practices that go far beyond recycling? How do we close That “Green “ Achievement Gap, and so on….
  • So the goal of the project was not only to create something that could provide education about some of these more daunting & complex issues, but also to explore more of the lighter side of things. Here I address some of the developmental opportunities this project can present for increasing community involvement and the role of interactive learning about sustainability through projects like this as a community development tool. Working on this project raised a lot of questions that are going to give the black cultural center some opportunities for really good programming. My role in this was simply to kind set up a framework for them to get the ball rolling on this, and the rest of what happens will be determined by the groups who collaborated with me on getting this thing built.
  • Before we begin, I’d like to give a special thanks to:
  • We wanted to reclaim as many materials as possible. While I would not repeat this step now that I have some woodworking experience, we found an old discarded wood pallet (which turned out to have quite a bit of wood rot) and used it for a makeshift structure with which to mount the window farm. Frankly we could have skipped this altogether and simply found anything from which we could suspend hooks.
  • I used old closet brackets, twist ties and cable to secure the pvc pipe to the top of the pallet and keep it secure.
  • We went back and reinforced the structurally week parts of the pallet and screwed them together. I purchased cable from Ace hardware and attached them to the pvc using a slip knot. I made one length a bit longer and used the twist ties to secure it farther down the pipe to provide different drop off points.
  • We then inserted screws and brackets (you’ll see where we integrated twine later to create a horizontal plane for the spacing grid)
  • We used the remaining piece of the pallet and used that to “secure” the other piece of pvc and spatially get a sense of the floor dimensions.
  • We pulled these bottles from the campus recycling facility
  • We cut out the face of the bottles
  • And used a hole punch create a way to suspend the bottles. Masking tape was applied to the top of the bottle
  • These were the drill bits we used
  • We used the 1/4
  • Window Farms Food Security Project

    1. 1. Malnutrition DefinitionMalnutrition is the condition that developswhen the body does not get the right amountof the vitamins, minerals, and other nutrientsit needs to maintain healthy tissues and organfunction. Malnutrition occurs in people whoare either undernourished or over-nourished.Under-nutritionUnder-nutrition is aconsequence of consumingtoo few essential nutrientsor using or excreting themmore rapidly than they canbe replaced.Over-nutritionIn the United States, nutritionaldeficiencies have generally been replacedby dietary imbalances or excessesassociated with many of the leadingcauses of death and disability. Over-nutrition results from eating too much,eating too many of the wrong things, notexercising enough, or taking too manyvitamins or other dietary replacements.
    2. 2. Diet-Related Diseaseby RaceObesity (%) Diabetes (%) Hypertension (%)SOURCE: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, National Center for Health Statistics (2002).African AmericansMale 21.1 7.6 36.7Female 37.4 11.2 36.6Total 33.4 10.8 36.6WhitesMale 20.0 4.7 24.6Female 22.4 5.4 20.5Total 21.3 7.8 22.1HispanicsMale 23.1 8.1 NAFemale 33.0 11.4 NATotal 26.2 9.0 NA
    3. 3. “Low-incomeresidents alsopay 10 to 40percent morefor food thanhigher incomeresidents.”-Robert Bullard
    4. 4. What are WEdoing toprepare ourAfricanAmericanstudents tocompete forthese jobs?--or topracticallygive back totheircommunities?
    5. 5. Thanks For All of Your Contributions!Black Student UnionCampus LifeCABThe SENS programThe Gardens and GreenhouseAce HardwareBerea Bikes
    6. 6. How to Build aWindow Farm
    7. 7. Building theFramework