In Brooklyn I was able to catch up to Britta Riley, one of the founders of Windowfarms, just after she got back from presenting at SXSW in Austin. The idea of Windowfarms is to give people who live in apartments a way to grow a little bit of their own food. Of course nobody is going to make a big dent in the food supply with what they can grow in their apartment window, but that’s not the idea. As Riley says, it’s not about volume. “I want to give people their first taste, that little spark of discovery that happens when you look at a root system and you’re like ‘man, I can actually see what’s wrong with the plant here’, and then those people go on to be the people who totally re-envision agriculture.” She’s come a long way in only a few years: Windowfarms is now a community of more than 30,000 do-it-yourselfers from around the globe, busily refining and improving the original model and sharing their refinements with the rest of the community.
At the end of the interview I asked Britta to show me some low-power LED grow lights that she’d gotten to tinker with as the community works to make them usable on Windowfarms. This made for some fun light sabre photos. We are allowed to have fun while we work on saving the world, right?
I also finally visited the famous Brooklyn Grange rooftop farm. Having grown up on a farm in Idaho, I can tell you that an acre of farmland perched on the top of a building in New York looks a whole lot bigger than an acre of land in the middle of a field. I interviewed two of the principals at the farm: co-founder Anastasia and new addition Mike. Both of their stories illustrated the joy that comes from putting your beliefs into action.
Anastasia had been interested in food politics ever since her time at Vassar College, but she’s gotten an incredible amount of satisfaction after being “bitten by the doing bug” and farming, rather than just writing about food policy. With her partners, they have proven that small-scale urban farming is financially sustainable in New York; another example to support the argument that for-profit is the way to go to really scale up urban agriculture.
Mike’s story was also pretty amazing. Just a year ago he was working in corporate advertising while at the same time becoming more and more involved in food advocacy and starting to buy some of his food directly from farmers as well as growing his own. “I realized that the work that I was doing at my previous job was actually directly conflicting with my own personal beliefs where by day I was in an office wearing a suit on meetings with Kraft Inc. corporate heads and then by night I was an activist trying to run campaigns against Kraft.” Now that he’s switched over to full time work at the farm, he says he couldn’t be happier.
All in all, my time in New York really energized me and helped me to refine some of the “big picture” messages that I want to get across in the film.
Thanks much to Destiny at Windowfarms for her help and to my guide and host Victoria Smith.
This is exciting – Grist is one of the most popular environmental websites on the web!