Window Farms to Spruce Up Valentine Dining Hall
By Isabelle D'Arcy '13, News Section Editor
New vegetative decorations will adorn the windows of Valentine Dining Hall starting next week. The College will become the first college to don these “window farms,” thanks to the efforts of Amherst College Window Farms, a new student organization that initiated and is in charge of the project.

Window farms grow food using hydroponics (in water, without soil). They provide people without land (like students on a college campus) with the opportunity to grow and eat fresh, local food. In Valentine, various vegetables — starting with oak-leaf lettuce, basil and parsley — will grow out of upside-down water bottles hanging from the windows in the room adjacent to the Russ Wing. The produce will eventually be used in the food served at Valentine.

The idea was first brought to the College by Benjamin Pullman ’13 and Brendan Burke ’13, and is currently being implemented by a total of six students in the Window Farms group. Pullman has been a fan of hydroponics since his work with the Vertical Farm Project, and the group has worked with the support of Dining Services and Physical Plant to make window farms a reality in about a month’s time.

Window farms are not only aesthetically interesting, but are also incredibly practical given current degradation of soil and water scarcity.

“We need to come up with solutions and we need to come up with solutions quickly,” said Pullman.

Farming hydroponically actually uses less water than farming in soil, and the produce grown will be mostly organic (except plus some epsom salts and magnesium) and have the same or higher nutritional content.

The members involved in the project are feeling good about the progress and success of the window farms. The group has consulted with Charlie Thompson, Dining Services Director, about health and quality concerns. In the long-term, the group hopes to perfect this experiment of window farming at the College, as well as develop a workshop for seniors so that they can grow some herbs or vegetables once they live in a dwelling of their own.

“The ability to source fresh vegetables from your own window year-round is a very exciting prospect that we hope Amherst students will appreciate and perhaps integrate later in their own lives,” said Jessica McMillin ’14.

Window farms is a just one example of new initiatives in sustainability and innovation in modern food production.

“Our project proposes a design-based solution to localizing agriculture and increasing food security in response to an environmentally destructive, exploitative and unhealthy food industry,” said Burke.

And their solution will certainly draw attention.

“You’re not going to be able to eat breakfast, lunch or dinner without seeing this farm, and it looks weird and awesome,” Pullman said.

With their eye-catching display, the group is challenging students to look at and think about new ways of doing agriculture and about larger themes of sustainability.

Issue 18, Submitted 2011-03-09 03:21:00