These Builds Grow Food In Cities

You’ve probably heard the term food desert: locations where it’s difficult to get access to fresh fruits and vegetables. One way to help alleviate the problem is to promote urban farming. This week we challenged you to think of ideas that would make growing fresh food in urban areas easier and more enticing. Let’s take a look:

The IKEA Model:

IMG_0429One concept that was popular with this week’s theme was ready-to assemble gardening kits. From personal experience I think this is of huge importance. Once upon a time in a crappy apartment far, far away my wife and I set out to grow tomatoes on the balcony. The plants flourished and bore fruit which the squirrel population of the neighborhood immediately stole while still green. I built this produce cage the following year and we were able to enjoy the fruit of our labors. But not everyone can whip up such a solution without help.

Aker is a set of designs for a modular farming system. The idea is to find a hackerspace or other group with a CNC router and use the plans to cut out different farming “furniture” like a chicken coop, tiered gardening container rack, a wall garden, compost system, and a bee hive. The coop design would serve as caged garden if need be.

Along the same vein is [Eric’s] Urban Gardening IKEA Style. He’s excited to pass along the knowledge he has accumulated over the years. Part of this is a simple to build gardening table that holds rectangular potting containers.

Modular Greenhouse:


Next up is the concept of modular farming. We like this because the gardens can be scaled based on available space.

Seen here is the Modular Vertical Farming mockup. The system specs different size and features for each pod based on what is being grown inside. Also included in the concept is a monitoring and feedback system which will help each urban farmer achieve success.

Combining modularity with water conservation is the Hydropod project. It’s not purely hydroponics, but the vertical cylinders are designed to pump water up to the top and reclaim it as it exits the bottom.

We don’t want to move on without a brief mention of the HydroPI Garduino. Kudos on maximum-buzz-wordiness in the title. We’re into the concept of including common tools to help monitor and control this hydroponic garden. But for city-dwellers who frequently move, the portable emphasis is valuable.


capture-condensate-from-acThis one is quite an interesting thought. If you live in a climate where air conditioning is used constantly, chances are pretty good that the humidity the condenser coil removes from the air is going right down the drain. The Condesnate Capture for Micro-Irrigation project wants to change that by sequestering the water for the next urban garden irrigation cycle. We’d love to see some solid data on average condensate output per square foot of building.

This Week’s Winners


First place this week goes to Aker and will receive an RGB Shades Kit.

Second place this week goes to Modular Vertical Farming and will receive a GoodFET42 JTAG programmer and debugger.

Third place this week goes to Condensate Capture for Micro-Irrigation and will receive a Hackaday CRT Android tee.

Next Week’s Theme

We’re moving to a new set of weekly giveaways that are more numerous and valuable. This week we’ll be giving away thirty (30) prizes. Each will be a $50 code to spin some PCBs. More details on that in our next Time for the Prize post. For now make sure you submit an official entry. Start your project on and use the “Submit-To” button below the picture on the left to submit it for the 2015 Hackaday Prize.

The 2015 Hackaday Prize is sponsored by:

47 thoughts on “These Builds Grow Food In Cities

    1. AC condensation is icky mainly due to lack of filer maintenance. It’s the same as water forming on the outside of a cold can, if the can is dirty or there is a lot of dust in the air. The water will be dirty.

    2. lol it doesn’t matter its all about the chills running down the spine and the twitching of the leg of the eco freak here at hackaday. It’s pretty obvious you will never in a residential setting, in a city, grow enough food to matter.

      AC condensation of city air is the last thing I would feed a plant I desire to eat. Why not just move to the country and add in a healthy dose of radionucleotides, mercury, sulfur, lead, benzene and combustion particulates to the water you grow your crops with?

      1. Assuming you are already using an A/c, simply point the drain to your outside garden to supplement/water. The same could be done with sink and bath drain water (you shouldnt be dumping chems anyway, but osmosis can help), rainwater, etc. In low water areas, one would think utilizing what would already be waste, would be prudent.

        You have to assume, atleast the rainwater and condensation from the environment is going to include many particles that you might not want in your water. So thats unavoidable everywhere, and obviosly city air, and water, is going to be a higher concentration of human pollution. Im confused as to why people are comfortable living in places that they are scared to grow a baby plant in, humans…necessity…society…ignorance.

        Sounds like you are wanting your produce grown in ‘clean room’ type conditions, with the water youd expect in a chemistry lab. I applaud your efforts, and hope you are giving as much consideration to your growing system, medium, and of course, plant genetics.

        1. You might want to look up legionare’s disease and sick building syndrome. Both are from ‘air conditioning units’ which are breeding grounds for microbes.

          These can be a danger if they are really left unattended (from breathing), but they become much much more dangerous if you start ingesting the water…

          Yeh, Yeh, I know the pesky facts just get in the way of the ‘kum-by-yah’…

          1. lwatchdr, Clearly you need to work on your reading comprehension. And perhaps an understanding of just how vegetation becomes contaminated with things like fecal coliform… Microbes in the water, will remain on the sirfaces they water for quite some time. They can even enter the plants, in somewhat more limited cases as the roots absorb the water.

      2. It’s pretty obvious you will never in a residential setting, in a city, grow enough food to matter.

        The best way to identify ignorance is by far-reaching, over confidence. I have a small urban lot with a 12′ x 20′ garden. I pulled out the majority of our household vegetable consumption out of it last year and I generally give much away. I will pull about 600+ pounds of food out this year and ~60% of the space is unused.

        Doesn’t matter? I have nearly $300-$400 in spinach and broccoli in the ground right now. I will harvest a second equal size batch before summer crops go in. I will freeze it and at roughly 1-2 head of spinach and 1 head of broccoli per week, I will run out of fresh organic vegetables “that don’t matter” next February. Summer will yield my year round supply of tomatoes, sauces, herbs, squashes, various berries, snap peas, runner beans, brussels spouts, cucumbers (which I will can this year due to prior waste), etc…

        I have the shortest growing season of any metro area in the continental united states. The main thing I cannot grow well are peppers….

        I spent about 2 half days prepping the garden this year and a half hour per 2 plantings, so far. It would be trivial to feed myself year round by growing my garden 10x and buying another deep freeze or can more, I guess that “doesn’t matter” to the hopelessly ignorant opinion. If you’re counting, my vegetable gardening is returning me north of $40/hr right now…

        1. The trick with peppers is to plant them in a pot and bring them inside when it gets too cold. Most peppers, like jalapeños, will become sturdy woody bushes and will live and produce for several years, or at least until you leave them outside too long one year.

          1. As long as you give them 16h of light (spectrum isn’t as important for peppers as it is for other plants) they will produce fruit too.
            A couple LED/CFL flood lights and a mechanical timer should allow anyone to have a small year round indoor garden.

        2. And just how many people in an Urban area have 240 square feet of area outside to grow such a garden? The answer is not most. Further, your hobby, is almost certainly costing more per pound of food then it would cost to purchase that produce from a local supermarket. Of course, I too like fresh home grown produce, but then I don’t delude myself into thinking it is making any ‘difference’…

          1. exactly as he said lol The best way to identify ignorance is by far-reaching, over confidence.

            Its not an urban city area if he has 240 square feet, and I know for a fact you cant grow that much food in that area. 600 lbs give me a break. I have grown super high density in 480 square feet and got barely enough food to even consider canning. These were healthy plants that produced very well, if you count all the squash, zucchini, and cucumber I probably got around 300lbs total before my land lord killed everything off by watering with a sprinkler.

          2. 43% of my population of 3 million live in single family homes, with an average lot size exceeding my own. I have US census data parsed in r for another project, but I’m guessing there are 50,000,000 homes in the us that exceed my lot size, and hence could produce quantities that matter.

            Did you miss the part about $40/HR? on my time for $800 leafy greens. It obviously pays back.

            Rico your the one full of crap there are literally hundreds of documented gardens on the Internet pulling in much more than I do. hecK any beginner will get 2lb/ft2 just following sq ft gardening. I double that by getting 2-4 planting per year. It isnt rocket s ience… aquaPonics setups are getting 5 my yield… + the same output in fish. You know nothing.

            On the peppers, I don’t have the room indoors for food plants. I get my 7-8 MO season and that’s it. I have to save all my other plants from the winter. =)

            You should try for real Iinstead of make things up on the internet

          3. Gerry,

            Your full of crap. You can’t do the math on any aspect of your claims. Starting with your ridiculous belief that your home grown food is less then what you would pay for it from the store.

            Oh, and those people who live in single family homes, are not likely in an economic condition that causes them to suffer from the OP’s dreaded ‘food desert’.

          4. dear clown,

            I live in a food desert. Median income is 20% lower than the city and less than national average. And in my neighborhood the fraction of single family homes is larger. 95% have 1/10 acre lots, 99% have 1/10 or larger. My neighbors take the bus to the grocery store.

            I do ~6 lb/ft2/year or about 4 including total garden area, this isn’t unreasonable, in fact garden variety beginner.

            I just harvested 24 spinach plants just shy of 15 lb, will do the same every 3 days until the end of May on a ~4 x 11 strip. Spinach are planted 4 / sqft according to a widely known amateur gardening strategy,

            Can you do the math? I have 110 days of growing season left and I’m over half over what you is an unattainable number. I repeat, can you do the math? This year is awesome, but our spring is way ahead of schedule. My summer transplants are going to be monsters.

            Those harvested are replaced with the transplants of rnd 2 giving me another set of slightly smaller spinach mid-end June. Summer crops replace spring crops at the rate they are harvested. Imagine that. having 8″ plants ready to transplant. What kind of chicanery is this?!

            I do once cycle of broccoli (gave up on fall heads, but maybe do a hoop house this year), which are about 3 weeks behind but 2x in area and double yield per sqft , maybe triple if you count the stalks, which I use for soup. It isn’t rocket science. Its a hundred pounds of horse shit I carted away for free early March from an add on craigslist.

            I pay 3.99/lb organic spinach at the grocery store. Can you do the math on that? I do have to pluck leaves, which takes about 1 minute per plant. Oh now, my untaxed labor time will dip down to $39/hr. Shucks, now, is that less than 100k year?

            Excuse me, I now have to go use my 30th pint of 2014 locally derived arrabiata sauce for this evenings bake.

            Do you need any help with the math?

            Perhaps some of these guys/gals can help, a few of them have 10x my annual yield per area.


  1. Hate to be “that guy” but urban food deserts are most often a function of socioeconomic rather than technical factors, usually because grocery stores can’t or won’t locate in the neighborhoods. This, in turn is a function of poverty and attendant crime rates.

    1. Areas where people migrate for current opportunity/necessity, yet are not suitable for human life.

      If we could abolish our borders people could migrate to more hospitable areas with good water supply. Of course, this would assume all nations were working together, which, while unlikely except in desperation, will allow us to advance at exponential rates (until we decline for lack of further motivation.)

      1. What tripe. Your concept doesn’t lead to advancement but rather a devolution to the lowest common denominator.

        That ‘Kum-by-yah” crap only works in cheap fiction. People are driven by self-interest, not some hippies concept of peace, love, and free …

    2. I’m not informed on the socioeconomic aspects, so I can’t confirm or deny. Personally, I see it as a hobby and way to expand the foods available to me. What you find in a grocery store is just a tiny fraction of the species and varieties of growable edibles. This is based on not just popularity, but potential for mass production, perishability, politics, and other factors not related to the desirability of the product. I have a fig tree in the back yard and love fresh figs, which you can’t get in stores, or even the local farmer’s markets unless you’re very lucky. I’d love to grow dragonfruit, miracle fruit, oyster mushrooms, and many others.

      1. I suspect your quite young. It wasn’t that long ago when the only produce you found in the local stores was what was in season and it was always fairly limited in type. At no point in our history have we ever had as much variety available to as many people as we do today.

        And yes, this is being driven SOLELY by that evil profit motive.

        That said growing your own food stuffs is a great HOBBY, as you say. It just isn’t going to be practical for the vast majority of the population of our planet.

      1. Stuff like that happens anywhere there are bored kids – such as affluent suburbs as well….

        Bigger issues exist in poor areas, but sabotaging each others gardens is very low on the list.

        Source: I lived all over Chicago.

      2. If you just throw money at the problem and plop a fully formed garden into the slums, you wouldn’t expect it to not get vandalized. That’s not to say it’s impossible.
        All you have to do is convince ne’er-do-wells it’s in their interest to have a community garden. If you can show the immediate community that this is something that benefits them it will be self-policing.

          1. Self-policing in no way means that some jerk won’t tear up the garden patch, it means that the community will eventually figure out who did it and punish them.
            Among the graffiti sub-culture there is a code of ethics. When you violate it, the community turns on you.

            Convincing people to follow their self-interest isn’t kumbaya, it’s human nature.

          2. If these high crime comunnities could self police, they wouldn’t be so afraid of the street gangs that run their communities. You might want to leave your ivory tower and spend some time in the communities that your ‘kum by yah’ beliefs are trying to ‘improve’.

    3. Actually ‘food deserts: are driven by the sheer fact that not enough people in those areas have an interest in purchasing produce to make it worthwhile for anyone to stock them. Which also means that virtually no one is going to be willing to put in the work (which is not insubstantial) to actually attempt to grow something they most likely don’t want in the first place.

      1. Interest, maybe / maybe not. Ability to pay is another matter entirely. if a whole bunch of folks want to purchase good quality food but they can’t afford what the economy of scale would dictate the price should be, then a supplier isn’t likely to come in. In most of these troubled areas, interest is high, while ability to pay is the actual sticking point.

        As a society, the actual costs to educate and provide short/medium-term subsidies to get these impoverished areas up on their feet and self-sufficient are in fact significantly lower than the actual costs incurred by doing nothing and the resultant fallout. However, trying to convince society to pony-up the up-front cash to implement those cost-saving measures is effectively impossible in an American system… kick-the-can still rules the day because we’ve never truly learned how long-term economics work and we make political whipping-posts out of anyone who dares to try to point this out. We are our own worst enemies, and the less fortunate among us pay the price of our inaction/unwillingness.

        1. Pure BS.

          These communities are claimed to be food deserts because they don’t contain produce and such ‘healthy’ foods. They do however, have plentiful quantities of junk food. Which is what the occupants in those communities purchase, at prices higher then they could obtain ‘healthy’ choices.

          If one ignores the yuppy do gooder faith in ‘organic’ products, you can purchase fresh produce and ‘heatthy foods for far less then you can if you live off of pre-packaged junk food.

          1. Low income also seem to realy more on frequent low quantity visits to overpriced stores (gas stations, dollar stores). While many factors seem to attribute to this, long term health obviously takes a back seat to immediate needs.

    4. Agreed. I see folks wasting all kinds of energy with one-off micro green patches. smh. No one ever accused city folk of being wise. It is usually about bragging rights. Guess how many urban farmers don’t run a blog in conjunction with their “gardening”? Three. The same thing happened with the hippies and art communes in the late 60s/early 70s. Those hippies eventually cashed in and became corporate drones and usually in the most hideous ways: Think Real Genius-building telemetry systems for target tracking or building back doors into transcontinental communications for spying etc. Their hands are dirty as hell. You can usually find them at their lake houses with their silver pony tails and “sweat free” cargo pants that unzip to shorts with a “once was red but now is pink” button up tucked neatly inside. The dead giveaway is a well-kept beard.
      The whole thing is a sham being ran by attention whores and consumed by folks that didn’t listen to their parents that are more concerned about writing short stories about the first time they touched a wet vagina and how it enthralled them… etc.
      This has to be the dumbest of them all. A support group to plant weeds that stay brown most of the year that you don’t have to mow and call it a “garden” lol.\
      You can tell a 350garden from 3 blocks away because you will think at first that the yard belongs to a 90yo granny that eats rotting pears and crab apples and leaves food out for the raccoons on tin pie pans. They are hideous and just look like you don’t mow your damn yard.
      That will probably do for now….

    1. I thought I was the only one that saw that all the time. FLCL is pure genius! The robot is one of my favourite characters simply because he is idolized by Sameji Mamimi.
      Of all the prizes, I think the T-shirt is the best :) I will probably buy one just because it reminds me of FLCL. Maybe this was the creator’s intention?

  2. I did a study for an industrial client of mine. they wanted to collect condensate from several buildings as well as RO water blowdown and use it in their cooling towers. we calculated that they would collect about 20,000,000 gallons per year and since consumption at the cooling towers matched the production of condensate, there was no need to store condensate on site.

  3. I was able to grow about six tomato plants and two large squash plants with just the condensate water from a 1200 square foot house in central NC. The ground around the plants was pretty much always damp in the middle of the summer. I called it my legionnaire’s garden. I had a pump similar to the one above because of the location of the A/C, which I think helped the water that was collected soak into the ground rather than evaporate off the surface.

  4. The thing I am curious about, speaking of water quality, is the concentration of copper in the condensate. Any metals in the condenser (including solder used) could be in the condensate.

      1. To be precise: a little bit of copper is good. Large amounts of copper are not necessary and can cause adverse reactions, especially in individuals with a hereditary defect in copper homeostatis.

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