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A garden in my apartment | Britta Riley | TEDxManhattan

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    I, like many of you,
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    am one of the two billion people
    on Earth who live in cities.
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    And there are days --
    I don't know about the rest of you --
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    but there are days when I palpably feel
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    how much I rely on other people
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    for pretty much everything in my life.
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    And some days, that can even
    be a little scary.
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    But what I'm here
    to talk to you about today
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    is how that same interdependence
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    is actually an extremely
    powerful social infrastructure
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    that we can actually harness
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    to help heal some
    of our deepest civic issues,
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    if we apply open-source collaboration.
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    A couple of years ago,
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    I read an article by New York Times
    writer Michael Pollan,
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    in which he argued that growing
    even some of our own food
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    is one of the best things
    that we can do for the environment.
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    Now at the time that I was reading this,
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    it was the middle of the winter
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    and I definitely did not have room
    for a lot of dirt
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    in my New York City apartment.
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    So I was basically just willing to settle
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    for just reading the next Wired magazine
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    and finding out how the experts
    were going to figure out
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    how to solve all these problems
    for us in the future.
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    But that was actually exactly the point
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    that Michael Pollan
    was making in this article --
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    it's precisely when we hand over
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    the responsibility
    for all these things to specialists
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    that we cause the kind of messes
    that we see with the food system.
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    I happen to know
    a little bit from my own work
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    about how NASA has been using hydroponics
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    to explore growing food in space.
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    And I started to learn
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    that you can actually
    get optimal nutritional yield
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    by running a kind of high-quality
    liquid soil over plants' root systems.
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    Now to a vegetable plant,
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    my apartment has got to be
    about as foreign as outer space.
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    But I can offer some natural light
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    and year-round climate control.
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    Fast-forward two years later:
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    we now have window farms,
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    which are vertical, hydroponic platforms
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    for food-growing indoors.
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    And the way it works
    is that there's a pump at the bottom,
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    which periodically sends this liquid
    nutrient solution up to the top,
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    which then trickles down
    through plants' root systems
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    that are suspended in clay pellets --
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    so there's no dirt involved.
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    Now light and temperature vary
    with each window's microclimate,
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    so a window farm requires a farmer,
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    and she must decide
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    what kind of crops she is going
    to put in her window farm,
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    and whether she is going
    to feed her food organically.
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    Back at the time,
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    a window farm was no more
    than a technically complex idea
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    that was going to require
    a lot of testing.
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    And I really wanted it
    to be an open project,
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    because hydroponics
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    is one of the fastest
    growing areas of patenting
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    in the United States right now,
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    and could possibly become
    another area like Monsanto,
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    where we have a lot of corporate
    intellectual property
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    in the way of people's food.
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    So I decided that,
    instead of creating a product,
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    what I was going to do
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    was open this up
    to a whole bunch of codevelopers.
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    The first few systems that we created,
    they kind of worked.
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    We were actually able to grow
    about a salad a week
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    in a typical New York City
    apartment window.
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    And we were able to grow cherry tomatoes
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    and cucumbers, all kinds of stuff.
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    But the first few systems
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    were these leaky, loud power-guzzlers
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    that Martha Stewart
    would definitely never have approved.
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    (Laughter)
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    So to bring on more codevelopers,
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    what we did was we created
    a social media site
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    on which we published the designs,
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    we explained how they worked,
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    and we even went so far
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    as to point out everything
    that was wrong with these systems.
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    And then we invited people
    all over the world
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    to build them and experiment with us.
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    So actually now on this website,
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    we have 18,000 people.
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    And we have window farms
    all over the world.
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    What we're doing
    is what NASA or a large corporation
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    would call R&D,
    or research and development.
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    But what we call it is R&D-I-Y,
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    or "research and develop it yourself."
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    So, for example, Jackson came along
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    and suggested that we use air pumps
    instead of water pumps.
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    It took building a whole bunch
    of systems to get it right,
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    but once we did, we were able to cut
    our carbon footprint nearly in half.
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    Tony in Chicago has been taking on
    growing experiments,
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    like lots of other window farmers,
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    and he's been able to get
    his strawberries to fruit
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    for nine months of the year
    in low-light conditions
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    by simply changing out
    the organic nutrients.
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    And window farmers in Finland
    have been customizing their window farms
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    for the dark days of the Finnish winters
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    by outfitting them with LED grow lights
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    that they're now making
    open source and part of the project.
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    So window farms have been evolving
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    through a rapid versioning process
    similar to software.
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    And with every open source project,
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    the real benefit is the interplay
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    between the specific concerns
    of people customizing their systems
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    and the universal concerns.
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    So my core team and I
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    are able to concentrate
    on the improvements
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    that really benefit everyone.
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    And we're able to look out
    for the needs of newcomers.
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    So for do-it-yourselfers,
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    we provide free,
    very well-tested instructions
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    so that anyone, anywhere around the world,
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    can build one of these systems for free.
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    And there's a patent pending
    on these systems as well
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    that's held by the community.
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    And to fund the project,
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    we partner to create products
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    that we then sell
    to schools and to individuals
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    who don't have time
    to build their own systems.
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    Now within our community,
    a certain culture has appeared.
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    In our culture,
    it is better to be a tester
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    who supports someone else's idea
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    than it is to be just the idea guy.
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    What we get out of this project
    is support for our own work,
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    as well as an experience
    of actually contributing
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    to the environmental movement
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    in a way other than just
    screwing in new light bulbs.
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    But I think that Eleen expresses best
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    what we really get out of this,
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    which is the actual joy of collaboration.
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    So she expresses here what it's like
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    to see someone halfway across the world
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    having taken your idea, built upon it
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    and then acknowledging
    you for contributing.
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    If we really want to see
    the kind of wide consumer behavior change
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    that we're all talking about
    as environmentalists and food people,
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    maybe we just need
    to ditch the term "consumer"
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    and get behind the people
    who are doing stuff.
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    Open source projects
    tend to have a momentum of their own.
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    And what we're seeing is that R&D-I-Y
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    has moved beyond
    just window farms and LEDs
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    into solar panels and aquaponic systems.
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    And we're building upon innovations
    of generations who went before us.
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    And we're looking ahead at generations
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    who really need us
    to retool our lives now.
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    So we ask that you join us
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    in rediscovering the value
    of citizens united,
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    and to declare
    that we are all still pioneers.
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    (Applause)
Title:
A garden in my apartment | Britta Riley | TEDxManhattan
Description:

Britta Riley wanted to grow her own food (in her tiny apartment). So she and her friends developed a system for growing plants in discarded plastic bottles -- researching, testing and tweaking the system using social media, trying many variations at once and quickly arriving at the optimal system. Call it distributed DIY. And the results? Delicious.

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Video Language:
English
Team:
TED
Project:
TEDxTalks
Duration:
08:02

English subtitles

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