Britta Riley is nothing if not passionately optimistic. She conceived the wildly successful Windowfarms in response to a moment of urban anxiety: the lack of space to grow her own food. It’s a scenario familiar to most of the world’s 3.5 billion urban dwellers, even though home-growing produce can be one of the most effective environment-saving techniques we can use. “I was so broke I was renting my apt on AirBnB to pay for food and a tiny room,” she says of her time experimenting with alternative gardening methods. This led her to hydroponics and running nutrient-infused water, a “compost tea,” over plant root systems. Her strategic arrangement of plastic bottles and tubing became the prototype for Windowfarms.
A veteran of participatory projects, Britta turned to the crowd-finding site Kickstarter to raise money to build our.Windowfarms, an online portal where users could help develop the final design. The result was an aesthetic and functional triumph: a high-volume hanging garden capable of producing food even in the dead of winter. She turned to her community again for the second phase of fundraising. With well over 30,000 active users of her project, it’s no surprise she was able to achieve four times her goal of $50,000 — more than enough to fund the manufacturing and design improvements. Britta says her faith in the online community comes from “believing that they were like us, that they saw what we saw, and that they just wanted to know, specifically, how to get involved.”
Britta’s grandfather, whom she described on the first Kickstarter campaign as a “passionately environmental engineer/inventor,” helped influence her human-centric design ethos with his advice to create more user-inspired fixes to his generation’s removed and automated engineering techniques. This can be seen in her previous venture, R&DIY (research and design-it-yourself), which she launched with fellow NYU ITP graduate, Rebecca Bray. It serves as an open-source web platform for mass collaboration on physical systems. Being able to “see opportunities everywhere and to be choosy about where to execute” has served Britta and Windowfarms well; as a pioneer of the collaborative design movement and as a forerunner in urban farming advancements.