Hydroponic Food from a Repurposed Billboard: Air Orchard

Along a roadside near Lima, Peru, hydroponic food can be found in an unlikely location: at the base of a repurposed billboard. The Air Orchard billboard produces thousands of heads of hydroponically grown lettuce to feed the community.

Maslow’s hierarchy of human needs places food and water as our two most essential needs. Shelter and warmth come next, followed by other core components necessary for human survival. “Outdoor advertising” may not make the list of core human needs, but a partnership in Lima, Peru sees advertising billboards as a tool to delivery essential needs to local communities. 

Expanding upon the Water Billboard, ad agency FCB Mayo and Lima’s University of Engineering and Technology (UTEC) saw an opportunity to further develop their innovation into a structure that not only promotes the ingenuity of the engineering school, but produces healthy, pesticide-free produce in the process.

Hydroponic Food from a Repurposed Billboard: Air Orchard
Hydroponic Food from a Repurposed Billboard: Air Orchard

The massive hydroponic billboard pulls water from the air through a series of 10 large dehumidifiers, which in turn feed a hydroponics system that produced more than 2800 heads of lettuce in its first few months of operation. 

The project not only reprograms the functionality of the billboard structure, but the role and function of promotional projects. The Air Orchard was conceived as a real-world example of UTEC’s tradition of solving an engineering problem creatively to attract students. With the Air Orchard, the billboard shows how a clever feat of engineering can addresses the issue of growing pollution-free foods. It is an issue important to local populations. Farms in the region are irrigated by local rivers that are contaminated with arsenic, lead, and cadmium – toxic pollutants frequently passed onto people through their diet. 

The purified water coming from the billboard not only produces containment-free food for locals, but does so in a way that increases the nutrition and lessens the environmental impact of the overall project. Hydroponically grown vegetables are five times more nutritious than those grown in soil and consume considerably less water in the growing process.

The Air Orchard and 43 other innovative urban reuse projects are featured in the Reprogramming the City book.