See Why the Garden of the Future Could Be a Billboard

Growing a crop of lettuce is a snap, thanks to a gigantic roadside advertisement in Lima, Peru.
Apr 15, 2015·
Culture and education editor Liz Dwyer has written about race, parenting, and social justice for several national publications. She was previously education editor at Good.

They’ve come up with a billboard that eats smog and one that generates water by sucking it from humid air. Now the students at the Lima, Peru–based University of Engineering and Technology are tackling another challenge that affects plenty of communities around the globe: water and soil that are too polluted to use to grow crops.

As you can see in the video above, to bypass the arsenic-, lead-, and cadmium-contaminated H2O and dirt in the area around Lima, the students created the Air Orchard, a billboard that doubles as a hydroponic greenhouse.

Similar to the water-generating billboard, this latest advertisement takes advantage of the muggy conditions in the South American metropolis—it’s usually above 90 percent relative humidity there. Behind the visuals on the sign are 10 dehumidifiers that suck moisture out of the air and funnel it to a series of raised drip-irrigation pipes. Each pipe has 48 holes, perfect for a growing vegetable to emerge from. To keep the water from resembling acid rain, the students coated the billboard with their smog-sucking technology.

After one week in operation, the Air Orchard produced enough water to grow nearly 2,500 heads of lettuce. Better yet, the students working on the project are giving away the nutritious food to passersby.

Of course, like all of the giant signs lining our roads, the billboard is still advertising something—in this case, it’s promoting the university. But given the innovative work these students are doing to address some of the big challenges facing our society, turning a spotlight on their work doesn't seem like such a bad idea.