A Radical Way To Rethink Resource Efficiency Starts With…Cacti?

Kale might get the nod as the ultimate supergreen, but architect Ali Chen, who works at BIG‘s New York outpost, thinks it’s high time for the Nopal cactus to wear the crown. Known informally as the Prickly Pear, the plant takes the spotlight in her speculative proposal Grassroots Cactivism, a radical way to rethink resource conservation in California.

Since the state is currently in a water crisis, the folks at Archinect hosted the Dry Futures competition as a way to get the design community involved with solutions. During the research phase for her entry, one statistic stuck with Chen: although urban households reduced consumption by 25% after governor Jerry Brown called for citizens to slash water use, 80% of the state’s water still goes to agriculture. Her proposal hinges on rethinking the crops grown in the Golden State.

The plan is “a hybrid burning man-esque cactus farm, wastewater purifying plant, and eco-resort,” she says. At its heart is the Nopal cactus, a drought-tolerant plant that can be used as livestock feed, has the remarkable capacity to effectively clean polluted water, and tastes mighty fine to boot.

Especially interesting is the plan to transform the crop into a hot commodity by building an eco-resort around it. “The goal is to market the use of cacti in contemporary cuisine, grow awareness, provide funding for research, and slowly increase demand for a crop that can eventually replace other water-intensive forms of vegetable and fodder,” she describes. Chen proposes building a boutique hotel, water museum, and four-star restaurant adjacent to the farm.

It’s a long shot, but hey, all it takes are a few celebrity plugs and miracle health claims to make an obscure product—ahem, coconut water—go gangbusters. The noble nopal could be next.DB