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Urban Greenhouses: How Ecuador Has Found the Antidote to Rising Food Prices

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Sarah McGee admires the structure, partially wrapped in mesh and sun-protective plastic, and smiles approvingly. "We made a wall," she says. "It actually looks like a greenhouse now. It was a carcass for a week."

For nearly two weeks this summer, McGee and a handful of fellow college students have constructed a greenhouse on the rooftop of an elementary school in a poverty-stricken neighborhood of Quito, the capital of Ecuador. McGee, a 19-year-old sophomore attending the University of California, Los Angeles, was born in the mountains of Japan and raised by hippies in the beach town of Santa Cruz. "I've always been interested in sustainable projects and how to make that work in Third World countries," she says.

But she and her friends didn't travel to this developing South American country to study or share their knowledge. They're the labor. Some afternoons they go to Quito's historic district to assemble a greenhouse behind an art museum, as requested by a group of women who felt squeezed out of their community and wanted to stake a claim. Residents come together, decide to grow their own food, and the process begins. They get a little help from a municipal economic development agency called CONQUITO that promotes organic urban farms in this city of 2.1 million people located on the eastern slopes of Pichincha, an active volcano in the Andes.