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Community Garden App

To connect all community gardens throughout the world.

Photo of Chris Reid
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Written by

Lead Applicant Organization Name

Vancouver Community Garden Builders Inc.

Lead Applicant Organization Type

  • Small company (under 50 employees)

If part of a multi-stakeholder entity (i.e. team), provide the names of other organizations and types of stakeholders collaborating with you.

The team behind Community Garden App have been managing community gardens since 2011 with the Community Garden Builders. They have worked with thousands of individual gardeners and have a unique lens on how to approach management inefficiencies. We are in preliminary discussion to co-develop with the Public Health Association of British Columbia.

Website of Legally Registered Entity

https://www.communitygardenbuilders.com/

How long have you / your team been working on this Vision?

  • Under 1 year

Lead Applicant: In what city or town are you located?

Vancouver

Lead Applicant: In what country are you located?

Canada

Your Selected Place: what’s the name of the Place you’re developing a Vision for?

The Place for our scope is Community Gardens within US and Canada (19.8 million km²). The software can be rolled out worldwide.

What country is your selected Place located in?

United States of America, Canada.

Describe your relationship to the place you’ve selected.

The community we live and work in is Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada. Since 2011, the Community Garden App team has also been operating Community Garden Builders Incorporated, a Vancouver-based social enterprise with a mission to transform vacant property into temporary community gardens and growing spaces. Our projects represent a unique partnership between private landowners and community members, providing much needed garden space for the community, and over the years we’ve built thousands of raised beds on what would otherwise be unused urban surface area.

Vancouver is our geographical home, but the Place we’d like you to envision is more conceptual than a neighbourhood or city: it’s your local community garden.

As builders and managers of over twenty community gardens, we care very deeply about these places, and we see community gardens as an essential link between urban life and food production. We spend our time in these gardens, growing our own herbs and vegetables and helping our gardeners do the same, and the work we’ve done on the Community Garden App is a response to the challenges and gaps we’ve encountered out in the field.

Our work is rooted in the larger movement of urban agriculture. There is a committed cohort of urban farmers and community gardeners spearheading initiatives in cities across the world, but the potential for growing food in the urban landscape is still largely untapped. We believe that by reshaping the way we think about space, we have the capacity to drastically transform our urban environments into oases of nourishment and health.

Describe the People and Place: Provide information that would be helpful for an outsider who has never been there and may have no context about this Place to better understand the area.

The community garden we’d like you to envision is located in a city in Canada or the United States. The local municipal government has provided a plot of land in the corner of a city park, and over the years, a volunteer-run collective has developed the space into an urban oasis reminiscent of a country farm. There are thirty garden beds spaced out over an area no bigger than a children’s wading pool, separated by woodchip-lined paths. Each plot reflects a gardener’s unique tastes and approach: this one seems to have a little bit of everything, this one is exclusively kale, and this one over here has been planted with all the ingredients for a winter’s worth of tomato sauce––garlic, basil, onions and tomatoes. Unlike urban farms, the food grown here is not for selling. The eventual destination for this produce will be the dining room tables of the gardeners who’ve put in the work of growing it.

The garden offers a natural respite to everyone in the neighbourhood, and it serves as a cross-cultural, intergenerational nexus for community members to share a healthy hobby and work together toward a collective goal. By cultivating feelings of well-being and safety, this community garden fosters an increased sense of neighbourbood pride and revitalization, impacting the security, crime rate and property value of the immediate vicinity.

The garden offers more than just earth to plant seeds in. It is a social hub for people interested in creating a food system rooted in the values of sustainability, health, community and joy. You often see children here, mucking about, making absolute messes of their outfits with dirt and mud and berry juice, and there’s something undeniably wholesome about a Saturday morning when everyone is out, joining forces to build a new garden shed, for instance, or help spread woodchip over the paths.

More than a casual hobby, this community garden has become a functional part of healthy urban life. Within cities, access to growing space offers us a way to repair the human–nature connection and to prevent it from going extinct altogether. Gardening has increasingly been recognized as a cost-effective health intervention, with studies linking the activity to mental well-being, vigour, and cognitive function, not to mention the dietary benefits of fresh, nutritious veggies. You feel it as soon as you enter the space. It’s a tangible and timeless force: people at work, tilling the soil, nurturing seeds into sustenance.

What is the approximate size of your Place, in square kilometers? (New question, not required)

19800000

What is the estimated population (current 2020) in your Place?

368590000

Challenges: Describe the current (2020) and the future (2050) challenges that your food system faces.

Agriculture accounts for more than one-tenth of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions, a figure that increases year over year as global population grows. Our reliance on industrialized farming continues to threaten natural ecosystems with chemical pollutants, water scarcity, soil erosion and deforestation, realities that can seem virtually invisible to those living in the urbanized world. Meanwhile, in North American cities, urban life is associated with various adverse health consequences, like high-fat diets, sedentary lifestyles and increased levels of social and psychological stress and environmental pollutants. As a consequence, promoting the health of urban populations has become one of the most challenging issues of the 21st century.

Community gardens are an integral component of the push to democratize and urbanize agriculture and improve health, resilience and food security within our neighbourhoods, and they will become increasingly more vital as the ecological impacts of climate change intensify. The growth rate of community gardens in North America testifies to a robust public interest in participating in local food production. There’s widespread recognition in the value of these initiatives:

  • providing access to healthy, organic, nutrient-rich food,
  • reducing our carbon footprint by cutting down on ‘food miles’,
  • empowering low-income income families with access to affordable food,
  • cultivating welcoming spaces within neighbourhoods.


To accelerate the growth of this movement and improve the function and feasibility of community-based growing spaces, our vision looks to address these main challenges facing community gardens:

Project Management

Most of these projects are volunteer-run, and they rely on out-dated models to manage everyday garden business like bed allotment, volunteer schedules, annual fee payment and other contractual requirements like rules and agreements. Payment is often made with cash or cheque, and gardener information is often stored on private spreadsheets and mismatched web-platforms and in the dusty tombs of file folders. The administrative burden can be taxing, and the result is often stress and unhappiness for the volunteers who manage and coordinate these projects, which can lead to burnout.

Sustainability

To survive and flourish as a movement, community gardens will need to modernize and adapt to an increasingly technologized world. This means establishing ways to share knowledge around food growing and to appeal to younger generations to keep the practice going, as well as establishing unified digital platforms to coordinate strategies and evolve the culture of gardening.

Municipal Policy

Resilient food networks need the support of government policy, and this will be especially relevant as urban populations rise and space to grow food in our cities becomes increasingly more difficult to protect and prioritize. Several current factors limit the strength of community garden advocacy right now: regional isolation, sporadic advocacy and a lack of collected data to inform evidence-based policy.

Address the Challenges: Describe how your Vision will address the challenges described in the previous question.

The ingredients for a successful local community garden are simple ones: earth to plant seeds, sun overhead and access to water for irrigation. For those passionate about growing their own food, there is a profound satisfaction in working in the dirt, away from the multitudinous distractions of our phones and televisions. Gardening offers a respite from the technologized world, and that’s something we’d never want to infringe on.

But community gardens are organizations, and as such they have administrative challenges. Our vision is a systems-based platform to help garden managers simplify the administrative burden of their organizations. This means streamlining garden bed allocation and sign-up; providing a secure, online method of fee payment; linking to gardener rules and contracts for easy, one-click acceptance; compiling contact information for email and newsletter communication; and providing a functional data management system that centralizes all of this important information in one location.

Another driver for us is the gap we currently see in the network-building capacity of community gardens. Most community garden managers use tools like Facebook, Whatsapp, Slack and email to communicate and organize with their members. These digital spaces facilitate requests for help with watering, notices about garden events, technical advice and the swapping of seeds and plants. But these proprietary platforms don’t speak to one another, which means the social groups they host can become silos of knowledge and experience. We envision a digital space that bridges gardeners from across cities and countries, empowering a coalition of people to share information, coordinate strategies and catalyze as a movement.

We see technology as an essential tool in recruiting more young people into the community gardening movement. By stimulating a new type of engagement within these growing spaces, we aim to fortify future generations of gardeners with essential resources and a stronger sense of collectivism and unity, and we see the App as a way to capture hyper-localized growing techniques to establish a record for Traditional Ecological Knowledge.

We see even more potential in the bigger picture: a way to continually capture, analyze and unify food system data on a national scale. With a large enough data pool, our goal is that this information can be used to leverage municipal policy that protects existing gardens and ensures that more are built going forward.

With widespread adoption, the Community Garden App can provide figures and statistics that help to better contextualize and define the scale and involvement of community gardeners across municipalities. This data can then be used to advocate at a government level for evidence-based policy to support these food networks.

High Level Vision: With these challenges addressed, now provide a high level description of how the Place and the lives of its People will be different than they are now.

Let’s return to the community garden we described earlier. It’s 2050, and despite the fact that population in this North American city has reached over 5 million people, this little plot of growing space is still thriving. Nothing drastic has changed about the place or the way people use it. Gardening is still gardening: dirt to plants seeds in, gardens milling about. These gardeners know each other as real-world neighbours, but they also have an online relationship facilitated through the Community Garden App. Their garden has its own online profile, and it’s here that they share advice on the best time to plant beet seeds, for instance, or how to keep aphids away from brassicas. Their electronic posts are accessible to millions of other gardeners around the world, and at the simple press of a button they can tap into a worldwide hive-mind brimming with knowledge on virtually every aspect of gardening.

One of the gardens also volunteers as the garden manager, and she uses the App to streamline the annual registration process and to collect the $30 fee that each gardener is asked to pay into the communal fund. All of this information is centralized in one easy-to-access platform, saving her time and stress and ultimately offering more time for her to spend doing what she loves, gardening.

 Within the city, gardening may still be seen as peripheral to some, but there’s widespread recognition of the value of local food growing, and it’s been helped along by a string of policy initiatives that have protected and proliferated public growing space. It turns out there’s lots of available square footage to build gardens––all it took was a change of perspective to see the forest from the trees, and an app that makes it that much easier to get these projects up and running.

Full Vision: How do you describe your Vision for a regenerative and nourishing food future for your Place and People for 2050?

Throughout North America, community gardeners are a growing cohort of citizens with a shared interest and passion in producing their own food. In the United States, for instance, community gardens are proliferating at a growth rate of 200%, and a 2013 study by the National Gardening Association estimated there were over 3 million community gardeners in the US alone. This trend is a response to the intensifying risks of economic and environmental disruptions, and it indicates a shifting cultural narrative: growing food is something everyone can do.

One of the ways we can reconcile the disconnect between what we eat and how our food is produced is to reintegrate farming into dense metropolitan environments. The potential for growing food in the urban landscape is still largely untapped. Take a walk through your neighbourhood and you’ll see this potential in the form of vacant lots, underutilized parkland, ornamental landscaping and millions of square feet of lawn. By reshaping the way we think about space, we have the capacity to drastically transform our urban environments into oases of nourishment and health.

Community gardens are an integral component of this push to urbanize agriculture and build resilience and food security within our neighbourhoods. These spaces offer community members a chance to eat locally, reducing the carbon footprint of their food, and to engage children in caring for their environment at a young age. Gardens can also play a critical role in cooling cities, and they are linked to quality of life factors like social, physical and mental well-being.

Our vision is to enable these locally powered community food networks to connect and support one another with digital tools, and to cultivate a sustainable future for this important global movement.

Fresh fruits and vegetables are foundational in any healthy diet. These foods can lower blood pressure, reduce the risk of heart disease and stroke and have a positive effect on blood sugar, which can keep appetite in check. In the urban setting, community gardening offers access to affordable, nutritious, hand-grown foods. These foods make us feel good, and when we’re given the opportunity to grow our own­­––from seed to table––we tend to get excited about eating them more often, children especially.

There is a psychological component to gardening, as well. Within cities, access to growing space offers us a way to repair the human–nature connection and to prevent it from going extinct altogether. Gardening has increasingly been recognized as a cost-effective health intervention, with studies linking the activity to mental well-being, vigour, and cognitive function. These sites are natural respites within the urban environment, and they serve as cross-cultural, intergenerational nexuses for community members to share a healthy hobby and work together toward a collective goal.

More than a casual hobby, we see community gardens as a functional part of healthy urban life, and our goal is to foster a thriving ecosystem where people from all socio-economic backgrounds can directly participate in their nourishment. The Community Garden App will serve as a digital hub for sharing recipes and health ideas, and as a database of health-minded users, we see immense potential for impacting health policy in the future.

Food insecurity is financial insecurity, and cost is one of the greatest barriers to accessing fresh, nutritious food. Lower-income communities are particularly susceptible to the negative health effects of a diet low in fruits and vegetables, and over three quarters of annual deaths due to cardiovascular diseases take place in low- and middle-income countries.

When it comes to accessing growing space in cities, we see similar socio-economic divisions: those who can afford the space to grow food and those who cannot. Community gardens offer an alternative to this model by establishing growing spaces within the public commons. Gardening is also one of the most cost-effective ways of bringing fresh, nutritious vegetables into your home. Dense, raised-bed gardening, for instance, produces an average of 1.24 pounds of veggies per square foot in an average growing season, and it’s estimated that for every dollar invested in community gardens, six dollars of vegetables are produced. These figures only go up as gardeners become more experienced and knowledgeable with growing techniques.

Our vision encourages more people to participate in local food systems, regardless of socio-economics, and our app is designed with cost-efficiency in mind. The software and its features will be free to download and use, and garden managers can create a profile of their garden without cost. Our self-sustaining revenue model involves a small transaction fee that gets applied when gardeners pay their annual fees.

The biggest challenges facing community gardens are administrative burden, lack of shared networks and advocating for municipal food policy that ensures these projects are protected (and proliferated).

Our vision is to build technology that nudges these grassroots operations into the future. We see the potential for a crowd-sharing platform that bridges beginner and expert gardeners, capturing hyper-localized growing techniques and best-practices and establishing a record for Traditional Ecological Knowledge. Our goal is to stimulate a new type of engagement within these growing spaces, fortifying future generations of gardeners with essential resources and a stronger sense of collectivism and unity.

The ingredients for a successful local community garden are simple ones: earth to plant seeds, sun overhead and access to water for irrigation. For those passionate about growing their own food, there is a profound satisfaction in working in the dirt, away from the multitudinous distractions of our phones and televisions. Gardening offers a respite from the technologized world, and that’s something we’d never want to infringe on.

But community gardens are organizations, and as such they have administrative challenges. Before developing the first software prototype, the team behind Community Garden App learned first-hand just how cumbersome the administrative duties can be.  We’ve spent nine years managing community gardens and building networks with other garden managers in Vancouver and we’re not alone in saying the task can be a lot like herding cats.

Our solution is a systems-based digital platform to help garden managers simplify the administrative burden of their organizations. This means streamlining garden bed allocation and sign-up; providing a secure, online method of fee payment; linking to gardener rules and contracts for easy, one-click acceptance; compiling contact information for email and newsletter communication; and providing a functional data management system that centralizes all of this important information in one location.

Think about the ways Youtube has empowered performers around the world and offered a digital platform for them to connect with an audience. We see the same capabilities in an application catered to the function of community gardens: by making it easy to set up and manage these projects, more people will be encouraged to take the initiative to found new gardens in their communities.

We see even more potential in the bigger picture: a way to continually capture, analyze and unify food system data on a national scale. Resilient food networks need the support of government policy, and this will be especially relevant as urban populations grow and space to grow food in our cities becomes increasingly more difficult to protect and prioritize. With a large enough data pool, our goal is that this information can be used to leverage municipal policy that protects existing gardens and guarantees that more are built going forward.

In British Columbia, where our team is based, local government provides space and resources for projects like community gardens to function within their neighbourhoods. But because these policies are individualized and region-specific, what we’re seeing is lots of divergence in the success and sustainability of this food-growing model.

When it comes to community gardens, effective policy is often a reflection of a municipality’s willingness to commit resources and time into research and consultation. The opposite is true of inefficient policy: uniformed, hasty and poorly funded. The result can be a landscape of have’s and have not’s, where effective models of municipal food networks are cut off from one another, and not enough has been done to hegemonize these best practices.

Data will be essential for the future of food policy, and the Community Garden App has the potential to capture, amalgamate and leverage information that has until now been largely unavailable. How many people are gardening in a given region? Who’s using these spaces? How are these spaces governed? What’s working when it comes to municipal policy? What are the challenges and needs?

With widespread adoption, the Community Garden App can provide figures and statistics that help to better contextualize and define the scale and involvement of community gardeners across municipalities. This data can then be used to advocate at a government level for evidence-based policy to support these food networks.

The Community Garden App also allows organizations to compare best practices across a wide spectrum of municipalities, to identify shared challenges and catalyze government action that can address these gaps. We believe our digital platform will be an essential tool that encourages community garden organizers to take on leadership roles within their neighbourhoods. By understanding who, specifically, makes use of these spaces, we hope to empower these initiatives to better represent the communities they belong to and the people they serve, building more equitable, inclusive futures.

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