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{Updated with Pitch Deck 8.23.15} The Tomatero App (Think Tamagotchi for Growing Vegetables)

Tomatero will help you grow tomatoes at home. Earn points for caring for your plant. Anyone, anywhere can learn how to grow a garden.

Photo of Karen Lee

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Who is the target audience for your idea and how does it inspire the end user to lead a healthier life?

Growing a vegetable is a family-friendly activity! Tomatero a great way for people of all ages to learn everyday lessons from nature and become self-sufficient gardeners and producers of vegetables. The app walks you through a series of easy-to-follow steps on how to grow vegetables and turn it into a game everyone wants to play. Grow, eat, and share the fruits of your labor with your neighborhood, friends & family, and fellow gardeners around the world!

Initial Idea: Community Garden Kitchens

Elevator pitch: Learn healthy eating habits by growing a community garden & cooking together. Share your neighborhood & home kitchen to the world.

Community Garden Kitchens Description:

Growing a community garden is an important tool to encourage fun, education, ownership, and collaboration among the community. It empowers communities to take action and transform unused land into a place of purpose, recreation, and education.

Garden Kitchens aims to train the local community to develop community gardens and teach garden and cooking classes in their neighborhoods. 

When the local community learns and creates something together, they use the community gardens and kitchens as a tool to share knowledge, pool resources, communicate effectively, and provide support. Sharing a positive experience together can strengthen relationships, reduce conflicts, and broaden perspectives.

Garden Kitchens will provide the community a technology toolkit to digitize their progress and celebrate their accomplishments to the world:

  • Shoot-and-share video cameras for the community to document cooking or garden tips and techniques, different stages of the community garden, educational classes, and community potlucks. 
  • A dedicated forum or portal for the community to upload their videos and photos, post updates and announcements, and share recipes. This can be a private group on Facebook or NextDoor. Each community will have online moderators who provide feedback to the garden and cooking volunteers.

Communities will be able to curate what they want to share with the Garden Kitchens digital network (a website and app with different social media channels and an email newsletter) that will feature different communities and archive their videos, photos, and recipes. All digital content will be searchable and can be downloaded to watch/read offline. People can see photos of community gardens across the world ranging from rural towns to urban cities. They can browse a library of recipes from a particular region or watch a video of a woman sharing how she cooks a traditional family dish. 

With the network, Garden Kitchens intends to be a documentary platform for local communities around the world to express themselves and learn how others grow food and cook together. 

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Community Garden Kitchens Research:
1. On July 14, 2015, I posted on NextDoor. I used the 23 neighborhoods where I live as a user group. I posted a couple questions on NextDoor to test out the idea and see if there's interest in community garden-to-cooking classes.

[Update: July 21, 2015] Outcome: A chef commented that she rents and would love access to home grown foods. In exchange, she would gladly teach classes because she loves sharing her knowledge and love of cooking. 3 neighbors suggested 3 different community gardens and gardening groups to contact.
2. [Update: July 15, 2015] I talked to my neighbor about his experience managing a plot in our neighborhood community garden. He only waters his plants on the weekends and brings his kids with him to pick the ripe vegetables (carrots, tomatoes, etc.). He wishes the garden had more sitting options, which he believes would make it more community friendly and inviting.  

3. [Update: July 26, 2015] I described to my friend about my idea. Greg grows seedlings in his apartment closet and transfers them into his backyard in San Francisco. He suggested developing a gardening kit that was as foolproof and easy to grow as a Chia pet. 

4. [Update: July 31, 2015] I had a call with Common Gardens, a project of Ecology Action in Palo Alto that provides garden tours and educational field trips to the local community and schools. On a conference call with Mia (Program Manager) and Paul (Farm Manager), I learned about their project’s objectives, marketing activities, and ways they engage the local community, volunteers, and donors.

5. [Update: August 6, 2015] I had a great call with my mentor, Bettina Fliegel, about refining my idea and walking through a variety of organizations that were doing something similar in the community garden space. We combed through OpenIDEO’s feedback and brainstormed ideas on ways to address the questions in the idea. I also addressed and responded to the awesome input (and research) from my team member, Gabriel Landowski.

Community Garden Kitchens Prototype:
[Update: July 17, 2015] To test my idea on community video content, I reached out to Common Gardens to see if they had any interest in sharing youth education or adult classes online. I offered to shoot a video of their garden as a content prototype for instructional how-to garden-to-kitchen videos. 

[Update: August 7, 2015] I interviewed Paul and Mia and recorded a video of them explaining how to grow amaranth and cook it. I’m in the process of editing the video, which is taking me a long time because I’ve never edited videos before and I'm learning as I go!

Insights: It’s hard and time-consuming to edit a video. Recording a video might be a barrier for others. How might we find easier, more lightweight ways of getting people to create and share content? (On a side note, I’d like to partner with Telemundo and NBC Universal to develop video content for the portal or website. 

This prototype made me realize that people rely on their mobile device for information and socializing. 

[Update: August 6, 2015] Community Garden Kitchens Pivots to Seed to Plate Community App

Elevator Pitch: A simple app that connects neighbors to a community focused on growing food and cooking together. Share with each other and the world. 


This app will help people connect with neighbors who are interested in sharing their garden and cooking knowledge with people who want to learn by doing! There are a number of ways to get people to use this app whether it's journaling what they're eating, posting a community cooking class, or sharing a family recipe.

Here are some examples:

  1. Community Garden: prepare and develop the land, clean the site, source and gather materials and tools, decide on the design and plot arrangement, make compost, harvest produce, etc.
  2. Community Kitchen: find a public cooking site, teach a cooking class, organize the ingredients and supplies, wash dishes, blog the class experience, take pictures, create a video of the instruction, etc. 

Seed to Plate Community App Prototype: 

[Update: August 6, 2015] Prototype: I developed 4 wireframes for the app.

[Update: August 7, 2015] I had a small focus group of four people: Two high school students who were volunteers at Common Gardens and Mia and Paul, who run Common Gardens. I recorded the interview.


"It’s like NextDoor for vegetables.” -Mia

“A barter economy within a few blocks for food composting, harvesting…it’s a social media network.” -Paul

“Eventbrite and Craistlist has the ability to define the location radius.” -High school student 

“It’s nice that [the app is] within the community so if you had questions you can meet people in-person.” -High school student 

“So, this is kinda like blogging.” -High school student

"I’m biased but I’m more interested in events where people come together and help each other. Bring people together face-to-face. I don’t use NextDoor unless it’s something I would show up to. I look at events, but where do I meet my neighbors? It’s useful to build community.” -Paul

“I read Meetup because it’s an event and I can meet people.” -Paul

“This is a melding of a lot of things. A more specific and useful version of NextDoor. It’s a little Pinterest-y.” -Mia

“The more people, the better. If no one posts or have events, it’s not as useful.” -High school student

“It would be cool to list your tool library, or seed-sharing.” -Paul and Mia

[Update: August 8, 2015] I interviewed and recorded my conversation with my house cleaner, Silvia, who is Mexican. 

“Let’s just say I have a garden and I’m away, and tomatoes are coming - you can just post this to your family and closest friends."

"It’s nice that you can share recipes and socialize." 

"It’s good for people who have more experience and learn with this app and guide them. You can make your own sauce or prepare recipes with simple ingredients."

“I’ve been getting freebies from your friend’s garden. I’ve been sharing with my sister. Sometimes the eggplants and tomatoes are huge. I take one for me and grill it. I give the other half to my sister and I think she puts it in her pasta."

“When you’re cooking for 2, it’s different when you cook for 3 or 4. We cook a big meal and divide it into 4's.” 

“Some people waste a lot of things because they don’t know what to do with it. Sharing a recipe makes a big help because sometimes you have one cucumber, but if you put it in a salad - you can use it.”

“When you’re cooking and someone’s around, it feels really good.” 

“For my weight issues, I’m trying to eat healthier. I’m trying as hard as I can."

"I really like to do this one with the people I’m close to and people know me. This one is cool for yourself.” 

Tomatero App Prototype: 

[Update: August 12, 2015] I had a call with Ashley, a recently graduated Education masters student from Stanford. She developed an education app designed to help students learn how to cook healthy foods. We discussed my idea and her approach for designing the app. My takeaway insight was that I should narrow my app's focus rather than be an app that does everything. One key lesson is to start with the desired learning outcome and then design the app experience around the outcome.

I talked to my husband, Lester, about narrowing and refining my idea. We had a brainstorm on how to focus the idea at this stage. We iterated off my community app, along with all the other feedback from my team, and I ran with the idea of making a game app that taught people how to grow plants. Think Tamagotchi, but for growing a garden, one plant at a time. 

[Update: August 13, 2015] Prototype: I developed several wireframes for the  app.

[Update: August 21, 2015] Feedback from OpenIDEO member Karen Sorenson: "When we are talking about socially/economically diverse populations, schools is often the best place to build community. Especially with a garden since many of don't have the land access that is needed for a garden. The age group for app users is really changing every year. This last year, we have seen more kids as young as 3 years old with own tablets. General rule of thumb, is up till about the age of 9, kids use their parents devices, after that point they have their own device. Now, many of these devices are web-enabled but the child does not have a data plan, so they need to tether off of outside Wifi, about high school you start seeing smartphones with limited data plans."

Next steps: I reached out to Jarrod Robinson from who has developed very successful physical education apps to see if he has any app developer referrals. I also emailed Karen Sorenson about meeting her and Ben Eichorn, of Grow My Own Lunch in San Francisco. He wrote an ebook "Edible Garden" and specializes in edible school gardens and educational materials. I hope we can collaborate on the Tomatero app idea together, specifically leveraging Ben's expertise on school gardens and educational curriculum. I'd like to tie in community and educational materials into the app.

[Update: August 23, 2015] Elevator Pitch: Tomatero will help you grow a tomato plant at home. Anyone, anywhere can learn how to grow a tomato plant. Earn points for caring for your plant. Here is my pitch on Slideshare! 

Growing a vegetable is a family-friendly activity! It's a great way for children to learn everyday lessons from nature and become self-sufficient. It's really fulfilling to plant and grow tomatoes together, especially if you earn points along the way. Tomatero makes it easy and fun to grow a garden step-by-step. Every member of the family can have their own Tomatero, including the kids.  You can grow a tomato plant with friends, too. 

Depending on where you live and what season you're in, Tomatero will help you pick the right plant for you. For example, Tomatero will provide you fool-proof steps to grow a tomato. You'll earn points for specific activities you accomplish. 

Tomatero also helps you keep track of your garden data - when, what, where you plant, how long it takes to sprout, and how well your plants grow. It'll help you learn faster and measure the progress more effectively. You can share photos to the your community (by zip code) or anyone who is growing the same plant. The photos will appear in a feed like Instagram and your neighbors can leave comments and "likes" in the form of plant leaves. 

Such a big part of gardening is in the harvest and food preparation. Once your tomatoes have ripened and are ready to harvest, the second phase of Tomatero is cooking tomatoes! Tomatero will provide healthy easy-to-make recipes with tomatoes and you can take and share photos of your meals with neighbors and friends.

Keep in mind you don't have to grow an entire garden at the start. Depending on the climate and season, Tomatero will help you decide what to grow next! After you successfully grow tomatoes, Tomatero will help you pick a new vegetable to grow and add to your meals.

What early, lightweight experiment can you try out in your own community to find out if the idea will meet your expectations?

I can share the app idea and wireframes with my neighbors and friends to get their feedback.

What skills, input or guidance are you keen to connect with from the OpenIDEO community to help you build out or refine your idea?

Is this concept valid? Does it address the pain points with growing a garden? Can it tie in with the community and how? Is the app incentivizing people enough by awarding points? Are stronger incentives necessary, and if so - what would they be? Is it relevant for different ages?

This idea emerged from

  • A group brainstorm
  • An Individual

Does your idea currently have an Indiegogo campaign drafted?

  • No
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Attachments (3)

Tomatero Pitch.pptx

My 3-slide presentation outlining the current situation, opportunity, and resources needed for Tomatero!

Seed to Plate Nelly User Experience.pdf

Nelly is a school teacher who wants to eat healthier with her friends. They enter in a healthy eating challenge using the Seed to Plate app to keep each other motivated, share their progress, and log in their meals.

Seed to Plate Juan User Experience.pdf

Juan is a high school student who is interested in the farm to table movement. He wants to learn how to grow tomatoes and uses the Seed to Plate app to find out about community events related to growing a vegetable garden and cooking together.


Join the conversation:

Photo of Shane Zhao

Great post Karen! Developing new ways to help people build community gardens has been a recurring topic of interest in this challenge. Check out this like-minded idea: Perhaps there might be a way to collaborate?

Photo of Karen Lee

Thanks for the suggestion, Shane! I reached out to Dylan to see if he's interested in collaborating.

Photo of Claire Lerois

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