OpenIDEO is an open innovation platform. Join our global community to solve big challenges for social good. Sign Up / Login or Learn more

Living Learning Labs: Mobile Container Gardens

Shipping containers create fold-out event space to gather in vertical garden learning centers to grow games, local food and water systems

Photo of Evonne Heyning
9 3

Written by


IDEA: A pop-up mobile learning lab that includes vertical gardens becomes a living food center that can be set up in less than a day and provide healthy food on demand. Long term food security can be propagated from a large modular container garden system or short term food solutions can be generated from high yield containers dropped into sensitive areas or during crisis response. HOW IT WORKS: Shipping containers are converted into vertical gardens and grow high yield farms while at sea in preparation for installation. Groups of 2-4 containers are dropped into potential sites for farmers markets or local food centers with solar and water roof systems matching the 12-15 plants chosen to grow for the region. The fold-out container includes tools and a dining table for 50 people to gather for meals surrounded by the gardens, creating a workshop and meal area for community development to teach methods to grow low cost, high yield local food. Problems addressed: Food security, food education, nutrition and science lab space, DIY learning facility development, access to community gathering spaces, data collection for best practices, providing space to develop new technologies for ecosystem improvement. Strategies: Games and events, food system design experiences, water catchment, vertical gardens from recycled products, grow enough food to host meals with educational events, propagation of new seeds and starter plants for community growth across rooftops and in homes.


Beneficiaries: Diverse people of all ages with limited access to food or places to grow their own can join the local LLLab and take seedlings home to start on local roofs or around the neighborhood. Kids and adults can take classes and workshops to grow more together: the lab becomes a propagation room for new seeds to start growing local food production capacity. By playing games, all ages engage in learning permaculture and water system practices such as in our field tests in S. California.


The Living Learning Lab is a modular, adaptable, mobile concept that is easy to expand and grow over time. Shapes can be modified as climate and community needs change with open source plans designed to maximize food growth with limited materials and resources. Local meeting centers with agricultural capacity provides opportunities for social entrepreneurship through new product development, workshops and a community approach to thrivability that includes business and resiliency training for women and men of all ages. Workshops are community led and provide a link between a world of master gardeners and growers through games and apps (Seeds the Game/Grow Games) to encourage kids and adults of all backgrounds to try and grow new things at home. The Living Learning Lab includes all of the basic supplies needed to set up local urban farming communities around the lab, providing a growing space to grow local food resiliency and knowledge around agricultural practices that work for urban roofs and wallways, making the most of vertical gardening surfaces, recycled products and solar power. We engage people of all ages to work with local officials, NGOs and community leaders to develop strong food programs locally and all agencies and community orgs are invited to add gameplays into the missions provided in Seeds the Game to propagate new actions in the community. Games and missions become an easy way to spread the word about community events at the Living Learning Lab. Labs can be installed anywhere and used for many purposes and are owned and led by the community.


  • Yes, for one year or less


  • I’ve worked in a sector related to my idea for at least two years


  • Yes


For the past 20 years I have led international NGO teams in disaster relief, economic and urban development, media and communications along with permaculture education. As a producer, catalyst, artist and designer I install large interactive art and create educational experiences worldwide.


Join the conversation:

Photo of Andrew Gamble

Hi Evonne,
This is a really interesting idea that could be really applicable to the project we've submitted. Our idea is to connect waste water to the slums around Djibouti for urban gardening: 
But we are still debating how to garden - we are leaning towards vertical gardens due to the space and topography of the slums. Also, most of the people living in the slums are former pastoralists, so there will be a steep learning curve when it comes to growing food. 
Djibouti, being a port city, should have a lot of shipping containers that could be used for the purpose of gardening and training. So, it seems like there could be a lot of room for collaboration, and wanted to start the conversation with you. I'd love to get your feedback on our idea. By the way, I'm working with the Horn of Africa Regional Environment Centre and Network (

Photo of Hala Chaoui

hi Evonne and Peter,  

Evonne mentions that vertical gardens will be part of the pop up green-house like structure suggested here, which I think is a great idea . I'm an agricultural engineer and I noticed from the illustrations that the intended vertical garden is infrastructure - heavy.  I have developed (after a PhD at Ohio State) an Adobe-designed, suspended vertical garden. It's made form off-the-shelf parts, and only requires a structure to hang from, or ceiling. DIY instructions are posted online for those who need to make their own . The idea is for cost to not be an abstacle, and the design collapses into a smal kit that can be shipped anywhere: . The plant container are made of felt, and they wick water on the demand from suspended water containers . This minimizes watering frequency and aerated the soil (through the porous felt soil). The resulting optimal water and air levels in the soil result in lush healthy plants .  I would find it very interesting to incorporate the Suspended Garden in your hoop house . I welcome feedback from you and also Peter, regarding organizations that might find this beneficial. 

Photo of Chioma Ume

Hi Evonne! Which country are you planning to implement this idea in? Are you affiliated with any organization there?

Photo of Evonne Heyning

I am interested in going where the greatest need exists, likely to address biodiversity and health in SE Asia, likely Indonesia. Today's video shows how this may be applicable to clear the air and improve health in a serious issue affecting millions:

So far we have allies who can receive us in Indonesia and potentially through a connected NGO that works in 20 countries including Philippines and Thailand (relationship/project in development now). I am in the process of applying for an artist residency that would determine the first location for 2016 based on delivery and ports of call and I have been asked to bring this concept to 2 events in the US and Canada during the prototyping phase to support friends at the UN and other major foundations. We have not yet identified where to locate the lab in the region and we are open to collaborative ideas as we form a society to work together effectively on this challenge.

In the past I have worked with many overseas NGOs - from 2007-2012 I implemented tech/learning programs with TechSoup that works with hundreds of thousands of nonprofits around the world. We are now identifying which locations and organizations would be the best fit for the first labs and I'd love to hear your ideas. Current partner organizations in the area include Real Medicine Foundation and Communitere and I was last in Indonesia visiting farms and plantations in 2013. We have permaculture and NGO allies in Indonesia and Thailand ready to collaborate and we can look at connecting labs across the region through the apps, games, quests and playful challenges to grow more together.

Photo of Evonne Heyning

We are now discussing potential installation projects in 3 countries (all in the range of this challenge, mostly in SE Asia) with two organizations we have aligned with in the past. I can speak more to this in the next few weeks, or privately while we sort out where the best alignment will be for 2016.

Photo of Peter Rogers

Great idea, be happy to assist in any way you need - can facilitate research and project evaluation and bring in a range of stakeholders and consultants in the Asia-Pacific

Photo of Evonne Heyning

Thank you Peter! I would love some help in the research, budgeting and planning phases - we are underway now! Where is your focus in the Asia/Pacific region?

Photo of Peter Rogers

I am based out of Australia but GRC (of which I am a member) has links in the Phillipines, and SEI (with whom I collaborate) are based in Bangkok but have projects throughout the Asia-Pacific, email me and I can pass on the contacts so you can talk directly with some of the team.

Photo of Peter Rogers

You can also link through one of the proposed projects on city-wide learning networks proposed by some of my colleagues at SEI