My Green Space: A place where good things grow
By Cate Pedersen
Any amateur gardener and urban farmer wannabe will tell you that they wish they had an agricultural expert at their beck and call. There are probably a million websites devoted to growing your own veggies and teaching horticulture to the cultivationally challenged, but none of them will tap you on the shoulder and whisper, “Hey, did you remember to water that kale?” or “Those peas aren’t going to pick themselves.”
For the love of farming
Michael Moll learned early in life that growing your own food reaps much more than fresh vegetables at harvest time. Moll has been farming on a small scale in his Kitsilano neighbourhood, watching the growth of the urban agriculture movement, eating fresh, organic vegetables, and engaging in a meditative activity. “I found enjoyment in introducing neighbours who had never known each other until they met in the garden. I grew up in Kenya where my grandparents owned acreage and I was exposed to the culture of an agricultural community. There are benefits to working outside, having healthy food and actually working with your hands; you feel complete,” he says.
Moll studied Sustainability at The University of British Columbia (UBC), and wondered how he could make a green impact here in Canada. The idea for an app sprouted while digging in the dirt, wishing he had more time between his studies, entrepreneurial dreams and his love of growing good things. In 2014, he attended a business start-up event with this idea that he could help people grow their own food, and also connect the growing community in a way that had never been done before. The customer discovery weekend was a competitive event that invited 50 entrepreneurs to pitch their ideas in just 30 seconds, after which the attendees formed groups and had a few hours to strategize and create software around their idea and prove there was a market.
“I wanted to take this seriously and turn it into a business—not just be part of the competition,” says Moll. He ended up winning the best prize—he left with two team members equally committed to his vision (oh, and they came second in the competition).
The Green team unites
Harpreet Bains is from generations of farmers who now grow blueberries in the Fraser Valley. She was studying Psychology at Kwantlen Polytechnic University (KPU) and had just completed her Master’s certification in Project Management from the University of Victoria.
“My colleagues knew that I wanted to get involved in a social impact venture that could be scaled globally and they suggested I attend the start-up event,” Bains explains. “Mike had tweeted out that he wanted to approach the global food crisis using technology and I was instantly attracted to the idea. After listening to his pitch, I introduced myself and told him how I know the pains and challenges that farmers have and I thought Mike’s idea was a great way to help local food systems. We bonded instantly on values.”
Harp Dhinsa, the software developer and third member of the “Green Team”, also comes from a family with a farming history, who supported their son’s early interest in technology and coding by buying him a computer when most of his classmates were learning to read. As part of the newly formed trio, Dhinsa builds the software that makes this app highly user friendly and globally effective.
Launching into Green space
My Green Space™ incorporated last year and during the summer the team tested a web application with 500 users in Canada and the United States. Moll and his team collected feedback and data, allowing them to streamline the app and launch it in the spring of 2016. The app is sort of like Farmville for people who want to do more than play with their food. Moll explains, “People lead busy lives, and we need to reach them where they are—on their smartphones and on their computers. My Green Space is like having a master gardener in your pocket. Our mission is not just about creating a sustainable food system; we really want to encourage people to grow food themselves.”
“The more diverse production units you have, the more resilient and sustainable we are,” Moll explains. “It only takes a small percentage of people in each neighbourhood to grow some sort of crop in an intelligent way to be able to impact the food economy in a city.”
The team has set up corporate gardens in Vancouver at Camp Pacific and Switchboard PR providing a greater sense of community and place for gatherings. My Green Space also has the ability to create a growing community within apartment buildings and city centres, connecting people around a common ground.
“There is a lot of pressure on startups to follow business models and make money, but we go with the sustainability bottom line: People, Planet and Profit. We look at our impact metrics—we hope to make money in the wake of making a big impact.”
Bains is quick to point out the support the team has had from the beginning. “We are fortunate to have been surrounded by other social impact ventures and part of business acceleration programs helping move our company forward.”
In December, 2016, the team were accepted as part of the Coast Capital Savings innovation hub which is described on the Sauder School of Business website as “a dynamic space to accelerate social venture growth by bringing together university resources, peer learning, and business networks. The program is defined by its passionate community and collaborative environment.”
My Green Space also completed an Agri-Tech Venture Accelerator Program (AVAP) through The Sumas Regional Consortium for High Tech (SRCTec) in partnership with the BC Innovation Council (BCIC) and The Government of British Columbia.
What can My Green Space do?
“The app draws on a wealth of research databases and publications across North America and partners with companies like West Coast Seeds, and we hope to soon have the best plant database that any app can have,” Moll says.
The app itself downloads in a flash, and after you answer a few questions you can set up a garden in seconds as opposed to hours doing it manually. When you choose the things you’d like to eat, the planting algorithm kicks in, telling you what to plant and when to plant it. It provides daily reminders and advanced tutorials about garden planning, planting, watering, harvesting, and which plants will be most successful in your region. Moll anticipates the app will reduce novice gardener mistakes by 80 percent, allowing for more success and less frustration. As well as gardening tips, advice and reminders, My Green Space sells seeds, full garden kits and self-watering planter boxes.
“Ninety percent of our seeds are organic,” says Moll, “and we also provide organic solutions and home remedies to fight off pests and disease.”
Bains stresses the importance of the organic focus of My Green Space. “We want to become a trusted source for some of the natural and preventative ways to growing your urban plot.”
Plans for a Greener future
But the plan is for the app to be a full-service engine. The team wants to increase the technology they have and add a garden sensor, so your crops can actually talk to you and describe their condition. “And we want gardeners to be able to reference each other, learn about others in their community, and create a way to share advice and trade with each other,” adds Moll. They would also like to expand by partnering with larger vendors to provide installation services and products.
“The feedback has been amazing,” says Bains. “I don’t know one person whose eyes have not lit up when we describe the app and what it can do, and the impact we want to make. That’s what fuels our passion.”
Bains is excited about the troubleshooting aspect of their app; for growers to be able to gather information about pests and diseases and share stories. “I know how much time my father spends on the phone consulting to other farmers and it would be great to have a platform to be able to collect information from that older generation so we don’t lose it.”
The team will be exploring new opportunities and meeting potential partners in the U.S. and Australia later this year. “We are in a lucky position,” Moll says. “It’s a lifetime of work, and we will keep expanding. As we build our team, it will become easier to do bigger things.”