Wednesday, August 26, 2009

New editorial from NY Times on Vertical Farming

One of our advisers was kind enough to point out this editorial while we were on the plane home from France! It reinforces all the points we've been trying to emphasize with the project, but frames it in a more global perspective. Vertical farming is going to be an important technology for all of us, not just those living in slums or shanty towns. Check it out!

Click here to read the article.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

1. First VertiGrow pilot group! You can see the first VertiGrow model on the left. It's changed a bit since then :)
2. Look at all that roof space!

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Progress in Paris!

Ellie and I were at Le Laboratoire until after midnight last night and we got a lot done! We began to lay out our business plan and we got a substantial amount of work done on our first provisional patent for vertical gardening technology! In addition, we filed as an LLC which means that we'll be an official company very soon! We're incredibly excited about the progress that we're making.

Yesterday, Ellie and I were able to see on of Patrick Blanc's Vertical Gardens. It was really amazing and incredibly inspiring. Check out his work here:

More updates later!

Sunday, August 16, 2009

VertiGrow in Paris!

Ellie and I are currently in Paris with the Summer 2009 Idea Translation Lab workshop at Le Laboratoire ( We just gave our presentation on VertiGrow to a group of fellow students, graphic designers, and product designers. This afternoon we're meeting with the graphic designers to to figure out our visual materials for the November 8th Idea Translation Lab launch at Harvard!

Also be sure to check out our new website: !

Thursday, August 13, 2009

The Evolution of VertiGrow

...a video montage to catch you up on our work this week!


Monday, August 10, 2009

Food shortages in Kenya

I saw this article in the Daily Nation today, and thought it was pretty relevant to our work. It's discussing food security in the nation as a whole (especially the big agricultural regions), but the rising costs of food pertain to everyone, including people in Kibera.

Saturday, August 8, 2009

Go team.

We organized a meeting with a group of community women yesterday, and the discussion flowed so well it was almost too easy. We introduced the project, they talked about it for a while, and then divided themselves into two teams and wanted to know when they could start.

I was not expecting that at all. We were prepared to survey a population of people, ask them some baseline questions, and start to formulate an idea of how this could get off the ground. But then, here it was, already being launched and it didn't take that much time or energy. The energy is already there, I guess we just tapped into it in the right way.

So now we have two teams of women, both of which have experience running community gardens, and they have asked to take control of and test our pilot prototypes. I'm getting all the materials together this weekend, and we will start setting them up on Monday!

Thursday, August 6, 2009

When to drop the H-Bomb:

when trying to get through a box full of pvc pipes through Kenyan customs. VertiGrow was held up all this time because Kenya thinks I am sketchy, and that I should be taxed for it.

I argued with three or four different customs officials until they led me to the boss man. Sat down at his desk. He asked for my passport. It was conveniently with the security guard downstairs. I slid him the Harvard ID. Magic.

VertiGrow is sitting safely in my room. I had an amazing day in Kibera with a few community partners, who started conversations with residents, shared the idea, and opened the opportunity for people to ask questions and give feedback. It's nice to finally start laying the groundwork for the project! The video is so that you can see what we're up to, instead of reading what I write about it!

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Community Input

VertiGrow still hasn't arrived in Nairobi, but that didn't stop us from starting our research! I spent a few hours at the clinic with Faith, asking people a range questions including what they eat on a daily basis, what they wish they could eat, how much money they spend on food, how much money they make selling food they grow (with the sack garden project), and then asking some more open ended questions based on our VertiGrow model (what do they think of it, what materials do they have access to that could be used to build it, what could make it better, what makes it good?)

Our research is by no means complete, but definitely a good jumping off point! We had a variety of responses which will lead VertiGrow in new and exciting directions, and many which confirmed what our impressions were going in, namely that people do not eat much, or have much money to spend on food. It's pretty cool that almost all people reported eating vegetables on a daily basis, which means we can focus more on access to growing, rather than trying to raise awareness on nutritional needs. We also followed the pediatric patients into the weighing station to link household data on nutrition, farming, and VertiGrow to the height/age data of a child in the house.


Tuesday, August 4, 2009

VertiGrow Prototype on it's way to Nairobi (we hope!).

Here are some pictures Ellie sent us of our prototype. We have affectionately named her "VertiGrow" (go figure). At the moment, VertiGrow is stuck somewhere between London and Nairobi and Ellie tells me that the people at Virgin America airlines keep passing her off to other people! It's these sort of issues that you can never, ever predict. Regardless, we have photographic proof that VertiGrow does exist - now "she" just needs to get to Nairobi so that Ellie can introduce her to the community!

Deconstructed VertiGrow. Here you see the pipes cut lengthwise. These will be the troughs that will hold the soil and the plants.
Trough layers 1 and 2. We are looking at stacking the layers like a ladder to maximize the utility of the vertical space for growing plants.

Here you see how Ellie has constructed VertiGrow to stand at a 90 degree angle. This serves several purposes; first of all, VertiGrow can stand on it's own without falling over (as you see illustrated above), secondly, the angle allows VertiGrow to be placed around the corner of a house - using minimal space and not leaning on the housing structure for support - genius!
We've got our fingers crossed that VertiGrow will be making its appearance in Nairobi soon! The clinic and Ellie are waiting!

Growing Up

This was my first day in Kibera. I met my translator and community partner, Faith, and she showed me the way to Tabitha Health Clinic where I will be doing most of my work.

There is no room for roads on the interior of Kibera, so we made our way by foot, which for me was rather unfortunate given the situation with my lost bags. I was wearing flip flops and a pair of jeans, which are now covered in human excrement, and I sadly don’t have a change of clothes. Good thing I’m not sharing a room with anyone!

Along the way I saw a few homes with sack gardens (pictured above), which is the inspiration from which our project stems. We are trying to develop a more efficient and effective way of gardening in the vertical space that exists within Kibera and other slum settings, given the limited amount of horizontal space!

Tabitha clinic is an absolutely beautiful facility, with a kind and welcoming staff. Tomorrow I will set up VertiGrow (so long as my bags show up!) and have a chance to ask patients about their nutrition, micro-agriculture, and ideas on how to improve our prototype.

Monday, August 3, 2009

Greetings from Kenya!


I am in Nairobi, gearing up for our VertiGrow pilot! I made it here after a rather unfortunate chain of events involving a missed plane, and now some missing luggage. VertiGrow is MIA! Hopefully it will be delivered tomorrow morning (fingers crossed).

I am excited to meet with the directors of Carolina for Kibera and get started on the project. Stay tuned for more updates over the next two weeks.