The Smart Gardener is an “online vegetable garden planner for anyone who wants homegrown, healthy, and tasty food to be part of their lifestyle…while having a busy life.” The Smart Gardener provides a personalized garden plan, customized to-do lists, a garden journal, and much more to assist gardeners with planning, planting, and harvesting their gardens. Food Tank discussed this innovative technology with The Smart Gardener’s CEO Carl Alguire.
Food Tank (FT): What was the idea behind The Smart Gardener? Did you have a vision of what you wanted or did the idea develop over time?
Carl Alguire (CA): Yes, my partner and I had a vision that the residential backyard was the single biggest opportunity to change the global food system. We felt that the 43 million households who grow something edible could develop and expand into a potent and powerful force for local food availability and value. As we got into the market, we found that the opportunity was greater than first imagined. Hyper-local food systems are changing fresh food availability, bio-diversity, carbon reduction, seed preservation, native pollinators, quality awareness, health and wellness, and much more. This movement is worldwide and expanding rapidly.
Our vision was to help facilitate this revolution though technology and resources. We knew that families were short on time and had little experience with growing food. They felt overwhelmed when trying to get started and needed help. We are working to provide experienced food gardening resources to everyone who needs it. We want to help turn yards, schools, business campuses, and churches into accessible food gardens that feed the individual and the community.
FT: How do you foresee technology like The Smart Gardener influencing agriculture?
CA: Technology will help maximize production and make it easier to be successful by establishing highly personalized and localized recommendations and monitoring. Success on a micro level translates into better awareness of fresh food quality, integrity, price, and source. This will trickle up first to local producers and then further to corporate farming. Consumers will have more options, and this will help evolve the system as a whole.
FT: Can you explain the relationship between The Smart Gardener and the companies that are featured on your website? How do both of these concepts work together to service gardeners?
CA: We are working with the over 400,000 United States landscaper service providers to turn them into expert local organic food service providers. Our partners use our technology platform to plan, plant, manage, and maintain local organic food gardens. Our platform helps make this service efficient for them to offer these services, and it is a great value proposition for the consumer. In fact, for all the services we use in and around our home today, this backyard garden solution can pay for itself by the value of the healthy fresh food it produces for the family. We believe that in a year or two, you will have your own organic food expert come to your home and treat your beehive, clean out your chicken coop, prune your fruit trees and berry bushes, and manage and maintain your food garden. You will choose every variety and watch it grow, so you know exactly how it has been cared for. Your kids will learn about homesteading and food production. And it will return a significant portion of the total food consumed by your family. All of this at a comparable price to buying from the store.
FT: The Smart Gardener uses technology to help people plant, grow, and harvest crops. There are obvious benefits for novice gardeners, but is there a way for The Smart Gardener to assist people with a lot of gardening experience?
CA: Yes; in fact only about one third of our users are “novice” gardeners. The rest are skilled or highly skilled gardeners. There is a lot of value for these groups as well. They use our planning tool for space planning, companion and succession planting, soil development, vertical gardening options, shade profiles, and more. Maybe the most valuable component is the garden journal feature that keeps detailed records on your garden down to the plant variety level. Nothing is more important, and more often overlooked, than clear knowledge of “what was planted where” in years past, and what things worked and what didn’t. This becomes a highly customized record of an individual’s micro climate and food garden history. This is knowledge that all gardeners need.
FT: What do you think is behind the boom in urban agriculture and community gardens? Is there room for more innovation?
CA: The biggest driver we see is trust. Consumers are increasingly skeptical of the corporate “organic” moniker. Local farmers’ markets used to be the most inexpensive place to buy food, and now they can be the most expensive. CSAs are great, but often aren’t providing the food choices and quantities that your family would choose or prefer. A backyard garden solves these issues. You have assurance that it is, in fact, pure, organic, local, and fresh. A garden minimizes fresh food waste for the family, further enhancing the value proposition. And I think consumers know they can “act locally–think globally” with their garden. By growing more food, less is transported. They share their bounty will local food pantries and with neighbors. Everyone benefits.
Further innovation will come with “smart” technology. Things like garden sensors and predictive weather connectivity will minimize waste and maximize water and other natural resources. Your garden will now know when it needs water, when it will rain, when it needs nutrients, what pests and diseases are present, and when fruit and vegetables are at their peak of ripeness. These solutions will make the small local garden highly productive and the highest and best use of your yard and property. We are only at the beginning of great strides in the garden!