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Fostering Sustainability and Innovation in Agriculture

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Web Portal Reduces Waste by Helping Urban Gardeners Catch Plants

September 4, 2012 |

Three years ago, computer science engineer Nicolas Cadilhac began gardening as a hobby. Although he deeply enjoyed gardening, he was disheartened by the expense of soil, compost, bulbs, and perennials. Even more so, Nicolas was discouraged by errors like dead plants, re-buys, compulsive purchases, and–most of all–waste.

To solve for these issues Nicolas developed PlantCatching, an easy-to-use web portal that enables gardeners to notify one another of surplus materials, so that growers are able to share excess materials–reducing both cost and waste.

A Platform for Sharing

Nicolas spent three winter months developing the PlantCatching website to act as the connective tissue between gardeners with extra plants, and gardeners with extra space to grow them.

“My goal was to release it as soon as possible, rather than spending many months developing it and risking a failure,” explains Nicolas. “I first wanted to see if there was interest among gardeners in the Quebec province of Canada.”

300 donations were made in approximately three months. Assured that his product was of interest to Quebec gardeners, Nicolas began to plan for the expansion of the website.

“The web site is exceptionally stable so, in the short term, the objective is to add and enhance administrative pages, statistics, things like that,” explains Nicolas. “I have already received many feature requests so my second objective is to analyze them and see how they can fit in the vision I have of this project.”

How to Give and Receive Plants in Your Area

The PlantCatching interface revolves around two simple pages: a form which donators fill out, indicating what materials they have available, and a map-based search tool for gardeners looking for materials or plants.

PlantCatching categorizes donations into three distinct processes: public, private, and semi-private.

Private donation requires the recipient to consult the map on the website, and then contact the donor to arrange to pick up the item of interest. Semi-private donation requires recipients to consult the map in order to find the plant location, and then follow donor instructions in order to obtain the plant or other gardening materials.

The PlantCatching Interface

“The public donation mode is a great way to give,” says Nicolas, “In this mode, you prepare your donation, the web site prints a special label that you attach to the item and you release the whole thing in a public area (in front of your property or in a busy place). A passerby takes the plant and hopefully follows the link on the label to a page where he can read the comments from the donator and leave thanks. This potentially creates a new PlantCatching fan. A QR Code on the label also allows cell phone owners to read about PlantCatching on site.”

Nicolas notes that while this donation mode expands the reach of the website, the other donation modes encourage gardeners to meet and socialize.

Expanding the Scope of Sharing

While PlantCatching was conceived with hobby gardeners in mind, Nicolas has begun to expand his user community to include urban farmers and other agricultural professionals. He notes that PlantCatching is a base platform that could easily be developed for use by other audiences.

The global utility of the website is one of its most exciting features. With content currently available in English and French, Nicolas speculates that the site could easily be translated into a new language.

“PlantCatching uses geolocation to simply connect people in [the] same area,” notes Nicolas. “It is mainly used here in Quebec, because all my communication efforts were done at the province level. A few donations were done in Europe and even in Santa Barbara, but these donations are marginal until a buzz is generated. Releasing a single plant in the street is not enough to create an exponential effect.”

Growing Pains

Nicolas is quick to indicate that growth presents its own challenges.

“It is obvious that I won’t be able to sustain growth and the corresponding costs, such as hosting, database maintenance, and supporting greater web-traffic,” Nicolas explains. “So, a way will [need to] be found to finance the project.”

Although the website is still in its early stages, Nicolas imagines that one day the site may generate revenue.

“Some relatives already joke with me that I’m near changing my job when they see the current success rate,” he quips. “Time will tell if I want to invest more of my person in this initiative.”

Success did not come without effort, though.

“I started with no communication budget, and no existing network,” explains Nicolas. “I am before all a software developer, not a marketer. It was a real effort to find the right contacts to increase the visibility of the project. Improving visibility is my number one challenge. No visibility means no donators, means no joy in searching for and finding plants.”

Despite these challenges, Nicolas hopes that one day his plant-sharing platform will be the standard for connecting plant-enthusiasts all over the globe.

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