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Montreal Startup Uses Tech to Build a Sharing Economy for Gardeners

June 18, 2014 |

Nicolas Cadilhac of PlantCatching works at a recent plant exchange at Montreal Botanical Garden. (photo by Ann Boisvert)

Nicolas Cadilhac of PlantCatching works at a recent plant exchange at Montreal Botanical Garden. (photo by Ann Boisvert)

Most, if not all, gardeners have experienced frustration over the amount of waste involved with gardening. Examples include unused soil, dead plants and compulsive purchases that don’t take root.

Wanting to address this problem, hobby gardener and computer science engineer Nicolas Cadilhac of Montreal, Quebec decided to mix his information technology acumen and love for gardening by creating a web site that would match gardeners to a surplus of unwanted plants and other garden materials. Thus in 2012, Cadilhac launched PlantCatching.

Through the connectivity of the Internet, PlantCatching enables gardeners to find plants, seeds and crops from other gardeners in their area. Whereas in the past extra seedlings and seeds may have ended up in the garbage, PlantCatching helps gardeners find surplus items that other gardeners don’t need.

Currently, through PlantCatching, gardeners may give or receive plants, seed packages, bags of bulbs, fruits and vegetables and other gardening materials. The system accommodates three ways to give and receive plants. The first is a public mode, in which a plant or other item is left at a predetermined location with a label from the PlantCatching web site affixed allows for direct pickup. The second is a semi-private mode, in which the receiver goes to a map on the PlantCatching web site to find out the location of what he or she is getting. And thirdly, a private mode, in which the receiver must contact the donor for pickup.

The service is free, and runs with support of donations. However, recognizing the need to collaborate with others involved in sustainability, horticulture and urban agriculture, Cadilhac has launched what he calls Bamboo accounts. Professionals and organizations may purchase Bamboo accounts on the PlantCatching web site to write articles and publish their events. Organizations that already have Bamboo accounts include the nonprofit Centre for Sustainable Development, edible landscaping companies Croque Paysage and Paysage Gourmand, and Jeunes Pousses, a Canadian nonprofit with a focus on vegetable gardens.

Cadilhac views PlantCatching as a service, not a business, and hence is not focused on profitability. The Bamboo accounts were created to increase collaboration, as well as offset costs.

Two years after its founding, Cadilhac is pleased about the direction of PlantCatching.

“It has progressed in so many aspects,” he says. “The awareness about PlantCatching in Quebec has increased tremendously. Compared to two years ago, when I had to fight to make it known, now gardeners I meet tell me that they know about PlantCatching, having heard about it on the radio or from a friend. This is very exciting.”

At its inception, PlantCatching operated only within a 2-kilometer radius within the city of Montreal. Now, its scope is wider, with a reach extending all the way to France and Belgium. Its international efforts, says Cadilhac, benefit from cooperating between PlantCatching and the Incredible Edible Network. a United Kingdom-based endeavor food sharing model.

But the main focus is still Quebec, although Cadilhac acknowledges that momentum generated through media buzz often plays a large role in growth. Recently a student working for the food blog Food Tank tweeted that PlantCatching is the Airbnb (a web site that brings together renters and places to live) of gardening.

“It was retweeted every 20 seconds and many U.S. gardeners signed up and shared the news on their social networks,” Cadilhac says. “Will it create momentum? Only time will tell.”

Cadilhac loves programming, and continually applies new computer skills to his work with PlantCatching.

“I’m not stressed by that,” he says. “Time is against me, however. In the northern part of the Northern Hemisphere, most of the horticultural activity takes place in spring, so I’m facing a continuous rush of development, conferences, meet-ups, interviews and so-on.”

He says his main obstacle is the never-ending need to make gardeners aware of PlantCatching, in his city and at the far ends of the world.

“I have no miraculous solution for that; just the same old telephone and email to reach new organizations, communal gardens, journalists and even politicians.”

Many more Quebec gardeners became aware of PlantCatching recently when Cadilhac was asked to organize a plant exchange event at the Montreal Botanical Garden. Prominent Quebecois horticulturist Albert Mondor was also part of the event.

“Almost 40 gardeners came with their arms full of plants with the sole intent of giving them to the participants,” says Cadilhac. “I understand that it will happen again next year. This kind of event could become a model for organizing plant sharings anywhere in the world under the PlantCatching banner.”

“We need to teach people to stop putting plants and seeds in the bin,” he says. “Buying should not be the only option. Sharing is the new way to live smartly in relation to your neighbors.”

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