This is discussion about VertiGrow.
“This is a really interesting initiative! We would really like to hear more of a discussion on how this initiative relates to nutrition specifically. What kinds of plants/food can one grow on Vertigrow? Also, would you mind providing more information on the value of these foreign partnerships? Thanks for a great entry!”
- Naveen Shakir, Ashoka’s Changemakers
Thanks for your comment and questions. I hope these responses help; if you need anything else clarified please let us know!
The first installation of VertiGrow grew mainly kale (or skuma wiki as it is called in Kibera). This is one of the most popular vegetables, and is also highly nutritious. The VertiGrow pilots also had an assortment of vegetables interspersed with the kale, including tomatoes, peppers, and onions. It has been very important in our design process that VertiGrow can accommodate a variety of produce, because we want users to have the ability to decide what to grow. This applies to our US market as well; some people may decide to grow flowers or herbs instead of produce. VertiGrow is easily adaptable to meet those needs. While interlocking several VertiGrow units can yield a high amount of produce, a single VertiGrow unit is not meant to grow enough food to sustain an entire family. It should grow enough to supplement the family's diet (usually rice and beans) with healthy greens, and/or provide additional income to the family.
There are three entities functioning in our international partnerships:
1. Working with a community-based NGO in Kibera, we hope to streamline our distribution process so as to increase efficiency. We don't want to spend time, energy, and resources replicating what another NGO is already doing well.
2. Our give one get one model addresses the nutritional needs of both our US and Kenyan markets. Malnutrition is a problem here in the US, where access to fresh produce is limited by expense and costs of transport. We hope that with this model, the project in Kenyan will be more sustainable. We won't have to depend on foreign donations, but can create an interdependent system that funds itself.
3. Most engineering and design (for the first phase of implementation) is taking place with the donated assistance of design firms in the US. These designs are based on field work in Kibera, the goals of which are to conserve space, resources, and energy input for the VertiGrow unit.
On January 18, 2010 the judges reviewed the entries for the Changemakers Improved Nutrition: Solutions through Innovation competition and would like to pass on the following feedback (listed below) for your entry. Thank you for applying and for your hard work in the field. We are excited to archive your entry to serve as a leading solution for the worldwide community of innovators. We wish you continued luck with your innovative, sustainable, and socially impactful initiatives.
All the best, The Changemakers Team
“Providing fresh vegetables and foods in this way is a really great approach. It’s innovative and if the demand is there, it’s really a good program. I am curious to learn more about the sanitation aspects of this initiative. What kind of soil testing has been done? Also, how much food does the Vertigrow actually produce? In addition, what kinds of social marketing campaigns have they come up with to get people to use this product?”
- Changemakers Improved Nutrition: Solutions through Innovation Judges
Really insightful questions from the judges, thanks!
We haven't done much soil testing in Kibera. The soil we used for our initial pilot was scraped up from around the community (although, it's the same soil they use in their regular sack gardening projects, so I am under the impression that it is safe to use).
The VertiGrow units from the pilot studies each produced 10-12 kale plants (these are large and leafy), and a series of smaller tomato, carrot, and pepper plants (around 5-6 each). The produce is divided among the group members who care for the plants. This is not enough to feed a whole family, but can supplement a meal of ugali.
Our strategy for working with community members in Kibera was based on community conversations. We started out by setting up a sample VertiGrow unit. This led to many questions from the community, a community meeting, and eventually the formation of two gardening groups. Word of mouth works really well in this area, in addition to other community members seeing the VertiGrow units. This is how our third pilot site got started.
I should also add that some of the soil comes from composting projects spearheaded by our partner NGO, Carolina For Kibera.