Let's face it, we are all being constantly reminded of the coronavirus pandemic and the disruptions it has caused us. For many of us, we are affected by things like not getting to see our friends, coworkers, or go to get groceries without feeling stressed out of our minds, but for some of us, the constant reminder is hunger. During the COVID-19 pandemic, food bank demand has surged. In Canada, demand is projected to rise by 30-40% higher than pre-pandemic levels. There is also concern from food bank executives that this rise in demand will last for a prolonged period.

Our inspiration for this project arose out of our own personal love of nature and connecting to the earth community combined with our desire to help those in our community who are in need.

We calculated that there are approximately 1120 hectares of unproductive land in residential yards in the Kitchener/Waterloo area, so we thought, how about we utilize this otherwise uncultivated land to better the community. What was then born was Up We Grow.

Up We Grow would like to acknowledge that one of our members works on the traditional, ancestral and unceded territory of the Musqueam people. We would also like to acknowledge that the hypothetical Up We Grow operations would take part on the traditional territory of the Haudenosaunne, Annishnawbe and Neutral/Attawandaron peoples (the area that is also often called Kitchener/Waterloo Area).

What it does

Up We Grow is a volunteering service that connects people who want to donate their private land to volunteer gardeners who want to provide their gardening expertise to utilise otherwise underused land. The produce harvested from these gardens would then be donated to a local food bank and used to feed the hungry tummies in the local area. This is aimed at homeowners with either a lawn/yard, or an apartment with a rooftop greenspace or patio who want to share their land to benefit the health and well-being of their community. Our main target audience is homeowners who want to share land but would also be interested in working with schools, community centres, apartment rooftops etc.

Landowners would be able to join in on the work, getting trained by the mentor gardeners or can sit back and relax while they watch their property be transformed! We then connect the gardeners to various local food drives. Some local food drives in and around the local Waterloo are Community Support Connections (info for to a program that feeds the elderly), Cambridge Food Bank (which caters to the community of Cambridge at large, and Food not Bombs (which cooks free vegan meals for the community

Both landowners and gardeners have the potential to have an incredibly positive impact on their local community by sharing their resources and talents with Up We Grow.

A gardener who has worked on 5 different gardens will, by the end of the season, have helped grow 370 plants, fed 70 people in the local area with food their hands have touched, produce 56kg of produce, shared 20 hours of their precious time with us, and eliminated 8 transport trucks from the road.

A landowner who donates a 4x8 sqft area in their yard can watch 94 plants grow, see 17 community members get a meal, connect 7 volunteers, yield 14kg of produce a season from their garden box, and eliminate the need for 6 transportation trucks.

In an average beginning season with just 25 volunteers, of which 8 are landowners donating land and 17 are volunteer gardeners, Up We Grow could feed as many as 132 community members, watch 8 beautiful gardens flourish, nurture 709 plants, convert 22 square meters of otherwise uncultivated land to profitable gardens, and reduce the need for at least 16 transportation trucks!

Up We Grow would work to connect our community members to each other and to the land around us. As Robin Wall Krimmerer has so beautiful said in her book Braiding Sweetgrass: Indigenous Wisdom, Scientific Knowledge, and the Teaching of Plants,

“Knowing that you love the earth changes you, activates you to defend and protect and celebrate... when you feel that the earth loves you in return, that feeling transforms the relationship from a one-way street into a sacred bond.” Robin Wall Krimmerer, Braiding Sweetgrass: Idigenous Wisdom, Scientific Knowledge, and the Teaching of Plants

How we built it

We built an app to collect and then connect our gardeners and landowners. The app was built using the Corona SDK framework, which is an entirely code-based (LUA) cross-platform application development kit.

The app's front end was mostly designed in Figma. From there, the UI was translated over to the Corona framework.

The app's data is structured in a mysql database consisting of tables for gardeners, land owners, time slots, and several other helper tables. The relationship of the gardeners/land owners to time slots is modeled as a many-to-many relationship, and thus, intermediate tables were created in order to query, for example, all of a time slot's gardeners.

In general, we tried our best to utilize the MVC convention in all logic of the app.

Challenges we ran into

Being an online hackathon, our challenges were most often lived out individually. This meant that we had to troubleshoot all the little things ourselves and couldn’t be there in person when disasters struck! Although not too many disasters struck, with the exception of Leon’s computer crashing halfway through video editing and an extremely pesky spelling error, our setbacks were nothing a good set of typing fingers, google/textbook searches or short dance breaks couldn’t fix!

Accomplishments that we are proud of

We had three main areas that we wanted to tackle this weekend, that was (i) tech, (ii) community outreach and (iii) operations.

What follows is a list of accomplishments in each of those three areas that we are proud of:

Tech: Demos of in app profile creation, sign-up/time matching

Community Outreach: reach out to local Waterloo organizations, scout out existing Waterloo/Cambridge/Kitchener places to donate food

Operations: extensive planning and thinking through how the operations would work, how to match gardeners and potential for automations in the future, dealing with mentor/mentee and volunteers, info on impact stats, sample garden boxes of three different sizes created

What we learned

We learned about how to grow an idea and began to uncover the complexities of starting an organization of this kind. We also learned that hard-working, passionate people can come together to create something worth pursuing!

What's next for Up We Grow

Up We Grow has so much potential for growth just by its name! By no means is this a finished product, more like a well fleshed out idea. We would hope to continue to develop the app to serve more functionalities as well as to see how it plays out "on the ground" in Waterloo.

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