Apprentice show and tell: impacting Boston’s community gardens

by Brian Madrigal

Each apprentice in our Apprentice in User Experience program is challenged to put the skills they’ve learned to the test by creating a digital product. They are charged with identifying a current problem they’re passionate about and then following the methodology we use to create solutions for our clients. In this series, our apprentices share their projects and the learnings they picked up along the way. To kick off our series, Brian Madrigal developed a solution to help maximize interest and manpower for Boston’s community gardens.

Today, 54% of the total population on Earth live in urban settings. According to the United Nations, it is projected that by the year 2050, 66% of the human population will live in urban settings. It is also projected that by 2050 our population will increase by 2.5 billion to over 7 billion people.

Urban agriculture will be increasingly important in the next 30 years because there will be more demand for fresh, local food with this increase in population. Urban agriculture is also a great step forward toward solving some issues surrounding access to fresh food in urban communities.

Volunteers at Border Street community garden in East Boston

Showing off our dirty hands after a day of volunteering at East Boston’s Border Street community garden.

Boston has a vision for creating a sustainable urban agricultural system where jobs are created and people in the city have access to affordable, fresh food. City leaders held a series of 8 meetings, once a month, from January to August where stakeholders and community members talked about the different aspects that had to work in order to make this vision a reality. One area of interest was how technology will help the urban agricultural system. I saw this as an opportunity to create a minimal viable product solution to bring technology to Boston’s community gardens.

Looking back to when I was a 15 year old community organizer in East Boston, I helped maintain a community garden on Border Street. I witnessed first-hand how this garden completely revitalized that part of East Boston. I also was familiar with the tools the garden coordinator used to manage the garden. Now, as a twenty-one year old, I realize that I can help garden coordinators with a new, efficient garden management software that can make them more productive.

I took to various community garden Facebook groups in Boston to ask about the pain points when trying to garden in community gardens. The top two pain points were:

  1. Waitlist management needs to improve for volunteers and gardeners.
  2. There is more demand for plots to garden than supply.

Many people want to garden, but there is not enough garden space in Boston, or plot turnover is very low with large amounts of people in the waitlist. The average time people wait on a garden is 3-5 years, enough time to lose interest or forget about signing up on the waitlist.

I decided to tackle the waitlist management problem. I focused my research on three key components:

  1. How gardeners signed up for a garden plot
  2. What the garden coordinators do to organize all the gardener, volunteer, and plot information
  3. How plots are assigned

Signing up:

I discovered that interested gardeners currently sign up for plots in three ways. First, people could contact The Trustees, an organization that owns 60 community gardens in Boston, via email or phone. The Trustees would then direct the potential gardener to a coordinator near them. In the second method, people would meet directly with the coordinator in person. Third, people called or emailed the coordinator directly.

One key finding in my research was that not many interested gardeners like the idea of creating an online account to sign up for plots. Therefore, I focused on creating a method to allow gardeners to sign up for updates without creating an account

Contact information organization:

The coordinator inputs all contact information into an excel sheet. Sometimes information can be lost because the contact information of community members is coming in from multiple sources.

Plot assignment:

A coordinator also needs to know who is in charge of a plot because gardeners who rent a plot are put in an excel sheet without any visual representation of the plots and who is in charge of each. A visual component will make it much easier for coordinators to identify open plots to assign to new gardeners.

Proposed solution:

After the research, I saw opportunities to make the signup process simple for gardeners and coordinators.

Public signup for gardeners and volunteers:

Boston's community gardens homepage

Boston’s community gardens homepage

Many people want to garden, but are not sure what they are signing up for. The “Learn More” button gives a general description of what it means to be a volunteer and a gardener.

Map and list of all the community gardens in Boston

Map and list of all the community gardens in Boston

Here, users can search for a garden with a map view on the right and list of gardens in each Boston neighborhood on the left.

About page for each community garden.

About page for each community garden

The “About” page offers the opportunity for each garden to showcase their general information like rules, events, total number of plots, number of gardeners, and how the garden is uniquely managed to the public.

Interested gardener sign up page

Interested gardener sign up page

Interested gardeners can sign up directly on the garden’s “Sign Up” page without having to create an account. This solves the problem of contact information getting lost. After signing up, only the person’s name, rank, and sign up date are show on a public volunteer list/wait list. Contact information is still confidential.

Interested gardener wait list

Interested gardener wait list

Community members who signed up to be gardeners receive a link that takes them to the garden waitlist. Here, people can check where they rank in being selected for a plot in the garden.

Admin portal for garden coordinators:

Community garden admin portal

Community garden admin portal

This is the admin dashboard for the garden coordinator. It has a visual representation of the garden plots and who is in charge of each plot. This page also shows the nextgardener on the waitlist who would take over if the current gardener gave up their plot.

Volunteer list for garden coordinator

Volunteer list for garden coordinator

This is the “Lists” page where the garden coordinator can keep track of volunteer contact information.

Wait list page for interested gardeners

Wait list page for interested gardeners

The “Wait List” page helps a coordinator keep track of interested gardeners who have signed up for a plot. Here, they can assign gardeners to plots using the green plus sign.

Page for coordinators to see the gardeners assigned to each plot.

Page for coordinators to see the gardeners assigned to each plot.

Here we see that a coordinator has assigned a plot to Lauren and she is the next gardener in charge of that plot.

Centralizing the signup process and information, helping coordinators manage waitlists, and helping them assign plots were the top three features I focused on in this product. The vision for this tool is to also allow garden coordinators to sell, produce, or even get information on vacant space to expand the garden. I’ll continue to refine my product in hopes this will be used by the community gardens in Boston.

About Fresh Tilled Soil

Fresh Tilled Soil is a Boston-based user interface and experience design firm focused on human centered digital design