Garden Guide: Growing Your Food Has Never Been So Easy

Garden Guide: Growing Your Food Has Never Been So Easy

Miriam Akervall, Ben Schmidt, Lisa Miller

Requested Amount: $200,000

Requested Time: One year


In this age of instant satisfaction, it is difficult to rationalize spending months or even weeks of our valuable time on gardening. The costs include purchasing and planning, not to mention the monitoring and maintenance that certain species of plants require. These are exactly the kinds of obstacles what this project will target.

Garden Guide is a two-part system that entails the purchase of an app to be downloaded to the user’s smartphone, and a supplementary device to be purchased that plugs into the phone’s headphone jack. The application will be used as a questionnaire to assess various aspects of the user’s daily life, their resources (financial and ecological), and gardening experience. The results of this data will be compiled to create a personalized gardening plan for the user.

Upon opening the app on your cell phone, you will first give it permission to access your GPS location so that it may give you accurate results based on where you are in the world. This particular input may determine what kinds of fruits and vegetables you can grow based on local weather, what times of year would be best for growing, and other local factors like nearby gardening stores and prices.

The number of inputs or questions in the survey would vary based on some of the user’s responses, but the basic inputs are as follows: most common produce in the household, what they would want to grow, how many different kinds they would ideally like to grow and why, existing vegetation they see on their property, how many hours a week they are willing to garden, how much money they are willing to spend on management/equipment, level of experience, and size of potential gardening space. This list will naturally fluctuate, but its use will be to create a user profile that will help them to create their best personalized garden that will thrive throughout the season.

The application will give the user the option to change their preferences as time goes on and as they gain experience. They will have a virtual profile of what their garden looks like and their gardening practices so that the application can give them suggestions as weather conditions change and as the user’s schedule fluctuates.

Though the hardware that accompanies the app is purchased separately, and not critical for the application to function, it is recommended, as it will provide the user with more accurate data on appropriate produce and gardening practices. The product is a pronged soil-analyzing device that plugs into your smartphone. It will measure PH, moisture content, fertilizer content, and sunlight. These inputs will add to the accuracy of the questionnaire, as they will provide an objective analysis of the capability of the user’s gardening space.

What unmet need does your product meet?

Growing produce in the convenience of a backyard is an efficient way for a person to reduce their carbon footprint and lessen their impact on the environment. However, not a lot of people have the time to care for a garden, and those who do may not know where to start. This application serves to benefit people that may have considered growing their own food, but might be reluctant to taking the time to learn about proper techniques and tools, and have to balance gardening with a busy schedule. This tool is for the everyday person, the potential gardener that might not know exactly how to get started. Additionally, this tool is for the more experienced gardener who perhaps wants to explore growing new plants that they are not familiar with, or who wishes to expand their production, building a small personal garden into a larger lot to grow produce for sale. The goal is to encourage as many people as possible to garden, thereby ultimately working towards the reduction of the environmental impacts of industrial food production; the application makes the step between considering growing your own vegetables and actually planting the seeds a lot easier to take.


We questioned five Ann Arbor residents about their experience with gardening, if they currently garden, and if not what factors hinder them from doing so. Our interviewees represented a fairly wide range of ages and gardening experience: two grew up working on farms in their youth, and so were quite knowledgeable on the subject; two had some experience gardening with their parents at a younger age; one man, 22, had no previous knowledge or experience with any kind of gardening. None of our interviewees currently garden (although one man, 29, grows herbs indoors, and one woman, 38, weeds for her spouse who gardens). All of our interviewees cited time restraints and lack of patience as the main reasons why they currently abstain from gardening. Our findings from these interviews showed that our instinct to include time availability as one of the inputs for the application’s questionnaire was correct; the biggest factor hindering modern gardeners is being uncertain that they can fit gardening into their schedules, or unable to do so without thorough knowledge of what kind of time commitment a certain plant demands. Our application would help prospective gardeners tackle this issue by suggesting that they grow the plants that are best suited to their time availability. Therefore, we can conclude that there exists a need for our gardening innovation, and creating something like this application would prompt people who don’t believe they have the time to garden to grow what they can.

Rita Shelley, female, 38, Director of Marketing at SISU Mouthguards. Ann Arbor resident. Shelley has tried to garden in the past, but mostly weeds for her husband who gardens. He is self-taught, and doesn’t notice when weeds get overgrown. Rita spent her childhood summers on a farm, but just doesn’t personally enjoy gardening because she has no patience.

Sebastian Jolta, male, 29, Director of Production & Sales at SISU Mouthguards. Ann Arbor resident. Jolta helped his mother garden when he was younger. He grows herbs like basil and chives indoors because they are less time consuming to manage. He doesn’t currently have the time or the patience to garden on a larger scale, but maybe later in life.

Mike Corey, 21, student, Political science, Ann Arbor Resident. Corey has gardened in the past, but wouldn’t garden in the near future because he does not have enough time. However, he would enjoy having fruit/vegetables on hand. Grew up on a farm, so knows a lot about it.

Andrew Wardner, 22, unemployed, Ann Arbor Resident. Wardner gardened with his mom when he was  younger. He would garden in the near future if he had the space, and more importantly, the time. Animals have been another problem in the past.

John Kleeman – 22,  Student, Economics, Ann Arbor Resident. Kleeman has never gardened before because he has never needed to but could see himself gardening, although he would definitely need help figuring it out. He would like to grow plants that require the least amount of management for the most amount of yield.

Potential Market

ALL STATISTICS TAKEN FROM 2012/2013 National Gardening Survey

Currently about 85 million households in the United States participate in some sort of gardening or lawn care, and that number is increasing at about 2% per year. Of those households, about 45 million grow food in their garden. In 2009, 21% of households that grew food were new to gardening that year, which shows that growing food is gaining popularity very quickly.

Our primary market of 50 million households is broken into two segments; the 40 million households that participate in some form of gardening, but have not tried growing food, and the 10 million households who started growing food in the last 6 years. This market would be accessible because all of these people have demonstrated that they are willing to put at least some time into maintaining a garden. Furthermore, with growing national attention toward environmental sustainability and healthy lifestyles, members of this group will see the potential benefit from converting their garden from flowers to food. Also, the group that already grows food are relatively new to the process, so they could be reached with the value proposition of our product that would increase the effectiveness and efficiency of their garden by giving them access to information and resources that were unavailable elsewhere.

We have segmented the market further to more effectively target the members of this group, and attract early adopters. The most accessible market will be males aged 18-34. In the last 2 years this demographic group has increased its spending on gardening more than any other demographic group in the United States. Also, the average annual spending on gardening products of this group was $441, compared to a national household average of $347 in 2012. This indicates a high willingness to spend on gardening products, which, complementary to their high digital literacy, will make for a large group of potential early adopters. We will also pursue women in that age bracket who have displayed a relatively high willingness to spend, as well as men and women in the 55+ age group, who have displayed a consistent and growing interest in food gardening.

How is your idea innovative? Name your closest competitors

Currently there is no product on the market that will comprehensively address such a wide variety of challenges for the casual or serious gardener. The main competitors are classic soil testing kits, gardening literature and websites, personal assistance, and gardening applications. The soil test kit and gardening literature is the classic mode by which people would learn about gardening and start the process. But, modern consumers prefer simpler, user friendly systems over long books and confusing soil testing kits. Personal assistance, although a very successful system to help create a garden, is a much smaller market because there are high costs associated with hiring a personal gardener. Our closest competitors are the other mobile applications currently on the market. These include Garden Plan Pro, Garden Compass, Garden Time Planner, Garden Tracker and Grow Planner.  These applications assist gardeners by providing information pertaining to crop rotations, planting calendars, disease identifiers, plant identifiers, and weather information.  The applications are limited because they each only address a couple of these factors. Garden Guide is the next step in the development of gardening applications. Garden Guide will systematically incorporate all relevant and attainable factors to create a “one stop shop” to help gardeners learn about their garden’s potential, plan an effective gardening system, and implement the system in an efficient manner.

How will your idea be financially sustainable?

We will generate revenue by selling the application and the supplementary soil analysis device. Lesser gardening applications sell for up to ten dollars, and we can capture a substantial amount of the market by pricing the product at $7.99, which would undercut our competitors who charge $9.99. Pricing our application above the typical $.99 that most applications are sold for will present the application as a premium product. We will price the soil analysis device at $29.99, which is comparable to the pricing of other soil analysis devices on the market, but will have a higher value because of it’s compatibility with the Garden Guide application.

This business model will be sustainable due to the economies of scale associated with web application sales, combined with the high price we are able to charge for the premium product we are providing. Our main cost in starting this business will be the development of the application. After the initial product is created, marginal costs fall because keeping the product up-to-date is much less costly than initial development. Furthermore, due to the high fixed cost and low marginal cost, as more applications are sold, average costs will go down, and profit margin will increase.

Complementary to this are the sales of the soil analysis device. This device is priced at a premium such that only customers with high willingness to pay will purchase it. We will produce this product “on-demand”, so we do not have to deal with excess supply. Because this product will require heavy fixed costs for research and development, but low production costs, we will also see the profit margin increase as sales increase over time.

Why are you and your team the right people to develop this project?

Our individual interests and skillsets make us the right combination of people to develop this project. Ben’s background in Economics is useful to understanding the business aspect of the development of an application, such as assessing the extent of our potential market. Both Miriam and Lisa have invested interest in the impact of food on the environment; Miriam wrote her subject profile on an Ann Arbor restaurant owner who sources her food locally, and Lisa wrote her subject profile on a local organic farmer who firmly believes in growing produce without synthetic fertilizers and pesticides in order to protect the health of the environment.


5 Responses to “Garden Guide: Growing Your Food Has Never Been So Easy”

  1. Good idea!

    make the opening sentence positive, like “need to be efficient and fast” rather than the negative one now. same thing for content in your “unmet needs” paragraph.
    In unmet needs: I’m not sure an experienced gardner needs this app, but I’m not an experienced gardner.

    Interviews: good use of age, description of person, contact info

    My Questions:
    Can the phone transmit data through the headphone jack?

    Look into teaming up with some of the farming/gardening/food groups on campus
    Maybe consider a free app version, which is a mini version of the real one? not sure if that’s logistically more than its worth. may be valuable. you decide.

  2. I agree with Ben’s comment about how professional gardeners, or households that have been gardening for the past 6 years may not be willing to spend money on this app. I would recommend focusing that part of your market on people similar to the last person you interviewed, people who don’t have experience gardening but want to. You mention that the number of households participating in gardening is increasing by 2% every year, so there are a lot of people who appear to be interested in initiating this behavior change. Your app could be a tool used to encourage more people to begin gardening. I personally want to begin gardening, but I know nothing about it so I would buy your app to help me begin!

  3. Hey guys, excellent idea!
    This could be a fantastic app. I would have to disagree with Ben and Meg when they say that this app would not be useful for professional gardeners. I have a couple years of professional gardening experience. In that time I have met and worked alongside professional horticulturalists from the top horticultural programs and botanical gardens in the United States and I could say confidently that they would definitely take advantage of your product. There are hundreds of thousands of plants in this world. There is no way a single person is completely knowledgeable about them all. Even the professionals can be in the dark about how to plant certain varieties. I think they would jump at the chance to have all of this information so easily accessible.
    My one critique about your project is the soil probe. In my opinion it seems like a lot of effort for little payoff. It might even decrease your app’s potential for success. It seems like it would take a while to initially develop, then manufacture. Also, I don’t know of any current soil tests that provide information on sunlight and moisture content. This information is extremely reliant on temporal factors like the time of day the soil sample was taken, how objects around the garden bed cast shadows, and how recently it rained. It could be hard to accurately incorporate the information from a single soil sample into planting suggestions without being misleading. Also, you run the risk of turning off some potential customers. If someone sees that an accessory can be purchased for the application, they might feel that without that accessory the application does not function to its full capacity. They might then think that if they don’t purchase the accessory the application is not worth their time. Others might incorrectly assume that the probe is necessary and be turned off by having to spend more money. All of this translates into a loss of business.
    In short, I love this idea. The application sounds incredibly useful. I think it can still be successful without the probe. This might help you guys cut down on your requested amount too.

  4. Wow this is a really interesting idea. I’m curious as to weather the additional device that you have in mind is feasible? People might be a little deterred by it because an app is meant to be simple and accessible (meaning they just have to download to their phone), and that added part may make people just scroll right past. Maybe you could just take out that bit? You could mention it as an option for the future but don’t include it as a definite part of the app? Because besides that, I think a lot of people would be interested in how viable their area is for gardening in getting tips for gardening. I worked at a plant and gardening store during high school, and got a good taste of just how passionate people get about their gardens. I think there really is a good market for this kind of gardening-helper app.

  5. Very nice idea! The statistics about the market size and the interviews with potential users are particularly well done and informative.

    One part of this idea that stopped me in my tracks: Does the user have to describe existing vegetation on the property? I own a house. I have a yard. I definitely cannot describe all or even most of the existing vegetation in that yard. I don’t think that’s a very unusual situation. So that’s something you might need to address.

    I wonder if the School of Natural Resources and Environment might be interested in supporting this idea. Gardening magazines might also make good partners.

    Good work on this!

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