Deema Tamimi is the CEO of Giving Garden, a community gardening app that connects novice and expert gardeners alike to share advice, exchange produce, and build community around local food. The app is set to launch in beta June 2017 and will go live in Davis, CA, this summer. The pilot will focus on users in Davis and then will eventually expand to other cities and regions.
Prior to starting Giving Garden, Deema spent many years in Silicon Valley working in product marketing and development for companies like Google (YouTube), Xbox, and Flipboard. Two years ago, Deema and her husband Josh Livni moved their family to Davis to be closer to a major regional food hub where they could learn directly from growers and build their own careers in the space.
In addition to Giving Garden, Deema has also launched a food sustainability publication on Medium called “Land & Ladle,” where she curates media covering our changing food system (Thyme Fries has been fortunate to feature content there). She also created an offline networking group called “The Ladies of Land & Ladle” where women leaders in the local food movement come together to share their work and inspire each other to bring positive change to the food system.
Read below my interview with Deema Tamimi:
Thyme Fries: What’s the inspiration behind Giving Garden? How did you come up with the idea?
Deema Tamimi: My husband and I have been living and working in Silicon Valley for a long time, and have always been very interested in agriculture and food. We actually moved our family before I left my job to Davis, CA, which is much closer to where our food is grown. We made the move because it provided us more space with which to grow our own food, but also because it brought us closer to a network of food producers and to opportunities for us to get more involved and eventually work in the food space. That was our eventual hope. I continued to commute down to Silicon Valley for two years [before recently leaving Flipboard to concentrate on Giving Garden full-time] so it was a slow transition.
My husband is actually the gardener of the family and I’ve always been the harvester and chef, but during this time I decided to delve more into gardening and as I did I felt there was so much that could be improved with all the great aspects of social and mobile technology. When I would go and search to try and figure out what to grow, unless I went up to my neighbor and asked them each individually, it was basically me just going to my phone. There would be a lot of stuff that just wasn’t relevant or it was really intimidating; lots of information not based on where I lived or guidance that wasn’t really local. So I began to think this was a space that could really be improved by being on a mobile device that knows where you live and connects you digitally with other gardeners around you, especially the ones with ten years’ experience who can tell you exactly what you need to know and grow. For instance, someone who could tell you what you need to do with your soil to get that blueberry bush to do better.
That was one problem that I wanted to solve. The other was that I was really frustrated with the fact that I would have one type of produce because that’s what I was good at growing, but I couldn’t make the dish I wanted because I was missing this other ingredient. And yet my neighbors had that ingredient, but didn’t have what I had. As a result a lot of food waste occurs because we have too much of one thing and can’t figure out how to get it to someone else. I wanted to figure out a way to reduce that waste.
Those were the two things I wanted to do. I wanted to create this space where people could easily figure out what to grow from their own community and get advice and learn from each other without having to go through the ten years of experimentation that so many gardeners experience. And then I also wanted to limit food waste while helping people share their produce.
Then, at one point, I went to a hackathon called Apps for Ag and decided to throw this idea out in front of a crowd and two other engineers came up and wanted to work on it with us, which was really exciting. We worked for 48 hours making the app. It’s not the version we are going to launch but it was a working product and we won the competition! At the time I was still working full-time but that was really a pivotal moment for me because the idea seemed viable. People liked it. The judges voted for it as the best product. On top of that, we worked so well with those two engineers (John and Scott) that we all decided that we wanted to continue working together on the idea.
We are all now co-founders of Giving Garden. I am the CEO and basically the only non-engineer in the group. I’m doing marketing, partnerships, launch plans, and product management. My husband Josh is Head of Data. Scott Kirkland is Head of Mobile. John Knoll is our Head of Ops and Web.
Thyme Fries: For the beginner gardener, what resources are available on the platform? How is data and content curated?
Deema Tamimi: We are launching in Davis initially, as I mentioned, so we are looking for very experienced gardeners to be on the platform to answer questions and post advice. That way if people have questions there’s someone there to answer them for you.
We are also planning to give people badges. Our early bird beta users will have badges and some of our really good gardeners will have pro gardener badges. This gives users a sense that these people have been doing this for a while and can provide good information.
When you open up the app there will be a home feed with content that’s relevant to you based on your area. It will show what people are posting in your area, sharing photos of what they’ve grown or posting questions that other people can go and comment on and provide answers to. Giving Garden Facts will also be part of this home feed where users are provided basic facts about growing in their specific locale.
Our goal is that over time we will gather enough anonymous information about what people are growing and sharing in their area that we’ll be able to provide recommendations on what to plant and when. We can then provide alerts based on your own microclimate.
We are starting by creating a community and our hope is to gather enough crowdsourced and public information (like weather and growing data) that will allow us to give good recommendations based on a particular microclimate.
Thyme Fries: Why the emphasis on crowdsourced vs publicly-available data?
Deema Tamimi: We can do it very coarsely with public data available now and with these Giving Garden Facts we are doing this a little bit. We will be able to tell you when a good time is put tomatoes in the ground in Davis, for instance. But a really good data set just isn’t there yet or at least not one that we’ve been able to find. There’s quite a lot of academic data. There’s also data out there designed for larger growers that’s more for agriculture and less for gardening and urban gardening. For instance there are the USDA [Plant Hardiness] Zones and the Sunset Garden Zone, but the Sunset Garden Zones are not public data and they do tend to be for larger zones that don’t account for small microclimates.
In order to get that microclimate data, we do think the crowdsourced information is needed to make it better and it will certainly be better than just offering the larger zone data and the public data that’s available today.
Thyme Fries: Another great feature of the platform is the ability to share surplus produce with neighbors and friends or to donate that surplus to food banks. How will this feature work and how do you expect it to evolve?
Deema Tamimi: When we launch the app this summer in Davis it will start as a fairly simple feature. People will be able to post an offer. There are two types of things that you as a user can put into the app: you can post which is sharing something or asking a question; or, you can post an offer. The offer is essentially sharing what you have with a photo and some information about the produce. That goes on the home feed for other people to view and people who want the surplus produce can then start a private chat with you. Together the users determine price and then, once exchanged, the offer is closed. So initially the exchange is done through private chat, but eventually we see this as potentially an ecommerce model. We’ll be able to set inventory amounts, set prices, and provide recommendations for pickup locations. We also have the opportunity to partner with food pantries for those users who would like to donate surplus food to charitable organizations.
Thyme Fries: What is the business model?
Deema Tamimi: When we launch the pilot there won’t be any advertising in the app, but we do think that ads will be one way of monetizing. We will likely start with sponsored posts, where local providers like local seed, plant, gardening, and food companies, can advertise through posts.
The other idea is that we will eventually have certain features built in like analytics and tracking around what you put in your garden. That would be part of a monthly subscription, similar to a freemium model.
Lastly, there is the ecommerce model. If we get to the place where people are actually selling produce then we would take a small cut from those exchanges.
Thyme Fries: So far, what’s been most rewarding (and challenging) about launching Giving Garden?
Deema Tamimi: What’s been really rewarding for me personally is to take the time to learn about the current issues that we face with our food system. Not just as sort of a side thing, but really being able to plunge into it and see all of these areas that need improvement. I’m really excited that Giving Garden might be able to help tackle some of these issues with this first app and other products and programs that we push out.
It’s a challenge to stay focused and have to deprioritize or cut things we care about in order to launch the app this summer. There’s just so much we can do and so much we want to do, but we have to take steps. We can’t do it all at once.