As part of our continuing exploration of trends on the fringe of food culture, we caught up with Michael Moll, co-founder and CEO of My Green Space. After seeing Michael’s impassioned talk about his start-up at University of British Columbia Sauder School of Business’ Chasing Sustainability Conference, we stalked him until he gave us an interview.
My Green Space is an app that makes it possible for anyone to grow their own food garden and avoid 80% of mistakes made by first-time and early growers. You’ll notice there is no ‘garden’ in the name – every home can grow food, regardless of the type of space. The app asks how big your space is and how much sun it gets…and then gives you, step by step, all you need to successfully grow your own food.
Photo Credit: My Green Space
I came to Canada from Kenya on a scholarship and did my Bachelor of Commerce at University of British Columbia. My plan was to become a global capitalist. Seriously. I’d dreamed of that since I was little.
But once I came to Vancouver, I started to think differently. I studied Marketing with a minor in Sustainability. I started to meet a lot of people who actually cared about the planet, who were actually doing something to change the way we consume and live.
I also love technology. I could talk about that all day. My other business idea was an app to get concert tickets on their phone. But then I started to think that wasn’t a worthwhile mission. And that is when I decided to really get serious about My Green Space.
Growing up in Nairobi, my grandparents had an amazing urban farm, growing avocados and mangos and so many other fruits and vegetables. But we were an upper middle class family so we had people working for us. I was exposed to it but didn’t learn much from hands on experience.
Once I moved to Vancouver, my girlfriend and I decided we wanted to grow our own food. We convinced our landlord to let us build planter boxes in the front yard of our apartment building. We made every mistake possible. Our mint went wild and took over the entire garden. But we learned from our mistakes and eventually were getting 80% of our produce from our garden, instead of buying a few leaves of kale for $7 at Whole Foods. And it tasted better.
Photo Credit: My Green Space Instagram
It’s environmentally destructive. We have gone way wrong with the industrial food system. Big monoculture crops that use mass amount of fertilizers create run-off that leads to dead zones in our oceans. Growing your own food is the Trojan Horse of climate change. People all over the world are embracing it, and it’s the best defense against the destruction happening from big food industries.
But it’s also what humans need. People need to do something with their hands, to work the soil. It’s been that way for thousands of years. It’s only been the last few decades that we’ve gone off track.
Yes. Very fringe. But technology will change that. We’re building our platform to be completely mobile so you never have to touch your computer. Traditionally, gardeners are old school – they have the knowledge but they aren’t very tech savvy, so their influence has been limited.
I’m inspired by Peter Thiel’s book Zero to One – where he says it’s so much easier to go from 1 to 2; that’s incremental. Going from zero to one, creating something totally new from nothing, that’s what we are trying to do. We’re working to create the circuits, so when the light turns on, we are here. There will be a tipping point. Probably when oil prices rise and imported food becomes so expensive that the masses realize they have the power to rely on themselves.
My goal is to get so big we can buy Monsanto and shut them down. (laughs) That’s my dream, to put them out of business.
We can see on social media how many people are interested in what we are doing. For example, we shared a post about how organic farmers should not have to prove they are certified, but instead farmers who use pesticides should have to call their product a chemical carrot, for example. It went viral; we got 20,000 shares! And we can see those who liked that post are from all over the world – from China, from Tanzania, from India. We can look into who those people are, what books they are reading, and we are confident we are tapping into a tribe that is growing. It’s less about age or other demographics and more about common values.
Photo Credit: My Green Space
The US is a big focus for us. The US is huge. There are so many places in the states that are ‘food deserts’ – mostly low-income neighborhoods that have no grocery stores with a mile radius except a 7-Eleven.
We know this can change because of people like The Guerilla Gardner, a guy named Ron Finley, who fought against the ‘food desert’ in his neighborhood by planting food in curbside dirt strips in LA. It worked, and he then started giving food away to people in need. He has a TED Talk now.
What I love the most is how growing food brings people together. When we started our garden, Harry came out to chat while we were gardening and then Sally came joined us. And they said “Hey do you live in the building too?” and the other said “Yeah, I have lived here 7 years”…and they didn’t know each other at all! I love the sense of community it gave us in Vancouver, where people often don’t have a platform to talk to each other face to face.
And it gives people a sense of pride – that they did something themselves, which makes them want to share it. Share what they have grown with friends and neighbors.
Ah yeah – I love Twizzlers fa4617 Cheetos!! (laughs hard) I am vegetarian most of the time but believe it or not, I am a huge candy fan.
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