I've got two old, large trees in my Elmhurst back yard that provide plenty of welcoming shade on hot, sunny days. We are very thankful for these lovely trees. They house an entire ecosystem of animals, plants, bugs and more, all while giving us a pleasant place to enjoy an evening.
The one drawback? Their shade precludes any successful gardening.
Over the years, I've adapted by growing pots of herbs and peppers, along with hanging baskets and dishes of assorted greens. Then I find myself every August with a ton of fragrant basil but no fresh, juicy tomatoes. I either rely on the gracious gifts from neighbors and friends or hike to the local market.
And while I love the Elmhurst Farmer's Market, I'm often prohibited from attending because I have to work on Wednesday mornings, just like many other busy people I know. Truth is, I wish I could get more freshly grown-from-the-garden produce without having to trek to another suburb on a Saturday morning.
Enter Elmhurst gardening guru and local food activist Todd Jones, owner of . The company builds and maintains vegetable gardens for homeowners.
Jones, never content to rest on his laurels, has a unique business plan that is poised to change the gardening and local food community.
During the course of maintaining the numerous gardens of his clients, Jones has always created systems for keeping track of the various produce grown and their harvest dates. Surely, he thought, there must be a streamlined way to do this. Jones brainstormed with his friend and business partner, Collin Bourdage, who happens to also be a very talented web designer.
"We came up with a web application that would allow me to map out all of my gardens and list the variety of plants that are growing in each one," Jones explained. "Then we realized that this could be an open sharing network for all gardeners and growers."
So, let's say that I'm in need of some ripe heirloom tomatoes to round out a salad for dinner one evening. Using their app, I could search for tomatoes in a radius near my location. Voila! A local resident several blocks from my house just listed a fresh crop; I simply buy and pay for them on my mobile phone and pick them up.
"We can aggregate a number of people with lots of producers in one place," Jones said.
He believes that this social gardening community and marketplace can have a much bigger impact on our society as well, by incentivizing people to grow their own food.
"We can build stronger communities around fresh, nutritious food," Jones said.
The implications of this can be even more reaching, Jones said, as residents of food "deserts" could be empowered with knowledge and skills to grow and obtain their own fresh produce.
Seeing this idea come to fruition, however, requires capital. Jones currently has his project on KickStarter, a web-based "crowd-funding" platform. With as little as $5, donors can help provide the seed money to enable gardens and healthy eating to flourish.
KickStarter, itself, is a unique business. Project creators set a funding goal and deadline. If the project reaches that goal, the credit cards of the project's supporters are charged when time expires. If the project falls short no one is charged.
"We need to raise $10,000 by June 15," Jones said. "If we are one dollar short of our goal, we don't receive any of the money. It's an all or nothing fund-raising platform."
If the project is funded, donors who pledged money will receive regular updates on its progress. Donors also will have the satisfaction of being part of a local effort to improve the way our food system works.
"Farmers, big and small, have a hard time finding markets," said one supporter on Jones' Facebook page. "I grew hundreds of pounds of heirloom tomatoes last summer and would have happily sold or bartered if there was a marketplace that facilitated it."
If you'd like to donate or would like more information, please contact Todd Jones at (312) 929-5881, or go to his Kickstarter Page.