Thursday, 19 April 2012

“Grow the Planet”: the first green social network on Earth

by Michele Lapini and Cecilia Anesi 



Photo by Michele Lapini.


“Grow the Planet” is a social network created by Gianni Gaggiani and Leonardo Pires, two young Italians with green pollex and even greener ideas. They one day decided to provide the world’s web community with a new green meeting spot, a kind of “real-life-Farmville”. “Grow your Planet” is all but another boring cyberspace room. You could rather define it the green counterpart of Facebook. Gianni Gaggiani told us why. 

How was “Grow the Planet” born? 

It all began with florablog.it, my personal blog which gets approximately 110.000 views per month. After noticing the great interest this first experiment had sparked in the web community, especially for what concerns growing the garden – and the related surplus that has characterised many countryside zones – I have decided to open Grow the Planet with Leonardo Piras’ help. It is a community of green-pollex-people where members can learn how to grow vegetables and then exchange them (so perhaps a user with too many tomatoes can swop some with another user whom might have too many eggplants), as well communicate about agricultural issues. 

What is it all about? 

The peculiarity of our project is that we replicate the zero miles concept by facilitating the contact between members who live close to each other (20-30 km) because in our opinion it would be pointless to connect people who live far too each others and might live one in a hot climate and another in a cold one. 

Since March 2011 our social network has been growing continuously, both from the point of view of the services we offer and that of the users, who are today more than 7000. Grow the Planet’s community has three main “topics” of confrontation: seeds, plants and veggies, work and land. Users can exchange all of these among them. Obviously the platform is useful to organise the exchanges. The exchanges themselves take places out of the cyberspace, in the real world, and have their own means of transaction. 

Moreover, there is a sort of diary of cultivation that gives the user the chance to update the status of his or her crops and keep a continued monitoring on the garden growing process.

How much has Grow the Planet grown as a social network, and which one is the aim behind it? 

Grow the Planet was born in a beta version in English in order to be presented at the Disrupt of techcrunch in San Francisco, a gathering where high-tech start-ups can strut their stuff. The platform has been launched only in Italy for now, but the aim is to make it grow larger. The algorithm based on geo-localization and on different climate zones which is at the base of the social network, allows it to be suitable for any place of the world. In fact, by crossing mapping and information relating to the users’ garden address, it is possible to provide a functional support for the users’ diary of cultivation at international level. 

We live in an age in which direct sharing becomes increasingly important and in which young generations are rediscovering a growing interest towards countryside and agriculture. This is why such a social network seemed to us like the perfect thing to build in order to make this community evolve through sharing and participation. 

Grow the Planet’s users are, in fact, not solely some passionate farmers. Even people who have never cultivated before can participate. Not only, also transporters can register to the social network and be useful by transporting goods from one user to another, helping to reduce the environmental impact of transport. The fight against waste is a crucial aspect of our project: through sharing, sorting and switching of surplus production we can avoid food from being wasted. Moreover, what happens here is a cultural exchange of knowledge, which represents the very solution for that gap between generations that today characterise the agricultural world. There is growing interest of young people in this world, though they lack their parents’ or grandparents’ knowledge. 

Thus, “Grow the Planet” not only represents a meeting point for food exchanges, it also promotes local and organic farming, favouring the spreading of sustainable farming practices such as rotation and intercroppingand sparking the rediscovery of the seasonality of products. It does, basically, support the growing interest directed towards the environment. 

In which way can, thus, a social network stand as a green solution? 

Considering the dynamics of agricultural products, the overproduction phenomenon and the low income deriving from farming, Grow the Planet can represent a green solution not only for the issues raised by the industry itself, but also for the problems related to public opinion. 

This social network aims at making people more aware ofthe environmental problems related to the current agro-alimentary system and ofthe consequences on our alimentation. 

The knowledge sharing makes our youth able to cultivate and produce food by themselves. By recognising the importance of zero miles concept, which shall regard all aspects of our life, we could reverse the current production system. It is a system that allows food to travel thousands of miles to reach our tables, and this leads to the emission of tonnes of CO2. We shall instead discover once again the seasonality of agriculture for the detriment of the ‘unique season’ fashion that prevails on the market today. This is why we wish to create a meeting space between “Grow the Planet” users and professionals of the sector. 


Photo by Michele Lapini.

How do you see the future of your social network? 

The project is going on quite well, user numbers are growing a lot and mainly due to a word of-mouth process. In Italy we are making agreements with some important national actors such as Slow Food (the main association for the protection of quality food) and Legambiente (the main environmental association) to spread the project in schools. Grow the Planet is rather successful because it is a technology that doesn’t remain virtual, but has the courage to pop out and get its hands dirty.

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