Two men standing behind a hydroponic indoor garden with lettuce growing vertically

UTM alumni give families seeds to create indoor garden during self-isolation

Patricia Lonergan

Two U of T Mississauga alumni are trying to bring a bit of fun and joy into homes as people continue to self-isolate during the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.

Conner Tidd and Kevin Jakiela are offering parents and children a chance to grow a garden without leaving their homes. Graduates of UTM’s Master of Science in Sustainability Management, the duo are co-founders of Just Vertical, a company that sells indoor hydroponic gardening systems.

Tidd says the team devised a fun and easy gardening experiment people can try at home using materials they already have around the house. The initiative is in response to seeing how many people are stuck at home looking for something to do, he says.

A free guide on the company’s website provides a downloadable lesson plan on how to build a mini greenhouse using egg cartons, plastic bags, soil and seed. The only item people are unlikely to have on hand are seeds, so Just Vertical is offering free lettuce seeds.

“We don’t want anyone going out looking for seeds right now,” Tidd says.

Conner Tidd standing next to lettuce growing vertically
Conner Tidd showing a vertical hydroponic growing system in 2017 (Photo by Chris Sorenson)

The home project is geared for beginners, particularly young gardeners. Lettuce is very easy to grow and has a quick turnaround, with greens coming up in as few as two to three days, Tidd says, adding that’s important for children, who need to see results quickly to keep them engaged.

“Lettuce is as immediate as we can get in the gardening world,” he says.

The seeds are freely available whether someone is a customer or not. Tidd says he’s trying to tell everyone they don’t need to be a customer to benefit. The intent is to help make gardening accessible.

Just Vertical offers several educational activities, hosting workshops and going into schools. Tidd says that’s how they came up with this recent initiative. They adapted the larger lesson plan so parents can teach a simplified version at home.

The team has also put together a longer learning and lesson plan for those who want to teach something new to their children, who are curious about other gardening experiments or are just looking to pass the time.

Tidd and his partner Jakiela, who graduated in 2017, founded Just Vertical when they were still in graduate school at UTM. It was their capstone project. The intent was to make growing one’s own food accessible. They sell plug and grow systems – fully automated hydroponic systems designed for the home. Tidd says the company has been growing steadily since it launched three years ago.

With the onset of the pandemic and the need for physical distancing, Tidd says he and his team wanted to help in some small way.

“If we can spark a little joy in people’s lives … it’s money and time well spent,” Tidd says of why Just Vertical has started this initiative. He adds that he hopes the activity will also provide a lasting curiosity and ignite a passion for gardening and nature.