Student-Led Solutions: More from VertiGrow

This post is part of a series on students taking action against poverty and hunger. Today, we hear from one of the members of the VertiGrow team, Ellie Nowak. Ellie has been working on a VertiGrow pilot in Kibera, Kenya.

If you know of any students who are changing the world with their imagination and innovation, email the WFP Youth Outreach Team.

I spent the past two weeks working on a VertiGrow pilot in Kibera, Kenya. Kibera is the largest slum on the continent, so we thought it would be a great place to test the idea, get some community feedback, and move forward. I was a little nervous going in, though, since I was all alone, had such a short time frame in which to work, and don’t speak any of the local languages. But for some reason or another, everything just fell into place, and VertiGrow 1.0 is up and running!

I started out partnering with a local health clinic, where I worked in the waiting room with my community guide, translator, and friend, Faith. We would ask the moms questions about their nutrition, agriculture experience, economic status, and interest in VertiGrow before they went in for their appointments, and then were able to get the height/weight status of their children to gain a better understanding of the nutritional needs in Kibera. The most important take away from our research was that the people who don’t grow their own food say they are not able to because of lack of space, lack of water, and lack of time.

This was a great way to start off in the community, but eventually, we ventured away from the clinic and started visiting residents in their homes to get more information. It was really incredible to see all the growing that people are doing already, even if only on a small scale. Going door to door definitely had consequences we did not anticipate though. After a day in the community, we came to the clinic the next morning to find around twenty women waiting for us to learn more about VertiGrow and how they could participate. When I first came to Kibera I was hoping to get more information about the needs of residents and gauge their interest level, but then suddenly here I was with a group of women who were ready to dig their hands in and get started. I was unprepared, to say the least, but so excited that the idea was catching on.

The best part about our first pilot was that the women designed the plan for construction, materials, and growing. We had a local woman teach a seminar on how to grow the food, a local carpenter craft the vertical planter, and the women themselves donated their time for over four days in order to get them up and running. Two women’s groups organized around the project, and have divided the tasks for caring for the crops amongst themselves. In addition, some men in the community saw what we were building and decided to make one of their own! VertiGrow has become viral.

My last day in Kibera, one of the women in the groups came up to me and asked me to help her with money for food. She had brought her son along every day of the project, and it was pretty clear from the first day I saw him that he did not have enough to eat. The situation left me with mixed feelings—hopeful that a project like VeritGrow could supplement her son’s diet, sad that it’s children who seem to suffer the most when there isn’t enough food around, disappointed that any donation I could make to her food fund would be unsustainable, and determined to follow through with this work. Our world is growing more and more crowded every day, and the more I see the repercussions of this the more I hope we can find more creative growing solutions.

For more information, visit the VertiGrow website at or their blog at