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Balcony Planter

Alura Sutherland

Project Criteria

A product that enhances the usefulness of an small outdoor living area such as a backyard or an apartment balcony. Consider functional features that enhance the time spent in these limited spaces while having a safety component to it.

This product is targeted towards low income users who live in urban areas that are affected by food deserts. These are essentially areas that have limited access to affordable and nutritious food. This product will be a cost affordable way utilize a small, outdoor balcony space and empowers the user to grow their own fresh food in order to counter some of the impacts of food desserts. In addition, this product will provide the consumers a space to eat this fresh food without having a sacrifice a large surface area of their balcony. 



Through this project, I chose to do research regarding a phenomenon commonly known as food deserts.

What is a food desert?

“A food desert is an area, especially one with low-income residents,

that has limited access to affordable and nutritious food.”


These areas also referred to as Limited Supermarket Areas (LSAs). 

Who is affected by them?

“LSAs are disproportionately found in areas where the demographics include more people with low incomes, people in poverty and people of colour.”

Where is this a problem?

“They are found predominantly in low-income areas, although not everyone living in a food desert is poor. They can be in urban, suburban or rural communities.”


Some factors include:

● Transportation (Do people have access to public transportation? Do they have cars? Do they have to walk?).

● Income

● Distance to the closest grocery store.




Why is this a problem?

“Food deserts aren't mere inconveniences to the people who live within one; they're an example of food insecurity and they negatively affect public health.”

● Food access impacts diabetes, cardio vascular disease, and some types of cancer.

● Not only are these areas lacking in fresh fruits and vegetables, but they are heavily saturated with “quickie marts that provide a wealth of processed, sugar, and fat laden foods that are known contributors to our nation’s obesity epidemic” (this type of food is sometimes referred to as known as fringe foods).

● Food deserts often go hand in hand with food insecurity. Food insecurity means people aren't sure where their food will come from. In addition, they have little-to-no access to nutritious food and are likely to have unbalanced diets and skip meals.

How can this be addressed?

● Grass roots efforts; mobile grocery stores, community gardens and farmers’ markets.

● “Discussing different options, such as growing your own food, working with local retailers to sell healthy, vegan foods, etc. is a good place to start. It is also important to bring your ideas and concerns to policy makers—city councilmembers, state legislators, etc.”

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Model Making


Through various materials, including paper foam core, cardboard, wood and metal, I was able to create models that informed my decisions moving forward. Some of these models helped me understand relevant mechanisms, other models helped my visualize scale and size of the product. 

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Above is proof of concept for the necessary mechanism that allows the panels to remain horizontal during the transition from position one to position two. 

To the right is an example of the problem solving process while trying to have the legs return to their resting position. 

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Final Design

Final Design
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This product is designed to empower the users to grow their own fresh food. It's multi functional uses allow for the user to transform their vertical planter into a dinning table with an edible center piece of fresh herbs and vegetables running down the middle of the table.

Critical Project Drivers


Must Have:

  1. Safety – must have reliable mounting equipment to ensure that the product is secure and stable. Furthermore, it must be made from materials that are food safe, and will not release chemicals into the soil.

  2. Timing – this project must be completed in the time span of 12 weeks. The final deliverable must be completed by December 5th, 2018.

  3. Cost – one of the major factors that contribute to food desserts is poverty. Therefore, it is crucial that it is affordable to low income families ($20-100).

  4. Manufacturing Cost – Parts should be designed in accordance to less expensive manufacturing methods.

  5. Materials – must be weatherable in outdoor environments (UV resistant). As mentioned before, they must also be food safe. 

  6. Competition – must have a differentiating feature from other vertical planters on the market, by enhancing the experience of consuming the food itself.

  7. Functional features – any mechanical elements should be used easily and should be able to withstand the outdoor conditions over time. The containers for the plants must provide sufficient drainage, be easy to remove and clean. The mounting technology should be adjustable and compatible with a variety of fences/rails. The product must not require the use of a horizontal surface, and as such, it saves space or makes use of underutilized space.

  8. Ergonomics – this product must be intuitive to use and can shit positions by one user.


Should Have:

  1. End of life – should be made from recyclable materials.

  2. Weight – light enough to be mounted by one person.

  3. Packaging – product should collapse to make packaging more efficient. Packaging should create minimal waste, and all materials should be recyclable.

  4. Functional features – Has storage for the tools needed for gardening.


Nice to Have:

  1. Functional features – catches rain water/built in irrigation system. Has storage for tools needed for gardening. Has a composting component.

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