A Belfast man who swapped a stellar architecture career for horticulture is hoping to inspire new generations to grow their own food with AI.
Conor Gallagher, 33, founded the world’s first ‘Airbnb for gardens’ to help people find growing space after running out of room on his own balcony.
Following the success of AllotMe, he has now launched launched pioneering gardening guru ‘Hazel’, who can advise old hands and new on how to grow just about anything.
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Conor told us: “I lived in a flat in London with just a balcony and I started to grow my own pears and salad and quickly ran out of room.
“There were allotments a couple of streets away from me and I just had no idea how to find out any information.
“I went to the website and there was just a pin on the map with no contact details – it felt like a very obtuse process. I did a bit of digging and realised that was pretty much the case across the board in the UK and Ireland.
“So I started AllotMe in my spare time and in 2020 eventually took the plunge to work on it full time… realising during lockdown how much demand there was for growing space and how much people were getting into growing their own food, herb and vegetable gardens.
“That was really the beginning of it and we evolved.”
Conor believes the lack of space and knowledge are the two biggest barriers to helping folks grow their own food.
What began as a site where people could find growing space has now grown to include guides supported by his AI helper.
‘Hazel’, which is powered by Chat GPT, can answer any question from growers of all abilities.
Conor added: “I know Chat GPT blew up several months ago but we were working on Hazel months before.
“We have a whole collection of individual growing guides. It’s kind of like a Netflix style panel of growing guides for all different plants you might want to grow, rated by how difficult they are to grow, what month you can start them or categories like if it’s a herb, vegetable or fruit.
“People can ask Hazel what plants will be best suited for the conditions where they live, order seeds from AllotMe’s curated collection and have them delivered to their door or plot all in one space.”
He says you can then ask Hazel questions like why basil is not growing for you and that she’ll respond with answers.
“It’s pretty much a conversation which is why I think it can be so effective,” he explained. “All you have to do is sign up with Google or Facebook and it’s 100% free. Our whole thing is to make gardening more accessible to as many people as possible.
“Gardening is often perceived as something for older generations,” he added. “At the same time younger generations are most often early adopters of technologies – we are hoping it will encourage younger people.”
After studying at Belfast art school and in Glasgow, Conor worked in architcture in New York, Glasgow in London.
But he says he’s happy he made the leap to his new career.
“There’s no looking back,” he told us. “Hearing stories from people who maybe live in apartments or have young families and want to get into growing – that really inspires us to keep going.”
His innovations also include the AllotMe ‘GrowPod’ which only needs seed pods, water and natural sunlight and is designed to allow people with limited indoor space to grow vegetables indoors.
To join the AllotMe community and try Hazel for yourself visit allotme.co.uk to sign up.
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