Branching Out

We seek to combat urban food insecurity with customizable grafted fruit trees yielding sustainable, organic produce directly in one's home.

Photo of Avery Tilley
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Please confirm you meet the following criteria

  • We have submitted the supplemental form linked in the description above
  • We are aged between 14 - 20 as of February 11, 2021
  • We live in the United States or its territories (Puerto Rico, U.S. Virgin Islands, Guam, Northern Mariana Islands, and American Samoa)
  • We are not employed by, or directly related (parents or siblings) to a current General Motors (GM) or Ashoka employee
  • We have been working on this project for at least three months
  • We consent to Ashoka and/or GM featuring our work on their website, social media, and in other materials regarding this Challenge using the information in our application
  • We confirm we have the rights to use and share any content uploaded on this entry form

Date You Started Your Project


Project Stage: Select the description below that best applies to your approach.

  • Start-Up (first few activities have happened)

1. The Problem: What problem are you helping to solve?

Securing quality, organic produce in urban centers can be challenging. Additionally, it is often expensive to package, transport, and distribute. However, many urban consumers spend countless dollars and hours on houseplants, yet very few offer any economic or physical value. Together, these problems leave urban consumers overpaying for expensive, poor quality produce while simultaneously investing time and energy into un-edible houseplants.

2. Your Solution: How are you planning to solve this problem? Share your specific approach.

At Branching Out, we want to bring a new type of houseplant to the market: grafted fruit trees. Grafted fruit trees are single trees that have several different species branches grafted or attached on. In this way, a single tree yields several types of produce. Grafted fruit trees have been around for decades, yet they have never been proposed as an indoor houseplant. At Branching Out, we see grafted trees as the perfect solution for produce insecurity. These grafted trees can produce several types of fruit from one dwarf tree; that means growing lemons, plums, cherries and peaches from a six foot tall potted tree on the balcony of your New York apartment. These trees will now be houseplants that actually produce edible, organic produce, providing you some fruit for your labor. They offer a consistent and affordable option for urban consumers who may lack easy access to produce and are incredibly sustainable, completely eliminating all waste involved with the pesticide application, packaging, and transportation of regular produce. Best of all, they are customizable; you pick the fruit and the size, tailoring it to your taste buds, growing season, and available space.

3. Please tell us how you are using science, technology, engineering or math to address your environmental challenge.

Tree grafting is an ancient art, but one that involves careful science nonetheless. It is incredibly important to have a strong knowledge of tree anatomy and life history. Additionally, it requires several scientific aspects when selecting rootstock for tree grafting. Grafters have to take into consideration size, shape, temperature, and humidity when selecting fruit varieties. Besides just needing science to understand tree grafting, consumers will also be using and learning about the cycles of their trees too. This includes everything fro pruning to harvesting and we intend to offer educational service to make everyone an expert at caring for a grafted fruit tree. We are using STEM in other ways too as we engineer packaging for tree transport and shipping and utilize technology to build an online platform for consumers.

4. Personal Journey: What’s the story behind why you decided to start this project?

I was tired of taking care of houseplants for no real reason then aesthetics. I could only imagine the amount of resources required for the massive amount of houseplants owned by fellow college students. As a Native American, resource utilization has always been an area of focus. In essence, I was taught not to waste what I have been given. As I have gotten older I have realized that such concepts can apply in many scenarios. As above, the biggest way I noticed this resource waste was on houseplants. Why not at least have the do something beneficial with all that water they are drinking? Initially I thought it would be useful to encourage people to care for endangered plant species. However, that idea was not the strongest. Then I remembered grafted fruit trees, and they seemed to be a perfect fit, literally. Branching Out came to fruition shortly after.

5. Video (Keep it simple, your phone on selfie-mode is great): Please upload a 1-minute video to YouTube that answers the following “I am stepping up to be a Changemaker because...”

6. Please highlight the key activities you have carried out to bring your project to life.

Currently, our largest area of focus has been research. We have done much research on the concept of grafted fruit trees. This has including consulting grafting experts from around the country. We have discussed our ideas with them to obtain feedback on how the idea may be improved upon. We have also discussed shipping and growing aspects with greenhouse managers. On the other aspect of research, we have begun to use surveys to discover customers and learn more about our target audience.

7. The X Factor: What is different about your project compared to other programs or solutions already out there?

On the business side, Branching Out, simplifies the grafted tree experience with a modern, clean website that allows for individuals to customize trees to their needs. This service and product are unique. From the side of produce insecurity, Branching Out is providing a solution that people want. Our solution offers a tangible product to consumers that they can work with. We also believe the concept has flexibility. Even in urban centers where food security may not be an issue, grafted fruit trees can still provide a more sustainable option for obtaining organic produce.

8. Impact: In the last three months, please detail the impact your project has made.

To begin, Branching Out has invested a great amount of time in researching how this concept could come to life. We have spent many hours analyzing competitors and other businesses operating in the grafted fruit tree space. Additionally, we have launched two surveys and other customer discovery initiatives to explore the interest in our idea. We have been met with overwhelming support for the concept with over 100 respondents so far. Potential customers are intrigued from the moment we begin to describe a grafted tree, trying to imagine what one could look like in their living space. Currently, we are still completing these customer discovery initiatives and are attempting to better diversify those surveyed. Most recently, we have begun to reach out to local industry experts to obtain advice and identify future hurdles. We have made over a dozen changes to the product and model to date.

9. What’s Next: What are your ideas for taking your project to the next level?

Due to the visual nature of our idea, we would like to develop prototypes to begin to investigate how to design and work with our trees. These prototype trees would also be utilized in advertisements and design images. In addition, a small space for prototype tree and growth, in essence a small greenhouse, will be constructed. This space would serve as our workshop moving forward and will be the site of both our grafting and tree storage as we investigate methods and techniques of creating our product. Additionally, we would like to begin developing a website for Branching Out that has the capacity to facilitate transactions, offer educational resources, and visually display our idea to the masses.

10. Please share how you have influenced other young people to get involved in your project and/or care about environmental sustainability.

Grafted fruit trees look so cool. In fact, in one of our recent surveys, over 90% of respondents had never heard of or seen a grafted fruit tree. After seeing the product and realizing the possibilities, they are hooked. It looks like something straight out of a cartoon, but we assure you its real. This excitement and passion is a great way to engage young people about issues we intend to tackle with our trees, especially ones related to reliable, sustainable produce in urban environments.

11. How would you partner with other changemakers to make a difference?

One partnership we had in mind was with local elementary schools. We want to implement a "tree rental service" that would provide trees to elementary classrooms. In this program, students would learn about things ranging from photosynthesis to world hunger. We believe our trees would be amazing additions to any classroom and would serve as impressive physical manifestation of science, the environment, and sustainability.

12. How would you engage others who have never heard about your project to get their buy-in?

Our current tactic of engagement is via surveys. While surveys do allow for a high volume of answers, we also see the value in a handful of meaningful and personal engagements. For that reason, we hope to acquire prototypes soon and travel with the trees to conference and shows, introducing people to our trees and the problem they are working to solve. In this way, we could better engage others and work on how we may improve our business and product.

13. Finances: If applicable, have you mobilized any of the following resources so far?

  • Friend support

14. Which of the following types of expertise would be most useful for you? You’ll be able to select only one option.

  • Project Plan & Strategy

Are you employed, or directly related (grand-parents, parents, sibling) to a GM or Ashoka employee?

  • No

How did you hear about this challenge?

  • Search engine

Evaluation results

6 evaluations so far

1. Overall evaluation

Yes, absolutely! - 40%

Probably - 20%

Maybe - 20%

Probably not - 20%

No - 0%

2. CONNECTION to Environmental Sustainability

5 - Absolutely! It is totally clear that the solution is contributing directly to environmental sustainability and/or addressing climate change - 40%

4 — Yes, it establishes a connection to environment/ climate change but could be stronger - 20%

3 — Somewhat, the entry speaks to this environmental sustainability, but the direct impact is not well established - 20%

2 — Not really, the connection to environment/ climate is very weak - 20%

1 — No. The entry does not have a reference the solution’s impact on environment and/or climate change - 0%

No Answer or No Connection - 0%

3. Is this entry CREATIVE?

5 - Yes, absolutely! - 60%

4 - Yes, I think so - 0%

3 - Maybe - 20%

2 - Probably not. - 20%

1 - No - 0%

No Answer - 0%

4. Does this entry demonstrate a COMMITMENT to changemaking?

5 - Yes, absolutely! - 33.3%

4 - Yes, I think so - 33.3%

3 - Maybe - 100%

2 - Probably not - 0%

1 - No - 0%

No Answer - 0%

5. Does this entry value CHANGEMAKING through collaboration with other stakeholders in its approach?

5 - Yes, absolutely! - 20%

4 - Yes, I think so - 40%

3 - Maybe - 20%

2 - Probably not - 0%

1 - No - 20%

No Answer - 0%

6. Is this entry VIABLE financially and operationally?

5 -Yes, absolutely! - 20%

4- Yes, I think so - 20%

3- Maybe - 40%

2- Probably not - 20%

1- No - 0%

No Answer - 0%

7. FEEDBACK: What are the strengths of this project?

CONNECTION: You have a great understanding and personal connection to the problem - 100%

CREATIVITY: You have researched existing solutions, and have developed unique, thoughtful new solutions to aid environmental sustainability/combat climate change - 100%

COMMITMENT: You have a thoughtful plan for growing your business, and your founding team has a strong combination of leadership and knowledge-based skills - 100%

CHANGEMAKER QUALITY: You value thinking around how to activate other changemakers and empower them to care about your cause. You also have a clearly defined plan on how to collaborate across multiple stakeholders - 100%

IMPACT MEASUREMENT: You use specific numbers and evidence to describe what your project has achieved so far (or plan to achieve in the future) and you have a plan for measuring impact - 66.7%

VIABLITY: You have given a great deal of thought to not just the idea itself but how to make it work from a financial perspective in the present and future - 0%

Other option - 0%

8. FEEDBACK: What are some areas for improvement for this project?

CONNECTION: Why you care about the environment/ climate was unclear – It would be great to elaborate on what this solution means to you, personally and how it affects you and/or your community. - 25%

CREATIVITY: Be more specific in your description of the research you have done into the past solutions to this problem and focus on how your solution is unique and innovative - 25%

COMMITMENT: Your plan for growing the organization can benefit from more specifics. How can you round out the various skills of your current leadership team to make the project a long-term success? - 0%

CHANGEMAKER QUALITY: Try to provide more insights into how you are activating changemakers and empowering them to innovate through your product or programming. How will they care about environment/climate if they currently do not? Think about how to create value for all stakeholders, not just immediate beneficiaries - 25%

IMPACT MEASUREMENT: Provide specific instances of your social impact and how you plan to measure impact – it may be helpful to describe the beneficiaries, products and programming, and provide evidence of (or plan for) how to measure impact - 100%

VIABILITY: Make sure you have provided descriptive information about your financial sustainability plan. Where do the funds come from now and do you have a concrete plan for future sustainability? - 100%

Nothing – I thought everything was great! - 25%

Other option - 0%


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Photo of Trisha Patnaik

Great indeed !

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