Pebble: The Ritual of Urban Farming

Can Technology Create a Trend in Urban Farming? Students from the MADE program are out to prove it can.

Bohan Xu, Selvin Yang, Sherley Zhang, Jiawei Lu
Veronica Taranova Gomelsky
Color of Biodiversity


The Boston Mayor’s Office of Food Justice put out a prompt this fall: Grow Urban Farming. Four students from the MADE Program at Brown University and RISD responded with a thought-provoking idea that combines technology, design, ritual, human connection, and nature into one solution: Pebble.


The Idea

Led by RISD professor, Andy Law, the student team created a concept product, an at-home-tea-growing kit to help develop an interest in gardening and farming in urban areas. The at-home kit is designed to rethink urban farming and create an innovative and uplifting experience. The objective of pebble is to create a positive social impact by encouraging urban-farming habits that can develop into urban culture.

Urban farming is the cultivation of agricultural products in urban areas which can provide a variety of environmental, social, and economic benefits to urban communities.

Tea can be a gateway to urban farming, tea leaves themselves can be steeped and then used as a non-toxic fertilizer.

A chart diagram that explains how the Pebble planter responds to the brief by the office of food justice from the city of Boston and current and future gardeners and customers.

How Does Pebble Work?

Pebble is a plant monitoring device that is designed to guide and support novice urban farmers. Prompting users to water their plant based on soil readings created by Pebble. By pairing Pebble with its app, it moves the ritual of gardening beyond monitoring into community building. Pebble users are connected to an online community of other urban gardeners, to share ideas and learn from one another.

A flow chart of how pebble functions: acquire informative recommendations: balancing user preferences, gardening experience, and planting condition. Receive Directive setup: actionable setup guide in the user manual and extended support from in the app. Grow, personalized guidance: precise and in-time caring with monitoring and action reminders by Pebble. Connect, Community support: get help from the community of amateur and professionals on the app. Consume, participative experience: brought to home the novel experience of tea dehydration and tea blending. Share, Appreciable Output: Gift to other: handmade tea, gift to self: record of the growing process
A visual demonstration of the Pebble App interface depicting the planting guide and digital community section.

What is Pebble?

​The Process

Through research and project development, the team established that the barrier Pebble would need to solve was the cultural hesitancy in participating in urban agriculture. The second stage was developing prototypes after which the team collected insights to improve their concept. Holding focus groups to receive feedback which they applied to their second iteration and repeated the process until they created the third and final iteration of Pebble to create a tool that could produce behavioral change.
A visual demonstration of the Pebble Planter, a plant: a white orchid, and the Pebble App interface that shows the three step process of how to use Pebble.

Celebrating Rituals, Nature, and Community

One plant can not sustain a household or an individual. However, one plant can connect entire households to the concept and ritual of growing their own food. The daily practices of growing, watering, and taking care of the plant can inspire and remind individuals that their food is grown by others, through care and attention. Connection to nature is vital in understanding how delicate the process of food production can be and fostering a better appreciation for biodiversity. The concept of Pebble can help encourage communities to eat sustainably and seasonally by making urban agriculture less intimidating. 

Urban farming can reduce transportation costs, help reduce runoff associated with heavy rainfall, and lead to better air quality.


A collage of the team members in the process of field research at the community garden @ProvidenceRi

Imagining the Future of Pebble

By positioning Pebble for growing tea, it connects urban farming to a culture-enriched experience. From cultivation to its consumption, tea is rich in cultural rituals. Pebble expands on cultural tea traditions but brings the tea ritual into the modern landscape through technology. Growing tea can be a way to reach and create a diverse online community which can help Pebble better cater its services to people from different cultural backgrounds. 

​What Pebble Hopes to Achieve:
  • Help protect biodiversity via encouragement of urban farming.
  • Foster mindfulness with the ritual of growing food.
  • Community connection through cultural rituals of farming and consumption. 
  • Donations to local community gardens from Pebble purchases.


UN Sustainable Development Goals Addressed


Continue your Journey

Stay updated and learn more about Pebble here.

Connect with the minds behind Pebble below:
Bohan Xu.
Jiawei Lu.
Selvin Yang.
Shirley Zhang.