The Virtual Garden Helping Feed Families


Lauren Schulz, Staff Writer

It’s undeniable that COVID-19 hit the USA hard—like, really hard. Countless people are out of work, several more have been unable to get back into work while others are hesitant to start; the economy took a giant hit; several hundreds of people are currently fighting the virus, while thousands of more and unfortunately lost the fight with the deadly disease; and all of this isn’t just what happened in 2020—this all still ongoing. And, because employment rates have been lower than ever, and businesses are exponentially picking with who they hire despite being so incredibly short staffed, several thousands of people have been unable to find work, and therefore countless families and general people have had to face great difficulty in feeding themselves and providing for others who count on them. With these issues still persisting, what are these unfortunate families and people supposed to do?

Recognizing the situation that a large number of Americans are currently facing throughout all of the states, Feeding America—a nationwide nonprofit organization with a network of over 200 food banks throughout the states—has partnered with TikTok during mid-2021 to create an in-app feature on TikTok: the Garden of Good.

“I think this is a super cute, fun way to help those who are in need!” states Charilyn Hummer, an Elkhart High School senior. “They made it so easy to be able to contribute to such a good cause; it’s something that everyone can do.”

The whole appeal of this little in-app game is to grow virtual crops. The sort of “currency” the game focuses on is collecting water—which can only be used to water plants, not be used to buy special items or anything of that nature. Users collect water in a rain barrel, with its max holding capacity locked at 50 (without the use of special items), and every five minutes a drop of water is added to the barrel; additionally, users can get more water by doing a daily check in—which can either reward them with water or special items—looking at the “Garden News,” supporting friends or other random users and also snatching water that may be floating about in their garden, and inviting others on or off the app to join in on playing the game. Visiting others’ gardens lets one not only see what crop they are currently growing, and what stage the crops are at, but it also shows a giant button with the word “Support” at the bottom of the screen. Tapping it gives both users—the supporter and the “supportee”—150 water drops each and may also give the visiting user the opportunity to “snatch” some of that other person’s water. Being able to play alongside friends on the app, and have a bit of friendly competition between users, makes participating in this quite a bit more fun. “Being able to connect with other players makes the game a lot more entertaining than it would be without that feature,” notes Hummer. 

Users have a “toolbox” where all their collected special items go, and can be activated at any time, including: a time machine that, once activated, allows users to instantly collect water without having to sit through a bunch of waiting time; a lucky bag, which can gift users anywhere from 300 to 500 water instantaneously; a water shield that prevents other visiting users from snatching their water for 27 hours; and an extra large rain barrel that will collect 100 water drops for 24 hours, instead of the regular 50 water drops. Also, the Garden News section is updated very frequently and may provide updates showing how much the community on the app has helped out during just a few months, how many crops of each variety have been raised in total, little informational videos about the little game, and the occasional story being shared of someone who has volunteered to help out with Feeding America, as well as the stories of those that have been greatly affected by COVID-19, or just general life issues, and how greatly impacted by the non-profit organization they have been, and how they have benefited from such a wonderful cause.

One of the greatest parts of this collaboration is how easy it is for users to help out. A lot of people do want to be able to help those in need but may be too afraid or anxious to go out or volunteer in-person, or may be dealing with general issues of life that prevent them from doing so—however, with this feature, helping out is now easier than ever. “Everyone is on TikTok, so it’s simply just a couple of taps away,” states Hummer, recognizing how easy helping out can be, with users being able to support those who need these sorts of services from the comfort of their own home, with barely any effort needed to go into it. The only real issue is getting people to notice the feature and know where it is; in Hummer’s words: “I didn’t even notice the little carrot icon on my profile, nor did I really know what it was, or what it was meant for. I wish I was more curious earlier to have tried to learn what that icon was for, so I could have known about this cool little feature sooner.”

Having this feature on a high-traffic app was an incredible idea, and given what information can be seen, already a multitude of people are helping out. In a donation report, with data spanning from June 7, 2021, to Jan. 19, 2022, just shy of 327,000 people harvest crops in the Garden of Good, each player donated an average of at least 7 meals, 2,860,000 pounds of crops were harvested, shy of 2,380,000 meals were provided, 200 food back in 50 states all received donations from this program, and 90% of the funds were donated to local food banks, with the other 10% being donated to Feeding America. Having not heard much about this feature before the beginning of 2022, there’s no telling how many people are mostly still unaware of this program and what spreading the news of it could do for donation rates. One can only hope that awareness will continue to grow, and if that has to be done one person at a time, then at least there will be consistently just another person being able to help out and add to the incredible numbers of crops raised, harvested, and donated to those who need them the most.

To close, Hummer’s last thought on the TikTok’s Garden of Good is this: “Now that I know about it, this feature has really caught my attention, and I now definitely want to participate in this program and help and support such a wonderful cause.”