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Announcing Farm 2.0

Posted by Theresa Schumilas Jun 30, 2015

Farm 2.0 is a ‘short form’ that describes a series of projects designed to link software developers and designers with ecological/organic growers and sustainable food hubs.  Through these projects software designers will gain a better understanding of the problems and challenges faced by sustainable farmers, processors and food hubs. (sustainable food literacy).  At the same time,  people advancing sustainable food movements will work alongside programmers and designers to try to figure out how technology can help them with the problems they are facing (technological literacy). 

Smaller scaled organic and ecological producers are trying to build community around their farms and squeeze out a living in a landscape where farms keep getting bigger, products are more distant, retail is more consolidated and marketing is laden with ‘green washing’. These producers are being supported by ethically-minded consumers, academics and policy-makers. A diverse ecosystem of sustainable food hubs and networks, oriented toward building food systems that are more local, fair and green is coalescing in Canada.

However, so far, internet and communication technologies have not figured prominently in forging food system solutions.  One reason for this is that ecological and organic producers have historically favoured low tech,  hands-on and artisanal practices and the high tech world of the internet seems a long way from weeding carrots and seeding cover crops. While it seems counterintuitive initially, I believe that much can be gained by bringing these ‘low tech’ and ‘high tech’ worlds closer together.  I wonder if these groups can these groups help each other to think 'outside of the box' and spur the development of new technologies that will advance sustainable food systems.

When you stop to think about it,  the low tech of ecological farming and the high tech of internet and communication technologies have a lot in common. 'Farm 2.0' is an extension of 'Web 2.0' which generally refers to how the world wide web has transitioned from being a collection of individual websites with static information,  to the web as a network of interactive computer platforms and applications. It seems like we are seeing the same processes occur as sustainable food hubs and networks continue to pop up all over the country. Farm 2.0 and Web 2.0  are based in a similar set of values such as democratization, empowerment and sovereignty.  Where ecological farmers protect the 'terrestrial' commons through their production methods,  developers protect the 'technological' commons through open source coding. 

Over the next two years,  as part of a postdoctoral fellowship with the Laurier Centre for Sustainable Food Systems,  I will be launching a number of projects and experiments to try to bring these two groups together and see what they come up with.

As a first project,  I am working toward launching Open Food Network (OFN) in Canada.  OFN is a non-proprietary,  open source marketplace platform. The program is designed to be very flexible.  In essence,  it is an on-line marketplace that builds relationships among farmers, hubs (aggregators) and consumers through a set of really easy to use tools. Launching it in Canada would mean that smaller scaled producers and food hubs would not have to pay fees for proprietary software development. I am currently looking for ecological/organic  producers, small scaled processors and food hubs that want to experiment with the platform.  I'm also trying to connect with  developers who are interested in lending support,  and partners who can help fund a series of sustainable food hackathons  to launch the project.

But of course, building sustainable food systems requires more that markets.  We need to change our policy environment too. Internet and communication technologies have a lot to offer the sustainable food movement in this regard. So a second project is helping ecological/organic producers, processors and food hubs develop greater literacy with on-line social change and campaign platforms. To get this started,  I hope to organize a series of 'boot camps' focusing on current sustainable food issues such as:  pressing for national food policy in Canada,  seeking labelling for GMOs, supporting restrictions on neonicotinoids, supporting farmworker justice,  and so on.  I'm looking for organizations and food hubs who would like to partner with me on this project,  and social media power users who want to help put together the boot camp.

 As the work unfolds,  I will be using the Nourishing Communities website to share stories,  host interactive blogs and generally act as a portal to related events and campaigns. 

If you want to get involved -  just email me your idea. (tschumilas at rogers.com)


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