As a part of our Community Development plan we are hosting a variety of community events. We want to reach out to the communities of people growing food. We want to know who they are, what they need and how an online platform like this can help them. We also want to reach out to tell them about us, our project, and what we need from other people. I personally believe, and have seen in past work with community organizations, that mutual aid is essential when we start proposing new frameworks, new strategies and new ways of working together. Community development is about relationships.
I organized two events in my home city Montreal, QC. Before creating these events I asked myself:
Why Should an online site host real life events?
And what kind of events should they be?
What will OpenFarm get out of these events?
What are the goals?
How will I try to achieve them through this event?
How will I measure success?
OpenFarm is about connecting people. For OpenFarm to know what it’s value is to the community of Montreal, we need to jump in and start talking, asking and listening. We need to be physically present in the kinds of communities we are reaching out to. But we can’t just go in and say, “hey look at this website, you want it, you need it, start using it” That would be marketing, which I am sure has a role to play, but it isn’t what I do. I am working as a community developer, and in community development it is all about relationships. Feedback facilitating, respectful and helpful relationships and co-creative processes.
I believe that the value of social capital is emergent and comes from an organization implication in, contribution to, and perceived utility by a complex social network. It isn’t accrued in a vacuum, or in a lab, or a factory, it isn’t a product, and it can’t owned by one proprietor. Because the only way one person or organization’s social capital can grow is by partnering and aiding another person or organization. It is born and sustained and regenerated through interdependence and mutual aid.
This is especially true for an organization like OpenFarm. OpenFarm is proposing to hold a space for communities to collaboratively create a database of information. The information that will be held by OpenFarm exists in the minds and collective knowledge sets of existing communities. The usefulness of this ‘product’ will only be measured by those same communities or new budding communities who will access it. At the same time that we are ‘data-mining’ our neighboring communities of food growers, we are also inviting them to join this space and contribute to a collective project, and we are also promising a future product that they will benefit from, if and only if we all get on board. Getting them on board is a goal with many catch 22s. So, time to jump in!
So far I have hosted two events. A conversation night and a guide creation night.
1. Conversation Nights
The first public event that I hosted was a conversation night. This was intended to be an opportunity to spark a conversation that includes OpenFarm, but that also expanded beyond OpenFarm. It was a chance to hear what our community members and potential users think and care about. It was a chance to get OpenFarm out there in the world. It was a chance to embed OpenFarm in a general community conversation.
The topic for the conversation was Social Media and Sustainability. The first event was held at Coop Le Milieu. I chose this space because of personal and strategic reasons. I was one of the co-founders of this space, and it has a very dear spot in my heart. Also, it was a great community organizing organization that acts like a node in a network of Montreal community organizers, permaculturists, DIYers and more. They already have a huge network connected to them. Hosting the event at this space lends OpenFarm a huge social network to publicize the event, and even just OpenFarm.
Le Milieu is also a non profit organization. So in vision and in business structure it is aligned to OpenFarm. This makes it a more suitable venue, that say chuck-e-cheese or a for profit cafe. Interestingly co-op le milieu is a solidarity coop. A part of the solidarity coop by laws is that a solidarity coop must invest in other solidarity coops. This can be through donations once a year, or through prioritizing the services of a solidarity cooperative over other businesses. I think that this, as a business law in Quebec for all solidarity cooperatives, is really rad. Like by law, you have to support each other. OpenFarm is a Non-Profit organization, but not a cooperative. However, given the nature of opensource and the nature of a collaborative database, the principles of mutual aid are still at the core of OpenFarm. For example, OpenFarm licences everything under the creative commons, which is like a legal mechanism to enforce mutual aid and sharing. And the ethic around opensource also steer towards mutual aid and sharing. Acting from similar principles, and inspired by this Quebec Cooperative Law, I choose to support an allied and non profit organization.
I publicized the event through Facebook. Coop Le Milieu has many followers and their facebook is used primarily to publicize events on the calendar. I also invited people from my own personal network. 42 people said they were attending. 3 showed up. C’est comme ca des fois. Of courses I felt confused when I realized no more people were arriving. But I held on to the principle of OpenSpace and popular education that whoever is there is the right people.
We had a great intimate discussion and we ate a lot of food. One person was a co-founder of a cooperative business that works with OpenSource technology. They are also venturing out to learn how to grow their own food. It was great to talk to them in depth about their business model and their ideas about OpenSource.
When I got home there was an invitation to speak about OpenFarm on a Montreal radio show about Urban Agriculture, Par La Racine. They heard about OpenFarm through this events publicity. So in the end, even if those 39 others didn’t show up, their buzzing produced something substantial for us. Thanks little bees, for spreading the news 🙂
2. Guide Creation Night
Another failure, but there were lessons to be learned. Well, what can I say, no one showed up.
I invited a select group of people. People who had expressed interest in volunteering for OpenFarm and people that I knew had a high level of knowledge about growing food.
20 had confirmed they were coming. Nobody came.
One possible reason was a lack of mutual aid. There didn’t seem to be much in it for them.