Since embarking on the OpenFarm project we’ve heard one question asked repeatedly: Will OpenFarm as an organization take any sort of ‘stance’ on what content is allowed to be posted? After discussing this question among our core team for a while, we have come up with a few ideas that we feel good about and want to share with you, our community.
The short answer to the question is: Yes, and no. Let’s get the easy-to-explain part out of the way first. We will remove content that violates our Code of Conduct in some way. Okay, onto the hard part of the answer.
What we as an organization are comfortable with is a ‘pro-sustainability’ stance. We want our members to freely share plant knowledge of all kinds in the hopes that with access to this plethora of information about how to grow food and take care of our environment, we can all live more sustainable lives.
Open to interpretation
However, we’re not comfortable defining or taking a stance on what it means to be sustainable. Sustainability is a pretty vague word that means something different to everyone. What’s sustainable to some may not be to others, and the reasons of why or why not can vary widely. For example: It is generally not sustainable to grow a drought intolerant plant where there is not an abundance of water. Few can argue that. However, that doesn’t mean that the plant itself is not sustainable, or that the Guide for growing that plant uses unsustainable practices. It’s all about context. Let’s look at a more touchy example: Some growers may use GMOs because it is economically sustainable for their family farm, while some consumers think that GMOs are unsustainable for health reasons. Who’s to say who’s being sustainable and who’s not? You really can’t because everyone is using a different definition of the word. And one more example just to drive the point home: There are going to be nine billion people on our planet pretty soon. Some say small organic farming offers the only sustainable future, while others say it will come from a combination of organics, conventional, and even methods like hydroponics and aeroponics that get us through the growth. Concretely defining what is sustainable is tough to do.
And let’s not ignore the practical implications of defining sustainability: We would need to come up with some black and white policies for content takedown. Who’s definition would we use? The USDA’s? The EU’s? Are those definitions sustainable to you? What research or scientific publications would we trust? What quantities of inputs are sustainable and what are not? Who will be moderating our content and curating it? I hope you can see why we don’t want to take a concrete stance on what it means to be sustainable.
Pro-sustainable is not enough
However, we think that being just ‘pro-sustainable’ is not enough. Though we will not define what is sustainable, or healthy, or good, we want to honor the many organizations, governments, and labels that people know and trust to do just that. We’ve come up with a feature idea that we think can help: Tags.
Tags—like food labels—will be applied to Guides in order to inform members of what practices are being used in that Guide. For example: a USDA Organic tagged Guide would mean that the practices in that Guide follow the USDA’s regulations for organic growing. A Non-GMO Project tagged Guide would indicate that the Guide recommends non-GMO seeds. A pesticide-free tag would indicate that no pesticides are being used. What this does is it takes the responsibility of definition off of OpenFarm and keeps it with more established groups, while still providing the information members need to make their own best decisions.
Furthermore, we may build systems to detect the use of chemicals within a Guide. OpenFarm will not take a stance to say if those chemicals are harmful or not, though we will point out which organizations, governments, and labels allow their use and which don’t. At the end of the day, what we hope for is our members to be proactive in using the factual tag information we provide in order to learn about what the different labels mean and what practices they find acceptable or not.
The most sustainable stance of all?
To sum up, we think that the lack of a concrete stance on what it means to be sustainable is a good thing for our community, and also perhaps the most sustainable stance OpenFarm can take. To illustrate why, I’d like to quote one of our core software contributors, Simon, on a rebuttal to the idea of making OpenFarm a site for only certain types of content:
…creating a “niche” website for organic farmers and other farming techniques is part of the problem. [What is] much more valuable is to bring the people who apply different farming techniques together, and create a conversation around those farming techniques, and create a diverse community of people who are trying to figure out the best way to sustain themselves and others. I hope that out of that conversation would come the best possible outcome.
So we ask you, our community of members: What is sustainable to you?