AdaCamp, listening and emergent ideas from collective spaces

Last week I attended AdaCamp Montreal. AdaCamp’s website describes it as  “a two-day event dedicated to increasing women’s participation in open technology and culture, including open source software, Wikipedia and other wiki-related projects, open knowledge and education, open government and open data, open hardware and appropriate technology, library technology, creative fan culture, remix culture, translation/localization/internationalization, and more.”

Simon, from our OpenFarm team, suggested that I attend and I am really glad that he did. The unconference was enriching and helpful for me both personally and for my work with OpenFarm.

I have a bit of a geek in me, but I don’t program. So working on a team to build an online platform is comprehensible to me, but a bit out of my field. It was so great to connect and converse with people who are passionate about their work in technology, especially other women.

AdaCamp is an unconference. For any readers who don’t know what that means I will break it down a bit. Unconferences are a part of the popular education and OpenSpace Technology movements. Popular education is non hierarchical method of education and a great tool for community development. I would love to go on about Roberto Friere, and the Pedagogy of the Oppressed right now, but for the sake of staying on point, that is talking about my AdaCamp experience, I will just link some keywords for you. OpenSpace Technology was created in the eighties by organizational consultant Harrison Owen. You can read his thoughts on this format for meeting here.

Continue reading AdaCamp, listening and emergent ideas from collective spaces

Making Wins

I spent one hour listening to a talk about Ayurvedic and macrobiotic food movements. Most of the time I didn’t feel like the talk was directly relevant to OpenFarm. In fact, much of it seemed like playful banter and choir preaching. I came to this talk expecting to meet up with an ally who was going to introduce me to a few Cal Poly students. These were students who would potentially be interested in shadowing community members. In my mind they would be the first students to pilot our shadow program, and would glean information from local gardeners and create guides from what they learned. They didn’t show up, however, and my ally said they may not have been quite as interested as she had been led to believe.

So I’m sitting at this talk, hosted by the local seed savers organization, feeling like I’m wasting my time. I didn’t get the tangible outcome I was hoping for (student commitment to join the program) and I’m listening to someone who doesn’t even grow plants. I stuck around for thirty minutes to see if the students would show up, and when realizing they were not going to I contemplated cutting my losses and leaving. But then I realized I would have nothing to show for my efforts. What would I have learned or gained?! These are the questions I often find myself asking as I become accustomed to documenting my successes and challenges. Continue reading Making Wins

A Community of Members, Not Users

OpenFarm is all about community. It is a place where individuals and groups of people come together to share their knowledge in the commons, learn, and connect. When thinking about the people of OpenFarm and how they interact with the website and the rest of the community, we found that the traditional web terminology of users didn’t quite capture everything that these people are. Sure, people are users of OpenFarm the website, but they’re so much more than that. They’re also sharers of wisdom, learners, editors of Crops, creators of Guides, friends of others, and at the core of it all: members of the OpenFarm community. So today we’re announcing that OpenFarm is now a community of Members, not users. Here a few specific reasons why we like the change:

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What Open Source Means to OpenFarm

There are many ties between the Open Source movement and OpenFarm. Although our intention is to empower anyone to be able to grow the plants they desire, there is a larger concept that we have adopted as an organization. Many people have vague notions of what Open Source is (and isn’t) and I hope to expand the understanding of Open Source, especially as it pertains to OpenFarm, to Freedom, and to Accessibility. In other words, I’d like to explain why we put the “Open” in OpenFarm. 

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OpenFarm Inc – A California Non-Profit Public Benefit Corporation

We’re proud to say that OpenFarm is officially incorporated as a California Non-Profit Public Benefit Corporation! Read on to see why we chose this legal entity.

First off, why have a legal entity at all? The answer is for several reasons:

  1. To separate and protect OpenFarm’s finances from our staff’s personal finances
  2. Because we offer a service and because we collect and store user information, we have liability. This means we need legal protection and insurance, of which a legal entity gives a framework for protecting our staff, our users, and the organization
  3. To hire and pay our staff members and pay any taxes due on revenues or other activities
  4. To enable us to partner with other organizations and individuals in a more formal way
  5. To allow the organization to be perpetuated if/when the founding team members move on
  6. To protect the organization from internal conflicts and interests especially related to ownership, intellectual property, and revenues
  7. To formalize the organization’s purpose in a legally binding way
  8. To ensure that any assets and capital the organization owns is in good trust to be used for the intended purpose of the organization

Of the legal entity options available, we considered the ones below and had the following thoughts about each. We ultimately chose the non-profit public benefit corporation based on our analysis of the options and our goals and intentions for the organization.

Continue reading OpenFarm Inc – A California Non-Profit Public Benefit Corporation

Preparing Others to Meet You

Something I took for granted while organizing meetings with horticulture professors or community members in the past month was their level of preparedness for our discussion.

I had planned in-person meetings, and also popped in to office hours to catch people who I thought could help OpenFarm. I would spend an hour mentally preparing for what I was going to discuss, what outcomes I was hoping for, and how to listen and see mutual ground between both of us. I know more about OpenFarm than 99% of the population after all, so I thought I would be adequately prepared for wherever our discussion would go. Instead, I found myself spending half of our time explaining what the heck this revolutionary new technology even was.

“Oh, so you want me to give you a list of places to find information on how to grow plants?”

“Well no, our goal is to encourage people to add that information themselves, and to make it fun, easy and engaging in the process.”

“But that information is already out there. Why are you trying to re-create the wheel?”

“Because it isn’t easy for the average person to find that advice, because most of that information is in English, because we don’t believe that there is only one way to grow something, because people don’t know if a plant grown in our area can grow in theirs.” Continue reading Preparing Others to Meet You

Transitions Conference Survey

Last week I (Kat Ying) attended a Transitions conference at Concordia University, a really active University in Montreal where I live. Some students, staff and organizations at this school are undertaking a big project to transition the food system of this campus to a local, sustainable, with student and community run and owned enterprises. It is a great dream.

So the majority of the people at this conference were people who have a hand in growing food, social enterprise, academics, activists, community organizers and farmers. They are my kind of people 😉 And they are really great people to collaborate on OpenFarm. They have a lot of knowledge and networks to share with OpenFarm; and OpenFarm could be a great platform for them to share their knowledge, work and projects with each other and more people too.

But I wonder how much can they connect to the OpenSource Ethos of OpenFarm? When I first hear about this project I had a lot of questions to ask about opensource. Basically I wanted to know, what makes this a community business, and not just-another-website. But after talking to Simon and Rory about the open source aspect of the website I began to see how we are so aligned. In fact, among gardeners, permaculturalists and community organizers, there is a lot of talk about ‘openknowledge, and openeconomies’ in our work. But I wondered, how much do the gardeners and community builders who could really use OpenFarm know and understand opensource and the creative commons as is meant for web site developing and intellectual property online? Especially since these are big tenets of the OpenFarm project? Continue reading Transitions Conference Survey

Network for Networks

One of the core and inspiring principles of OpenFarm is the Open aspect. I work in community development and gardening. This project has brought me into another magical realm of human creativity, the internet. Through this I have come to see how gardening, community organizing, and the internet are structurally analogous, networks. In all three the strength and the value grows when we network, and even more, when we share. In all three there is an inversion of how a capitalist system creates value. The more you hoard, the less abundant and valuable your product becomes. The more you share, the more you network, and the more you network the stronger and more abundant the products of the network become.

In Gardening and Farming we work with the soil. A couple weeks ago I attended a great conference about soil to kick of 2015 as The Year of Soil. The panel was almost as diverse as the complex substrate we were celebrating. An indigenous seed saver, a social entrepreneur, an artist, a local organic farmer, a social organizer, and a soil scientist. The social organizer called herself a soil worker. I found this a powerful metaphor. I like this thought of people and micro-organisms being functionally so similar, linking living things, structures, organizations and aggregates that together weave a complex, mysterious and wonderfully habitable space. Continue reading Network for Networks

Navigating the Networks in Your Community

Without community participation, OpenFarm would be a mere shell. It must be fleshed out by the people it is designed to serve. So who are these people and how do you connect with them?

I was recently invited to an event through my Facebook network that was geared towards connecting and encouraging collaboration between social entrepreneurs, green businesses, non-profits, healers and farmers. It was hosted by a man I had only ever seen on Facebook, but that some friends had met. He is a self proclaimed lover of laughter yoga, creating space for deep conversations, and social connection. He is the kind of person who (over)zealously posts on Facebook, leading many of his friends and followers to think he’s spamming them. Perhaps its a generational thing. Nevertheless, Rob (let’s call him Rob) is a valuable ally for the community developer. Rob represents the hub that has the potential to connect you to the far reaches of his wheel of influence and connection. Continue reading Navigating the Networks in Your Community