[sticky entry] Sticky: Welcome to Growstuff

Sep. 7th, 2012 09:09 am
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Growstuff is a community of food gardeners working together to build an open source platform to track, share, and discuss edible gardens and sustainable lifestyles.

This is the Growstuff Dreamwidth community, where you can discuss anything Growstuff-y with other Dreamwidth users.

This community used to be a general/more-or-less official communication channel for the project, but now we have an official Growstuff Blog (aka [syndicated profile] growstuff_blog_feed and are on Twitter as [twitter.com profile] growstufforg so if you want the official scoop, that's what you should be reading.


If you're interested in getting involved in Growstuff as a volunteer, the first place to look is our project wiki (includes more information about software development process, other info on ways to get involved, etc.)
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Originally published at Growstuff Blog. You can comment here or there.

Hey everyone! I’m very excited to have just launched our first crowdfunding campaign.

Check out this video, where I talk about the importance of open data for food growers:

We’re raising money for an intensive project around our API (Application Programming Interface), to help more people use Growstuff’s data for more purposes. We’re going to focus on improving our technology platform, building demos and examples, and helping developers and researchers use Growstuff’s data to build apps, study growing trends, and more.

Here are just a few examples of the things that are possible using Growstuff’s open data:

  • A harvest calculator to show you how much money you save by growing food
  • A plugin that automatically posts your garden activity to your blog
  • Emailed planting tips and reminders based on your location and climate
  • A map showing how food-growing patterns change over time in a region
  • A website combining Growstuff’s data with other sources of information, such as nutritional or climate data
  • Data visualisations and infographics about growing patterns
  • Web apps, mobile apps, apps embedded in specialised hardware gadgets — anything is possible

We need to raise $20,000! Please help by contributing to the campaign over on IndieGogo. Perks include awesome Growstuff schwag, workshops, and other great stuff.

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Originally published at Growstuff Blog. You can comment here or there.

Another financial year has passed since I posted Show me the money in July 2013, and I thought it might be good to post about our financial situation over the last 12 months.

The original goal, as that post explains, was to make Growstuff be self-supporting through paid memberships. Growstuff, the website, paid for its own immediate costs throughout the year, which is good. However, Growstuff-the-company had a bunch of other expenses, including paying me (Alex) so that I could live. In aid of this, Growstuff-the-company has been getting into some other projects throughout the year, as well as running and improving Growstuff-the-website. See below for details!

Revenue

Here’s the breakdown of Growstuff Pty Ltd’s income for the financial year 2013-2014:

Growstuff website-related income

Growstuff subscriptions: $1294
Permaculture Victoria grant (harvest benchmarking): $1500
Awesome Foundation grant: $1000

Subtotal: $3794

Non profit, sustainability, and social enterprise work

3000 Acres: $15720
Non-profit/etc tech contract work: $1365
Training: $3000

Subtotal: $20,085

Other

Other tech contract work: $7520

Total revenue: $31,339

income pie chart

Pie chart showing a breakdown of Growstuff’s income throughout 2013-2014.

To explain the biggest item on the list: 3000 Acres is a website for people in Melbourne, Australia, to find vacant land to grow food. I met their founders in late 2013, and talked to them about Growstuff’s open source work. They liked what we were doing, and so asked me to help them build their site using similar tools and processes. 3000 Acres is built, in part, on Growstuff’s code, and shares many features with Growstuff under the hood. In return, some of its features are making their way back into Growstuff. The funding for my work on 3000 Acres came out of a grant provided by the VicHealth Seed Challenge.

I also worked on a couple of other non-profit projects including the wiki of appropriate/sustainable technology, Appropedia. Finally, I was one of five trainers at the Fitzroy Institute of Getting Shit Done, helping aspiring social entrepreneurs to understand technology and especially why open licenses are important for social enterprise and sustainability.

In addition to this non-profit/social enterprise/open source work, I did a small amount of commercial contract work that was not open source (at a higher contract rate — non-profits and open source projects get substantial discounts when I work for them.)

Expenses

Expenses of running the Growstuff website and dev community

Computer software/services – production (Growstuff website hosting, DNS, etc): $484
Computer software/services – support (hosting for dev community, backups, etc): $856
Online payment processing fees: $64
Design: $1500
Marketing and promotion (Sustainable Living Festival, in particular): $190

Subtotal: $3094

Just a note that the design work was some branding/logo work I contracted in 2013 but which stalled for various reasons — we’re just starting to use the designs that were done back then!

General business expenses

Accountancy and bookkeeping: $1,972
Business registration etc: $739
Insurance: $484
Bank fees: $25

Subtotal: $3220

Office expenses

Business premises (coworking space/virtual office): $2,035
Business premises (home office rent reimbursement): $936
Telephone and Internet: $1,506
Printing and stationery: $246
Misc office supplies and equipment: $385

Subtotal: $5,018

For most of the financial year, I had a coworking membership in Melbourne costing $220/month. When I moved to Ballarat, I switched to a virtual office that’s $55/month, and primarily work from my home office — my rent for which is reimbursed by Growstuff, the business, based on a percentage of floorspace.

Computer equipment

Laptop: $1,852
Other computer equipment and supplies: $987

Subtotal: $2,839

Travel

International: $2604
Local: $634

Subtotal: $3,238

The international travel was for a trip to the US during which I attended three different conferences relevant to Growstuff; I received a travel grant from one of the conferences which paid for my trans-Pacific airfare, but had to cover airfares within the US, accommodation, meals, etc.

Local travel was mostly train fares between Melbourne and Ballarat for meetings with clients (eg. 3000 Acres) and other events, plus a few taxi fares for various reasons.

expenses piechart

Pie chart showing a breakdown of expenses for the financial year 2013-2014


Salaries etc

Salary (gross): $12,000
Superannuation: $1,100

Subtotal: $13,100

Just a note that for most of the financial year I was also being paid by the government under the New Enterprise Incentive Scheme, so my gross personal income for the year was closer to a grand total of $22,000. Woohoo!

Other

Repaid to self: $1,000

I put $1500 of my own money into the business early on; I paid back $1000 and still have $500 outstanding.

Grand total of expenses: $28,415

Reflections on running Growstuff for a year

The cost of running Growstuff, the website and community, for a year was $3,094. During the same year, it raised direct revenue of $3,794. So, in short, Growstuff subscriptions and the grants I received to work on it covered all our immediate expenses with a little left over ($700 to be precise), but didn’t pay anyone for their time.

When working on Growstuff, all our features are assigned points according to how much work is involved, eg. 1 point for a minor change, or 4 points for a significant new feature.
Over the financial year 2013-2014 the Growstuff developer community completed 80 points’ worth of work on new website features, as you can see in our task tracking system.

Using the Growstuff website’s $700 profit as a base, that’s about $8.75 of income per story point. If we were to pay developers for their time, a pair of coders working on a 4-point story — which typically takes at least a few hours of pair programming — would get around $17.50 each for it, and that doesn’t count paying testers, crop wranglers, and other community members involved in the process. Obviously this is not a reasonable rate; it’s not even minimum wage.

At present, my own work on Growstuff, and the infrastructure I use to do it (office space, computer equipment, Internet access, etc), are subsidised by my contract work on other projects, mostly in the sustainability/social enterprise/non-profit sector. Other people — our volunteer community — likewise offer their time without payment, and this time is in effect subsidised by their own jobs or income streams.

Unfortunately, expecting free labour of open source contributors discriminates against those who aren’t privileged enough to have a steady income stream and plenty of free time (without second shift work at home) to do it. This isn’t what we want for Growstuff: we want as broad a community as possible to participate.

Volunteering on Growstuff is not entirely uncompensated: we offer training and mentoring for developers who are new to coding, to Rails, or to open source — especially those from groups underrepresented in the field — and many of our volunteers have gone on to paid employment (or found new jobs) after working on Growstuff, often with a reference from us. However, I want the new financial year, 2014-2015, to be the year we start to pay people real money for working on Growstuff. As suggested in Ashe Dryden’s excellent post about the ethics of unpaid open source labour (also linked above), we’ll be looking into contract work opportunities and paid internships/traineeships. Stay tuned for more details very soon!

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Originally published at Growstuff Blog. You can comment here or there.

Today we updated the Growstuff website and have a bunch of great new features, including:

  • A crop “suggest” widget, instead of an unwieldy dropdown, when you are planting, harvesting, or saving seeds
  • We now show the most popular crops on the crop browse page, by default, rather than showing them in alphabetical order.
  • For those of you not on the metric system, you can now record your harvests in ounces
  • A couple of features for the benefit of our volunteer crop wranglers: we’ve made it easier to add scientific names to crops, and provided a list of other crop wranglers on the crop wrangler homepage.
a selection of commonly planted crops including bell pepper, mint, and rosemary

Showing some of our most frequently planted crops on the first page of crop results.

We also have a couple of bugfixes:

  • Fixed a bug with harvests where “pints” were being recorded as “pings”
  • Fixed a broken link on the contact page

And under the hood, our developers have improved our code by:

  • Upgrading to Bootstrap 3.2 (this is our front end CSS library, that makes the site look and feel the way it does)
  • Improved our test coverage by about 6%

Lots of good stuff here! Huge thanks to the many developers, testers, and other contributors who helped out with this release. You can see it all live on the Growstuff website.

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Originally published at Growstuff Blog. You can comment here or there.

One of the key goals of Growstuff is to provide local growing information based on what you, and people near you, actually plant and grow. Real information from real gardeners is more accurate than seed packets and gardening websites that use only the broadest of brushstrokes for climatic and other conditions.

To set your location in Growstuff:

  1. Sign in to Growstuff.
  2. Go to your settings.
  3. Enter your location in the field provided. You can be as specific or as vague as you like, but most people name the city, town, suburb or neighbourhood where they live.
  4. Hit save.
  5. We’ll look up the location you provided and draw it on our Community Map.
A map showing Growstuff members, mostly in North America, western Europe, and Australia. There are also a few members in South America and Asia.

This map shows the locations of hundreds of Growstuff members who’ve already told us where they are.

When we know your location, we can use it to tell you what’s going on nearby:

  • What’s the best time to plant this crop in your region?
  • Who’s harvesting what, right now?
  • Does anyone nearby have seeds they’re willing to share?

Local information is a key part of Growstuff. Please help us help you by setting your location!

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Originally published at Growstuff Blog. You can comment here or there.

Since this project started we’ve used mailing lists such as our Discuss list to talk about Growstuff-the-project. Discuss is a place for developers, testers, and volunteer contributors of all stripes to chat to each other and keep the project moving forward.

Unfortunately, mailing lists have a lot of problems. For instance, you have to commit to being a member — going through a multi-step signup process, which isn’t the most user-friendly — to be part of it at all. For another, members sometimes find the flow of email too much and switch to “digest” mode, but then have trouble replying to particular threads they’re interested in. And the archives are far from friendly, and it’s hard to link to a thread and ask someone to contribute.

On the plus side, everyone has email, it works on everything from desktops to phones, and there are lots of tools to manage your email (for instance by filing messages into folders automatically) if you know how to use them. Email lists have a long history in the open source community, and many open source developers prefer them.

Growstuff wants to encourage everyone to get involved in how the site is built. We want you all to be able to suggest features, report bugs, improve our data, use our API, help with testing, and have a say in how our community is run. Some of us feel like mailing lists are hindering this goal.

Around the time we started, there was a brand new project also starting, called Discourse which aimed to replace antiquated web forums and mailing lists with something more modern and engaging. One of our community suggested we use it for discussing Growstuff, or even integrate Discourse into Growstuff itself, but the time wasn’t right for that, as it was too new and untried. Now Discourse has released Discourse 1.0 and it’s stable and full-featured enough for us to revisit it.

I’ve set up a trial Discourse installation called Growstuff Talk. You’re invited to come and look and see if this is a platform you’d like to use to participate in the Growstuff volunteer community.

screenshot of Growstuff Talk, showing threads categorised as Development, Testing, and Meta

A screenshot of our nascent Discourse discussions.

Here are some of the features of Growstuff Talk:

  • New and active conversations are right on the front page.
  • Anyone can browse and read topics, and see what the Growstuff community is doing to build our site, our data, and our community.
  • To participate, you can sign in with Twitter, Facebook, or various other options.
  • It’s easy to link to individual conversations, or to categories of conversations, and share them with others who might be interested.
  • If you like email, you can choose to get email notifications of new topics, and reply to topics by email as well — you can do almost anything from within your existing email client.
  • For our coders, there’s syntax highlighting, which makes pasted source code easier to read.
  • It works great on your phone or or other mobile device, too.

Read more about Discourse’s features on the Discourse website.

We have a one week free trial, so we’ll be playing with Discourse until next Thursday, September 4th. After that we’ll decide whether to continue to pay for a hosted Discourse server (it’s not much, but it’s silly to pay for it if we don’t like it.)

Please join us over the next week, try out Growstuff Talk, and let us know what you think!

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Originally published at Growstuff Blog. You can comment here or there.

If you’re anywhere in the vicinity of Melbourne, Australia, please join us for a Growstuff working bee on Saturday, August 30th, at the Electron Workshop in North Melbourne.

We’ll be working on all aspects of the Growstuff website, crop data, and community. Whether you’re a coder, designer, writer, tester, data wrangler, or a gardener with experience to share, we would love to have you there.

We’ll be at it all day, and you can show up for part or all of it depending on your availability or interests. From 10am-12:30 we’ll be working, then breaking for lunch and some social time, and working again from 2-6pm. We’ll have all sorts of jobs to be done, for people with all skill levels.

There’s more information on the Growstuff wiki, including transport, accessibility, and information on the work we’ll be done. If you’re planning to attend, please register so we know how many people to expect!

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Originally published at Growstuff Blog. You can comment here or there.

We’ve had some busy times over the last few months, and thought it was time to bring you up to speed on what’s been going on with Growstuff since we last sent out a newsletter, as well as what’s coming up.

Growstuff Hack Night in San Francisco, Wednesday June 18th

First of all, a quick note to those of you in the San Francisco Bay Area — we’re holding a hack night on the 18th, for anyone who’d like to help improve Growstuff, or build stuff with Growstuff’s API or open data.

What’s a hack night? It’s an evening when we get together to build and make stuff in a hands-on way. It’s participatory, fast-paced, and fun.

It’s for developers, designers, data geeks, or anyone at all who’s interested. No experience necessary — we can pair you up with someone or teach you, or if you know about growing food and are happy to talk about how you do it, we can definitely use that expertise!

Interested? Find out more information on the Growstuff Blog.

We’ll be in Portland at the end of June

Skud will be attending AdaCamp and Open Source Bridge in June, so make sure to say “hi” if you’re going to be there!

New features on the site

We’ve recently added a handful of new stuff to the site, including:

  • Crop search! This much anticipated feature makes it easy to find crops from wherever you are on the site. Try it out.
  • Roots and tubers: you can now plant vegetables such as potatoes from “root/tuber”, which was previously missing from the list. Thanks to one of our newest volunteer developers, Maco, for this improvement :)
  • We’ve replaced our maps. The old map provider stopped offering services to smaller websites, so we’ve switched to Mapbox. We apologise for the short period when the map on our Places page was out of action.
  • New crops: some of our recently added crops include Good King Henry, several varieties of kiwifruit, hazelnut, snap pea, cowpea, and
    romaine lettuce. If you find crops missing and would like them added you can request them here.

3000 Acres

Over the past few months, Skud has been working on another open source food-growing website based partly on Growstuff’s code. Check out 3000 Acres, which is helping residents of Melbourne, Australia find vacant land to grow food, and build communities to grow it with.

Since the two projects share an open source license, Growstuff also benefits by being able to re-use some of the code from 3000 Acres, so you can look forward to us picking up a few new features from them, as well.

That’s all, folks!

Stay in touch by following us on Twitter — we love to hear feedback and suggestions any time.

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Originally published at Growstuff Blog. You can comment here or there.

Are you in the San Francisco Bay Area next week? I’m visiting town for a bit and the fab people at Double Union feminist hacker/maker space are hosting a Growstuff Hack Night for us.

When: Wednesday June 18th, 2014, 6:30-10pm

Where: Double Union, 4th floor, 333 Valencia St, in the Mission District. More info here.

Who: Anyone interested in building open source software for food growers! New developers and non-developers welcome; we’re happy to teach, pair you with someone more experienced, or help you find a non-coding project to work on.

Food: We’ll order food that fits the dietary needs of folks who come (veg*n, gluten free, etc).

There are heaps of things to work on, but some possibilities include:

  • Extending our crops database to include even more forms of edible plants (we need researchers and data entry folks for this!)
  • Displaying more visual data about how and where things are grown, including maps and charts (designers! front-end folks!)
  • Adding features like wishlists, email notifications, better social features, or better seed swapping.
  • Improving accessibility and/or responsive features.
  • Using the Growstuff API to build apps, plugins for other software, or other cool toys.
  • Analysing the data available so far from Growstuff’s gardeners, to understand how food is being grown around the world.

For those of you hoping to hack on the Growstuff code itself, you’ll need to set up your development environment. If you’d like a hand with this, ahead of the hack night itself, we’ll be at DU tomorrow night too (Thursday, June 12th) from 6:30pm and are happy to give you a hand. Or drop Skud an email at skud@growstuff.org or drop in to #growstuff on Freenode IRC any time.

Looking forward to seeing you there!

Skud

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Originally published at Growstuff Blog. You can comment here or there.

For those who use the Gregorian calendar, happy new year! And for those who celebrate holidays around this time, I hope you had good ones.

After a slow December, we’re back in top form for 2014, and keen to make Growstuff the a fantastic resource for veggie gardeners worldwide.

Join our online gathering, Wednesday 8th January

We’d love you to join us for a chat on Wednesday the 8th of January, to talk about Growstuff’s plans and directions for 2014. We’ll be doing this as part of our weekly gathering, which is held every Wednesday at a different time (to allow for people in different timezones). This week’s gathering is at noon UTC, aka:

  • Noon on Wednesday, UK time
  • 7am on Wednesday, US east coast time
  • 4am (sorry!) on Wednesday, US west cost time
  • 11pm on Wednesday, Australian east coast time
  • Or find your local time anywhere else in the world.

Our gatherings are held on IRC (a free chat system used by many Growstuff people). If you’re already familiar with IRC, we’re #growstuff on irc.freenode.net; if not, join the chat here… all you have to do is choose a nickname (any short name to identify yourself, such as your Twitter handle or similar) and connect to the #growstuff channel.

Looking forward to seeing you on Wednesday!

(And if you can’t make it, there’ll be other gatherings in other timezones in future.)

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Originally published at Growstuff Blog. You can comment here or there.

How much does your garden produce? You can now track your harvests, as well as your plantings, with Growstuff.

We’ve just rolled out the first set of harvest features, including:

As a bonus, we’ve also made CSV downloads available for our entire crops database as well as plantings and seeds.

This is the form for adding harvests:

harvest form

Adding a harvest of beets on Growstuff

As you can see, you can keep track of your harvests in both everyday units that you might use in conversation — individual vegetables, bunches, handfuls, baskets, bushels, and more — as well as by weight, in either metric or US/imperial measurements. We hope that very soon we’ll be able to say “Growstuff members have harvested 500kg of produce this month” right on our homepage. Harvesting is the flip side to the plantings we’ve been tracking since we began, and at least as important — if not more so!

permaculture melbourne logo

This work on harvests is part of our 2013 Roadmap and has been done in collaboration with Permaculture Melbourne, as part of their Harvest Benchmarking project.

There are more harvest features yet to come. If you’d like to help us build them, check out our new Getting Started guide for developers.

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Originally published at Growstuff Blog. You can comment here or there.

Last night I checked my voicemail and heard a message that started with garbled static and ended with “… we’d like to give you one thousand dollars!” Of course I called them straight back. “Hi, I have no idea who I’m talking to, but apparently you’d like to give me a thousand dollars?”

It turns out that Growstuff is the latest recipient of a no-strings-attached Awesome Foundation grant from Awesome Melbourne. They offered to deposit it in Growstuff’s bank account or hand it to me in cold hard cash, but assured me that whichever I choose (spoiler: it’ll be the boring but sensible bank account) there’ll still be an opportunity to get photos of them presenting me with a humorously oversized cheque. I’ll be sure to post the evidence here when that happens.

Thanks to all our volunteers and members who helped get this far, and who continue to be awesome every day!

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Originally published at Growstuff Blog. You can comment here or there.

How much food can you produce in a home garden? How efficient is small-scale food production compared to mainstream farming? Can you live off what you grow in an ordinary suburban block?

permaculture melbourne logo I’m very excited to announce that Growstuff is going to be collaborating with Permaculture Melbourne on a project to study how productive home food gardens can be. It’s called the Harvest Benchmarking Project, and Permaculture Melbourne have received a grant from Department of Families, Housing, Community Services and Indigenous Affairs to do it. At first they were asking gardeners to use pencil and paper to track their harvests, but with Growstuff’s help, they’ll be able to gather data online, not just from their members locally, but from Growstuff’s members worldwide.

“We want to find what the best gardeners can produce on their plots of land,” says John McKenzie from Permaculture Melbourne. “This becomes a benchmark for their area. The benchmarking project is hoping to indicate the power of urban gardening. If 20% of households could grow at the benchmark rate, then how much food could an urban community produce? We think it’s a huge amount. We think there’s an urban food production industry waiting to be recognised.”

A teenage boy weighs a basket of greens

Weighing harvested vegetables using a digital luggage scale.

Growstuff’s work on this project will be partly funded from Permaculture Melbourne’s grant, but we’re also fundraising from our wider community to support it. If you’d like to contribute $10 or more, join Growstuff then buy a paid membership quoting the code HARVEST2013 when you checkout. We are hoping to raise $1500 or more, which will help keep Growstuff running and make free, Creative Commons licensed harvest data available long-term.

Growstuff folks might recall that harvests were already listed on our roadmap for 2013. From our point of view, what this project means is that we’ll move harvests to the top of the list, and that we’ll have a real use case to focus on, which will help us understand exactly what to build.

For the next month or so, we’ll be working alongside Permaculture Melbourne to build the following features into Growstuff:

  • The ability to record harvests through a simple web form, much as you can already track what you’ve planted on Growstuff.
  • In addition to tracking your harvest of any of the almost 300 crops in our crop database, you’ll also be able to track “other” crops that aren’t yet available on our systems (this will also be applied tracking what you plant).
  • Harvests will be shown alongside plantings on the site, for instance on our crop pages.
  • Tracking the size of your garden (in square metres or feet) to help calculate productivity.
  • You’ll be able to download a CSV data dump of all harvests across the site (you can open this in Excel or the spreadsheet app of your choice).
  • Harvest data will also be available via our API and RSS feeds.

We expect that you’ll be able to sign in and track your harvests in a matter of weeks. To be notified when it’s ready, sign up for Growstuff or follow us on Twitter.

All our code is open source and of course is available on Github, or if you’d like to see how it’s all proceeding, search for “label:harvest-benchmarks” on our task tracker.

For more information, contact Alex/Growstuff at skud@growstuff.org or John McKenzie/Permaculture Melbourne at research@permaculturemelbourne.org.au.

And remember, to support this project, Buy a Growstuff membership using referral code HARVEST2013.

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Originally published at Growstuff Blog. You can comment here or there.

Meet Andrea, the Goat Lady

Andrea, who goes by GoatLady on Growstuff, took some time out to talk to us about farming, the politics of growing your own food, and some advice for newer growers:

Growing your own food should be joyful. If all you ever want to do is grow some basil in a pot on the window sill, or a boxed mushroom kit in your closet, that’s ok. The important thing is that growing food shouldn’t make you feel anxious, overwhelmed, or inadequate. If it does, then let yourself back off, reassess, and find your joy.

goats

Goats chowing down on a young spaghetti squash. (c) Andrea Chandler

We also talked about the politics of “homesteading” and of growing your own food:

To take control of your own food to the extent you can is an act of taking back power. To then freely share your surplus is another radical act in a capitalist system. It’s also a profound act of caring for another person; sharing food is one of the oldest, most fundamental ways we have of sharing good will.

Read more (and see more pics of Andrea’s adorable goats) on the Growstuff blog.

Support Growstuff for just $10

Growstuff runs on membership subscriptions. This month, we’ve dropped the price of an annual membership to just $10 — and that’s Australian dollars, so we’re talking about $9 US, 7 EUR, less than 6 GBP, or, well, see for yourself. Peanuts!

We’re working on exclusive features for our paid members, which we’ll be rolling out soon. (The first will be the ability to “share a garden” with co-gardeners, such as your family or the other members of a community garden, giving them access to edit and plant things in the garden you share.) If you want to support this, and all the other work Growstuff does, buy a paid account now.

More crops for our crops database

We’ve added a bunch of new crops, including nectarines; the fragrant perilla aka shiso; Australian native midgen berry; red and white currants; perennial, bi-colored Okinawan spinach; and scallions, including the Welsh onion variety that’s most often found in Western markets.

If you’re growing any of these, tell us about it, or list your seeds to share.

These new crops bring our crop database to 292 distinct varieties of edible crop. Got any we’re missing? Request new crops in our support forum.

What else is new?

We’re always improving Growstuff and adding new features. Some of our recent changes include:

  • Our new places page shows where all our members are. It’s a simple use of our location data, but now we’ve got the infrastructure in place, we’ll be able to do other maps showing things like where a crop is grown, what’s growing near you, and more.
  • We’ve also improved our location-based member search, see eg. members near Roanoke, Virginia. We’ve added a map, and you’ll now see which members are closest to this location in order of distance.
  • The geodata used for our places pages has also been added to our API; see the docs for information on what you can access programmatically.
  • We’ve added “bulb” as a propagation method for new plantings.
  • We added a crop hierarchy page, mostly of use to crop wranglers but potentially of interest to our members at large. We will be adding more varieties of crops in the coming weeks.
  • We’ve added helpful text in various spots around the site, including on the new planting page.
  • You can now sign up for this newsletter when you sign up for Growstuff, or via your member settings page.

You can see what we’re working on now at tracker.growstuff.org, and if you’d like to get involved, join our discussion mailing list.

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[personal profile] skud

Originally published at Growstuff Blog. You can comment here or there.

Last week I had the great good fortune to interview Andrea, who goes by GoatLady on Growstuff and blogs at The Manor of Mixed Blessings. Andrea lives on a small farm in the Virginia Piedmont with 50,000 honeybees, nine goats, five cats, four dogs, two rabbits, two turkeys, and a very understanding husband who does the heavy manual labor.

goats

Goats chowing down on a young spaghetti squash. Photograph (c) Andrea Chandler

What do you grow at the Manor of Mixed Blessings?

Different things every year! As a little background, because of abuse by a previous owner (he sold the topsoil on the entire 2.5 acres) we have terrible soil. It’s heavy clay with no nitrogen content — as in, when we ran soil tests to see what amendments we might need, the nitrogen test registered nothing.

Because we’re committed to growing our vegetables without synthetic fertilizer or pesticides and trying to build soil simultaneously, every year is an experiment and every year we discover a new variety that does well for us. This year we saved seed from Cherokee Trail black beans and Seneca Red Stalker corn. We also managed a bumper crop of spaghetti squash, a lot of which went to the goats and chickens. It was our first time for a fantastic potato crop, and with the addition of a bee hive our strawberry crop exploded.

We would have had peas except rabbits got through the fence and selectively ate every. single. freakin. pea plant. And then they went for the sweet corn seedlings. And the lettuces.

I’ve just planted a fall crop of lettuces, about 8 different varieties, to see what thrives now that the rabbits are too big to get through the fence. And rabbit season opens in November.

What I’m looking for are the crops that thrive here with little to no intervention from us. Some people like a very high-involvement growing style, but for me personally I want things I can drop in the ground, water in, and then forget about until it’s time for me to eat them.

Ditto with our chickens. I’m less interested in having “purebred” chickens than I am in having a flock that reproduces itself naturally and thrives on free range, including being resistant to parasites and able to evade predators. I want chickens that can put meat and eggs on the table without constantly needing medical attention, and that means carefully selecting individual birds to stay in the flock.

I spend most of my time with the goats, because goats are incredibly charming and lovely to be around. Since my goats are well socialized to people they’re very personable, to the point of demanding hugs and cuddling. Even with them, though, I’m not really interested in maintaining purity of breed. Goats will be happier when they’re healthier, and artificially limiting the gene pool isn’t really conducive to breeding hardy, healthy goats. I keep dairy goats, and because they have shows for conformation like dogs do, you see animals who look pretty but have very poor parasite and disease resistance, and hooves that need constant attention. Meat goat producers have a much healthier attitude, since they want goats they don’t have to fool with. I made the decision this year to use a Baylis line Spanish buck, a meat breed strain that’s incredibly well-adapted to conditions here in the US southeast, because as I go forward with my herd what I want more than show-winning dairy looks are goats that are hardy, adaptable, and easy to care for.

milking a goat

Milking time for Ambrosia. Photograph (c) Andrea Chandler

You say you prefer the term “farmer” to “homesteader”. Can you tell us a bit about that?

I know “homesteader” is the trendy word for agrarian self-sufficiency these days, and it’s also apparent that here in the US the movement is so white it’s painful. Native American friends pointed out to me that “homesteader” means nothing good to them as it carries the weight of the US history of colonialism and genocide.

I also have problems with the way “homesteader” tries to make a very white, affluent, suburban movement out of the skills that poor rural people, including or maybe especially people of color, have been living for a long time now. We rural, working-class Southerners in the US have been derided for some of the very same practices that affluent suburban whites are now repackaging as “homesteading”. My grandfather got pulled out of school when he was seven and the Great Depression hit. He taught me what wild plants are edible, and I’ve added to what he taught me since by talking to older people and studying sources like the Foxfire books. And now that’s “wildcrafting” and the cool thing to do and it drives me up a wall that people are claiming to “rediscover” it as a “lost skill”. It was never lost, but calling it picking greens and learning it from a southern man with a second grade education just isn’t as cool as “rediscovering wildcrafting”. The very word makes me grind my teeth.

Plus the kind of small-plot agriculture that “urban homesteaders” tend to push for is this very specific, clean, pretty, romanticized thing. This is why backyard chicken ordinances often specifically ban slaughter — it’s dirty and messy and bloody and disturbs people’s sensibilities. “Urban homesteading” also ignores the fact that unless you’re being very, very careful and thoughtful, many of the practices will actually raise your carbon footprint rather than lowering it since you’re having to bring everything in.

I prefer “farmer” because it’s a more neutral word that is perfectly descriptive of what I do. I think people have this idea that a farm has to be tens of acres if not hundreds, specialized in one crop, and run like a business. Historically, though, that type of industrial monoculture ag is a recent, aberrant invention. A farm doesn’t have to be a business, and it definitely doesn’t have to be some huge thing specializing in one crop. And being a farmer for me acknowledges that a lot of what I do is dirty, messy, and even gross.

So between the implications the word “homesteader” holds for my Indian friends, who I cherish, and the personal irritation the movement causes me as a descendant of poor rural Southern folks, I want no part of the word.

What makes a “farmer” anyway? How much do you have to grow to cross over from “gardening” to “farming”?

Oh gosh, if we’re talking plant matter I probably don’t qualify! We do better every year on vegetables and fruits but we’re not where I want to be just yet.

We do however have the goats and chickens, so I produce our dairy and eggs and some of our meat here while my husband brings in cash money working outside the home. We let our hens hatch a clutch of eggs when they feel like it, and the extra roosters go into our freezer after they’ve gotten big enough to make the work of processing them worthwhile.

I think if you’re making a major contribution to your own diet, go on and call yourself a farmer. Even if your farm is a set of containers on your apartment’s patio. I’d really like US society to get away from this notion that farming is some mystical romantic thing that happens over there somewhere, because I think it contributes to problems with the food supply.

You often tweet about social justice and political issues. Do you think producing your own food is a political act?

It really, really is. Unless you’re fairly wealthy here in the US, you’re going to be buying produce from God knows where, grown under mysterious conditions, and tended by workers who are exploited and brutalized. If, that is, you can find and afford fresh produce at all. To take control of your own food production is a powerful act of rebellion for people who are relentlessly told that only organic heirloom produce is morally good but can’t afford to buy it. We could never afford to buy goat milk, cheese, or butter (seriously, the butter goes for around US$30/lb, about US$60/kg) at the store, let alone free-range heritage breed eggs and chicken (because they free-range I can’t swear the eggs & meat are organic because I have no idea what all the chickens are eating). Next year, Lord willing and the creek don’t rise, we’ll have home-grown turkey for Thanksgiving and Christmas, and heritage birds raised free range sell for upwards of $100 as a dressed carcass around here. Nor would we be able to afford to buy organically grown heirloom produce.

I also don’t sell much at all of what we produce, because for me it’s about disengaging from capitalism. I prefer to barter it for things we don’t grow or make. My neighbor on one side has a way better vegetable garden than we do, but no chickens or goats, so a lot of informal trade goes on there, and during the summer when the hens are in full swing I’ve been known to hand out eggs to anyone who expresses even a vague interest. At the height of summer the flock gives us nearly a dozen eggs a day, and there’s only so many quiches, custards, puddings, and fritattas a person can eat.

To take control of your own food to the extent you can is an act of taking back power. To then freely share your surplus is another radical act in a capitalist system. It’s also a profound act of caring for another person; sharing food is one of the oldest, most fundamental ways we have of sharing good will.

In short, I think the current capitalist industrial agriculture is taking us nowhere good. Not everyone has the opportunity to produce their own food, but when you can and do it can be an enormously political act of opting out of a broken system. It can be a powerful act of asserting that you and your community will not sit quietly and take whatever food the system allows you to buy.

What misconceptions do you think people have about producing their own food?

That it has to be this huge complicated commitment and a lot of work! You don’t have to go whole hog, and you don’t have to be an organic growing purist. I would encourage people to be thoughtful about the choices they make and try to understand all the ramifications, but if that means you end up using synthetic fertilizer or pesticides, or using a motorized tiller to break up your soil, I don’t think you deserve derision. A grower’s time and energy are a finite resource, and deserving of conservation if that’s what you need to do.

Growing your own food should be joyful. If all you ever want to do is grow some basil in a pot on the window sill, or a boxed mushroom kit in your closet, that’s ok. The important thing is that growing food shouldn’t make you feel anxious, overwhelmed, or inadequate. If it does, then let yourself back off, reassess, and find your joy.

sunflower, beans, and zucchini

Volunteer sunflower, Cherokee Trail black beans, and grey zucchini all happily sharing a garden bed. Photograph (c) Andrea Chandler.

The misconception that annoys me most personally is a by-product of the urban chicken movement. City people want some chicks to raise, and because sexing chicks is notoriously inaccurate, or because they decided to hatch eggs, they wind up with roosters that are often illegal for them to keep. Then they assume that a rural farmer would just love to give those extra roosters a loving pet home. We really wouldn’t. For assured fertility you need one rooster to ten hens. We do not want to buy your extra rooster and the odds of finding someone who will take a free rooster and not eat him are slim. I recommend that backyard chicken keepers who don’t want to eat their extra roosters themselves buy young hens rather than chicks, which is the only way to be assured you won’t end up with an unwanted rooster.

What’s your favourite weird thing to grow and eat?

Plenty of people think I’m weird for drinking goat milk, but I find that’s because they’ve only tasted pasteurized goat milk from a grocery store, which tastes like you’ve just licked a buck goat. Because I can guarantee my goats are healthy, we drink their milk raw. Without pasteurization to denature the various proteins and without having the cream extracted and added back in low amounts compared to what’s there naturally, it’s sweet and rich.

Day lily buds are another favorite of mine. They are such low effort plants, and give a very tasty return for no effort beyond planting the original roots. I try to leave about half the buds to flower and feed the pollinators, but it’s difficult!

daylily buds

Day lily buds, about to be cooked. Photograph (c) Andrea Chandler.

(Read more about how to cook and eat day lily buds on Andrea’s blog.)

What’s your favourite gardening tool or resource?

My favorite tool is a good knife. It comes in handy for everything, from trimming trees branches back from the fence line to digging up taproots from invasive plants like pokeweed. A good pair of gloves is another must!

There are a lot of great knowledge resources out there. I’ve learned a lot from backyardchickens.com forums, fiascofarm.com for goat care (although I ultimately disagree with their position on herbal treatments), honeybeesuite.com for bees (of course) and the books Mini-Farming and The Thinking Beekeeper. Although I do feel honor-bound to warn people that Mini-Farming is really, really dry and somehow even manages to make compost sound boring, which is difficult.

My favorite material resource is poop! The goats, chickens, and Angora rabbits all contribute. I deep-bed the goat stall, so we end up cleaning it out only about three times a year. What we get is a couple hundred cubic feet of mixed goat poop, pine shavings, and straw. That goes into a big pile where it can get rained on and the trees can drop leaves on it, and the chickens start working it over. They’ll break up any big pieces, keep the straw from forming thatch, and contribute their own poop. Periodically we put it back in a big pile, turning it as we go. After 6-12 months, we have this incredible rich black dirt.

Rabbit poop, meanwhile, is one of the very few kinds you can just toss directly on the garden without composting it first. I dump the rabbit pans into a bucket and take it straight out to the vegetable beds. With our soil as nitrogen-deprived as it is, the rabbits are a huge help!

What advice would you give someone who wanted to get a few acres and farm like you do?

Know what you’re getting into! In some rural areas you can kiss cheap reliable internet and television service good bye, for instance. Ask yourself if you can really do without pizza delivery and other urban conveniences. Rural life is very differently paced from urban life, and there just isn’t the social expectation of privacy that city-dwellers have.

Really think through how much agriculture you want to get into. While plants won’t cramp your style, nor will chickens with a well-designed coop and an adequate supply of feed and water, once you add dairy animals to the mix getting more than a day trip vacation becomes an enormous hassle. Animals in milk have to be milked out on the schedule you’ve established for them or you start risking things like mastitis. If you find someone who will do the milking for a reasonable fee, treasure them like the jewel they are.

You will be out there twice a day to care for dairy animals, every single day, no matter what the weather. I’ve cared for goats in the tail end of a hurricane, in snow storms, on days of record heat and record cold. You pretty much have to have a religious calling to be happy doing dairy animals.

Also livestock is frequently gross. I’ve done fun things like cut a maggot out of a baby goat’s side (he recovered just fine and is now a treasured pet elsewhere), clean a wound on a chicken that exposed the back of her skull (she’s still with us), and perhaps most memorably I’ve been forearm deep in a goat to help reposition a kid while she was giving birth. And my glove split. Everyone survived the experience, happily, but it’s one I could have done without. I buy better gloves now.

Probably the best thing you can do is find someone relatively local who’s doing what you’re interested in and see if they’re willing to talk, or even let you come out for a look at how they do things and a chance to get hands-on experience. Just remember that it’s perfectly fine to make your own way. Take the techniques that are useful to you, that let you grow food joyfully, and let the rest go by the wayside.


Thank you, Andrea, for your time!

If you grow your own food, whether you think of yourself as a farmer or a gardener or anything else, why not join Growstuff to track what you’re growing, share seeds, and connect with other growers?

skud: (Default)
[personal profile] skud
It's been a while since we had much posted here (mostly it's happening either on the mailing list or on Growstuff itself) but I just posted this on my own DW and thought it would be good to repost it here:

So, this happened. Yup, Growstuff is open to the general public! It might look pretty much the same as it did a couple of weeks ago, but the difference is that we finished the things that we said needed to be in place before we publicised it more widely. Those were, basically, the ability to add photos to the things you've planted (which subsequently show up on crops), and a shop/payments system so that people can buy memberships to help support the site.

That is a *major* milestone, and we pushed it out on Thursday night my time, so for the past few days I've been a) keeping an eye on the server, and b) taking a breather over the weekend, which means c) this week is my TELL ALL THE PEOPLE week when I really start promoting it.

So, if you have a vegie garden (or would like one) you should come sign up, and also tell your friends.

Yes, it's still a work in progress, and will always be. We have heaps more things to do, but the next run of features are mostly relatively easy and happy-making ones, so that'll be nice :) Also, if you'd like to learn Rails (or just to code, generally, or would like to help us with testing or whatever) most of the discussion happens on the mailing list. Our next "call for coders" (i.e. raise your hand and say you're interested, and we find someone to show you round) should happen next weekend.
skud: (Default)
[personal profile] skud
So, we have a launch date... or at least a launch month... for opening Growstuff to the general public. It will be around May, and we'll be having a "seed account" sale similar to the one Dreamwidth had. As part of this, we'll be offering tshirts and other schwag to those who buy seed accounts at a certain level.

We're looking for an artist to help us design these shirts and other items. This is a paid gig.

We have a basic idea of the design we'd like (it involves hand-lettering, swirling branches/vines, fruit and vegetables) and the technical specs for it. We're open to digital art or traditional media, as long as it's printable -- and yes, our printer does full colour and all that. We'd need the final artwork by April 1st, but definitely want to have some time for drafts/revisions before that.

If you're interested, we can send you more detail. Just email info@growstuff.org with a link to your portfolio or where we can find some of your art (fanart is fine! Dreamwidth links are fine!). Bonus points for sending us a link to the single piece of your work that you think best matches what we'd be looking for.

Please feel free to signal boost!

Yay us!

Jan. 16th, 2013 10:18 am
skud: (Default)
[personal profile] skud
Just a quick note that Growstuff was selected as one of the winners of Pinboard's startup incubator. The $37 will be mildly useful, but the advice and promotion of the project will, hopefully, be much more so.

Big thanks to everyone who has helped make Growstuff so successful so far :)
skud: (Default)
[personal profile] skud
Hey everyone,

As part of my application for a government program that will give me some cash to work on Growstuff, I have to demonstrate that people would want to use it.

If you've got 5 mins, could you please take this very quick survey: http://www.surveymonkey.com/s/GZCNK9K

If you have another 5 minutes *and* you're likely to be a paid user of Growstuff, could you drop me an email (to skud@infotrope.net, addressing me as "Alex") telling me, in a paragraph or so, that you'd pay for this service and why? For instance: "Dear Alex, I would definitely pay for this! I've been wanting some kind of journal or tracker for my garden for a long time..." (or whatever is appropriate to your situation).

These emails will be included in my application but won't be published anywhere else without your consent.
skud: (Default)
[personal profile] skud
Yipe, it's been a while since I posted an update here. Apologies. I've put it on a todo list so I'll remember to do it more often in future. In the meantime, if you want to keep up with the day-to-day workings of the project, once again I will remind you about our mailing list, which you can subscribe to at http://lists.growstuff.org/mailman/listinfo/discuss. It'll send a confirmation message to make sure you want to subscribe. Some people have found this ends up in a spam folder (especially on GMail) so if you think you subscribed but aren't getting anything, check there.

Anyway, news!

We are now starting iteration 4. We've switched to Pivotal Tracker for our project tracking, and you can see what we're working on at http://tracker.growstuff.org/ We're also recruiting developers for this iteration, so if you want to work on code and stuff (and yes, we'll teach you!) you can find the details here: http://lists.growstuff.org/pipermail/discuss/2012-November/000469.html

If you'd like to see what we've done so far, our dev website is up and running at http://dev.growstuff.org/ You can actually sign up for an account if you are so inclined, but be warned it is very sketchy at present and doesn't do much. That will change soon!

If you want to point people at a site for general information about the project, we've recently changed http://growstuff.org/ to point to our wiki, which has an increasing amount of information about the project. Please spread that link far and wide!

We've also decided to run weekly gatherings on IRC for everyone to get together and talk about the project and generally get to know each other. They're not compulsory or anything, but since IRC presence tends to be a bit intermittent and timezone-dependent, it seemed like a good idea to have one time in the week when more or us will make an effort to be there at the same time. Details here: http://lists.growstuff.org/pipermail/discuss/2012-November/000468.html

Finally, there's been some discussion about the terminology we want to use for people who use the Growstuff website. You can see a mailing list thread about it here: http://lists.growstuff.org/pipermail/discuss/2012-November/000470.html (click "next message" a few times to see the whole thread, or go up to http://lists.growstuff.org/pipermail/discuss/2012-November/thread.html to browse via the thread index). In short, the following terms have been vetoed:

* "users" (has a slightly dismissive/negative feel to it, also technical conflict with underlying software)
* "customers" (too corporate smarmy)
* "people" (doesn't allow for accounts held by groups/orgs/etc)

The current preferred suggestions are:

* "members"
* "growers"
* "gardeners"

This terminology would be used in our URL structure, for instance /whatever/ would point to a page where you can search for people using the site and see who's recently joined or active or whatever, and each account would have a page /whatever/name, eg. /members/Skud or /growers/Skud or /gardeners/Skud.

So, quick poll!

Open to: Registered Users, detailed results viewable to: All, participants: 21


What do you think we should call those who use Growstuff?

View Answers

members
8 (38.1%)

growers
7 (33.3%)

gardeners
6 (28.6%)

other (I'll comment below)
0 (0.0%)



I don't think people who are anonymous (i.e. not logged in to Dreamwidth) can vote, so if that's you then you can either sign in with OpenID, or just leave a comment below.
skud: (Default)
[personal profile] skud
Just wanted to let everyone know some good news for iteration 1. You will recall that our stories for this iteration were:

4: Dev website
6: Signup/login
13: Attractively styled
14: Footer links
15: Description on dev website
16: Self-hosted wiki

It's now Wednesday, about 10 days after coding work started, and about 4 days til it ends on the weekend. At this point, we have the following tasks completed and merged into our dev branch:

6: Signup/login
13: Attractively styled
14: Footer links
15: Description on dev website

Thanks to [personal profile] cesy, [personal profile] randomling, and [personal profile] pozorvlak for their work on these.

[personal profile] juliet and I have been working on the dev site deployment story (#4). It has progressed a lot -- a BIG lot -- but we're not quite there yet. However, I'm starting to feel reasonably good about us maybe getting there soon. Fingers crossed.

That leaves the self-hosted wiki, which was a bit of a stretch goal, but we might get lucky there.

In addition to this, we've had some excellent work on infrastructure:

- [personal profile] randomling's helped us get a hosted hack server set up (for those who can't develop rails apps on their own machines, or want an easier way to get started -- more on this next iteration)
- [personal profile] pozorvlak and [personal profile] cesy have got us using use HAML (a preprocessor that makes writing views easier/less verbose)
- [personal profile] pozorvlak has set up continuous integration using spork (which I have yet to test and respond to the pull request, but it's looking good from what I can see.

So, this is all looking like excellent progress so far! I think we're going to get most if not all of our stories done for this iteration, as well as lots of good background work, so get ready to give yourselves a pat on the back for that come the end of the iteration.

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