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 growstuff_blog_feed and are on Twitter as 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.)
Here’s a roundup of what’s been happening in the world of Growstuff over the last week or so.
Our new advisory board
In case you missed it, the other day we announced Growstuff’s new advisory board, made up of experts in innovation, social enterprise, open data, and more.
Read more about Growstuff’s new advisors on our team page.
Do you, like, like likes?
We’ve been talking for ages about letting people “like” photos and posts on Growstuff, and how we could use that to surface more useful information, better pictures for crops, and so on.
This week we’ve been discussing “liking” posts and pics and especially whether adding tags like “Helpful”, “Funny”, or “Informative” to a like can help us show better information to our members and visitors.
Got an opinion? Weigh in on Growstuff Talk.
First up, congrats to Maco, who became a committer this week. This means she can merge other people’s code into the main Growstuff project. Stop by the discussion forum and congratulate her :)
We’re working towards Release 8 which means we’ll be updating the Growstuff website with a bunch of new features, bugfixes, and backend improvements toward the end of the week.
We need help testing new features! If you’ve got some time to spare this week, join our testing team and try out some of our new features, including:
- Tracking more information about your seed collection, including whether your seeds are heirloom or hybrid, organic, and how many days the seed packet says it’ll be until harvest.
- The ability to search crops by their scientific and alternate names (including in the autosuggest when you’re planting, harvesting, etc)
- Photos of your garden as a whole (not just individual plantings and harvests)
- A massively improved “request new crops” process
- A new content management system (CMS) making it easier for us to update the various pages linked in the site’s footer
Last Wednesday several of us were at Open Knowledge Workshop in Melbourne, Australia, where Alex gave a talk about Growstuff and open food data. Here are a few tweets to give you a taste of the event:
— Cobi Smith (@cobismith) February 4, 2015
Remember: #opendata doesn't always mean open government data (PSI) or scientific research data – citizen collected data counts too!
— Open Knowledge Aus (@OKFNau) February 4, 2015
— datakid23 (@datakid23) February 4, 2015
This week (and every 2nd Tuesday of the month) we’ll be at Melbourne’s Ruby Hack Night. Drop by and say hi!
From around the web
- Real Food Media Contest: watch 10 short films about food, and vote by Feb 27th
- Top reasons to grow your own food (Little Mountain Haven)
- Developing a thirst for urban agriculture (Sourceable) “The Australian dream of a quarter-acre block is now becoming a distant memory.”
- Sustainable agriculture on one of the world’s remotest islands: Hidden Garden Sustainable Farm, Christmas Island (PIP Magazine)
- 5 Native Tribal Organizations Reviving the Sustainable Agriculture Tradition (Sustainable Cities Collective)
We’re looking for a volunteer to regularly curate “This week in Growstuff”. Check out the job description and drop us a line if you’re interested!
We’re very excited to announce that Growstuff has recently gained an Advisory Board. We’ve brought together an international team of people who are passionate about innovation, community, and helping people grow food. Our advisors have expert knowledge in fields including public health, open data, social enterprise, and online collaboration.
The advisory board will work together to provide strategic vision, help Growstuff connect and work with other relevant organisations, and support the project’s leaders in high-level decisions.
Growstuff’s new advisors include:
- Will Dayble: technology innovator and social entrepreneur
- Casey Forbes: co-founder and lead developer, Ravelry
- Annalee Flower Horne: community processes and civic technology
- Robert Kaye: founder, Musicbrainz open data project
- Sheila Pham: public health specialist and communications strategist
- Lydia Pintscher: product manager, Wikidata and free software community builder
- Zara Rahman: project lead for the Open Development Toolkit
- Jenny Scott Thompson: IT professional with expertise in Internet-focused non-profit organisations and inclusive open source projects
- Celine Takatsuno: social entrepreneur with interests in health, data, and humanitarian open source projects
To read their full bios, see our team page.
We’d like to thank our advisors for joining us, and look forward to working with them!
OK, technically it was last week in Growstuff, but I took the weekend off so you’re having it on Monday instead. So here’s a roundup of what’s interesting in the world of Growstuff over the last week, ish.
Hackstuff Ballarat went really well! We visited three gardens including a private veggie garden established two years ago, a community garden, and a second private garden that’s been established more than twenty years. We asked questions and took notes about how each garden is organised, how they track information, and more. Then we adjourned to work on some code, including better crop search and a redesigned homepage. You can see a bunch of photos on the discussion page for the event. We’d like to organise similar garden tours in other cities!
This coming week we’ll be at Open Knowledge Workshop in Melbourne, Australia, talking about Growstuff and open food data. Come join us!
We’re working towards Release 8 which means an update to the Growstuff website with new features in a couple of weeks’ time. See the link above to find out what’s coming down the pipe.
Some of the latest features we’re testing include adding photos for gardens, and improved crop search (looks for alternate names and scientific names, as well as the main name). You can see these on our staging site, or join in our testing discussions, particularly this thread for the features mentioned.
We also seem to be converging on using React.js for frontend/UI improvements. We’re going to experiment a little with it and see how it fits into our code and workflow. Got opinions? Discuss them here.
Over on Github we have a heap of recent pull requests and everyone’s been really active. We’ve recently been encouraging people to post pull requests for works in progress (WIPs) and it’s working really well for us to discuss how to do things. Special props to Marlena for her amazing work on histograms for planting advice — this is an inspiration for the rest of us for quality of code!
Finally, Skud posted some wireframes (i.e. rough sketches) for what the crop detail page might look like in the future, with lots of information on growing different crops, gleaned from our members’ data. Take a look at the discussion and let us know what you think.
From around the web
- An inspiring video about the changes effected by Vancouver’s food policy (Vancitybuzz)
- Save the bees, or people will go hungry! (Takepart)
- How to create a woodland where everything is edible (Financial Times)
- Radical farmers use fresh food to fight racial injustice (Citizen:Modern)
- Have we reached Peak Food? Shortages loom as global production rates slow. (The Independent)
- Bhutan could be the world’s first wholly organic nation within a decade (The Guardian)
We’re looking for a volunteer to regularly curate “This week in Growstuff”. Check out the job description and drop us a line if you’re interested!
A roundup of what’s interesting in the world of Growstuff (and growing stuff), over the last week.
Tomorrow (Sunday 25th), the Melbourne Growstuff crew are heading out to Victoria’s goldfields for Hackstuff in Ballarat — a morning of visiting veggie gardens for research and then, in the afternoon, hacking on Growstuff to improve the website for everyone.
Did you miss…
Last week we posted release notes for a bunch of new website features, as well as this post about corporate social responsibility (CSR) and open source volunteering.
More from around the web
- How reducing food waste could ease climate change (National Geographic): “When it comes to looking for ways to curb greenhouse gas emissions, food wastage is a relatively easy fix—the low-hanging fruit, so to speak—and it is literally rotting on our tables.”
- Will that trip to Havana you’re planning ruin Cuba’s organic farming system? (Takepart): “By the mid-1990s, the government had set out to become agriculturally self-sufficient and therefore combated rapid urbanization by studying and applying cutting-edge, high-yield organic agriculture principles. Today, the system—including the organopónicos—is studied and revered by sustainable food practitioners and proponents.”
- Latest climate change battle may center on food pyramid (L.A. Times): “A revamp of the food pyramid to take climate into account would be a bold step. Despite a major push by the United Nations for countries to rework dietary policies with an eye on climate impact, none has. The Netherlands is expected to be the first when it releases a new chart illustrating food guidelines this year.”
- Open data is finally making a dent in cities (Fast Company Exist): “Throughout the country, we are seeing data driven sites and apps like this that engage citizens, enhance services, and provide a rich understanding of government operations In Austin, a grassroots movement has formed with advocacy organization Open Austin. Through hackathons and other opportunities, citizens are getting involved, services are improving, and businesses are being built.”
- Underground and on rooftops, farms take root in big cities (Christian Science Monitor): “On a cold and rainy Friday afternoon, Steven Dring is tending his baby carrots in a somewhat unusual setting. The green shoots are in a tray of volcanic glass crystals under LED lights – and the tray is in a tunnel 33 meters (108 feet) underneath a busy London street.”
- 8 ways to get developers to start using your data (Forum One): “Keep in mind that opening up your data is an important first step, but you can add even more value by implementing a concerted strategy to engage with developers. It’s not easy work, but it is definitely worth the effort.”
We’re looking for a volunteer to regularly curate “This week in Growstuff”. Check out the job description and drop us a line if you’re interested!
We’re pleased to announce a major update to our website including lots of great new stuff.
- Massive crop upload including brassicas, squashes, mint familiy (Lamaciae) and more.
- Follow other members. You can now follow other Growstuff members. (Note: there are still some improvements to be made to the email notifications related to this.)
- Send out regular planting reminder emails to members (although this has been ready for a while, we’ll finally be switching this on in production with this release!)
- Some changes to the layout of the homepage — we’ve moved what was in the sidebar down into footer links, and given the rest of the homepage a little more breathing room.
- Started to use and manage plural versions of crop names, eg. “tomatoes” rather than “tomato”. This is more complex than it sounds because many food crops have irregular pluralisation!
- Small improvements to the crop detail page to make it easier to find via search engines.
- Added Facebook contact link to footer (alongside Twitter etc)
- Rearranged titles on RSS feeds to make them display better in browser tabs
- Made it easier to specify the date on which a planting was finished, via a popup calendar on the planting detail page
- Improved the flow for signing in, if you try to do something you don’t have authorization to do.
- Improved display of crops on the “Browse crops” page, especially making sure that the text of crops with long names doesn’t overflow and mess up the alignment.
- Show finished date correctly on plantings index page
- Prevent the creation of a garden with a negative number for its area
- Remove unused photos — if a photo is removed from all the plantings/harvests it was being shown on, the photo is now deleted from the system entirely.
- Upgraded our underlying platform to Rails 4! This is a big change, and very welcome, as it brings us up to date technologically. Also bumped our Ruby version to 2.1.5.
- Fixed problems installing libv8 on OSX (much appreciated by our developers!)
Thanks to all our developers, testers, crop wranglers, and others who helped us with all of this, and a special shout-out to new contributors Kevie, Rocky and Justin, as well as Marion, Juliet and Sam whose crop wrangling was a major part of this release!
Does your company have a corporate social responsibility (CSR) program? Do your staff volunteer on community projects as part of it? Do your software engineers or other technical staff offer their skills to community organisations or other good causes?
If you run an open source project, especially one related to a social cause, have you ever invited companies to participate in your project as part of their CSR efforts? How do you make it easy for CSR volunteers to help out?
I’ve had the opportunity to work with a few different organisations that encourage their staff to contribute to open source as part of their CSR efforts, some more successfully than others. Growstuff also works extensively with volunteers with various background and experience, through in-person coding events and through our distributed online community. Here are some of my tips for successfully matching corporate volunteers with open source projects, and working productively together.
For open source projects
Much of the infrastructure to support CSR volunteers is the same as to support any volunteer developer. Consider whether you have:
- A “get involved” document explaining how to join the project.
- A “getting started” document for developers, to help them set up their development environment.
- An issue tracker, preferably with “bite-sized” or beginner-suitable tasks identified in some way, and with as much information as is needed to implement the features described.
- A “how to contribute” document explaining how to submit patches or pull requests, your coding style guide, etc.
- A list of tasks that can be done without setting up a development environment, eg. testing, documentation, wireframing, tool-building, making standalone apps or widgets. (You may also have a list of purely non-technical tasks, but that’s outside the scope of this post.)
- The ability to promptly review and integrate any work that is done by volunteers.
There are endless resources out there about how to make your project easy to contribute to; any project that hasn’t taken significant steps in this direction is probably not a suitable one for corporate CSR volunteering.
Emma Irwin, Community Education Manager at Mozilla and formerly a Participant Architect at Benetech, working on SocialCoding4Good, points out the importance of open source projects sharing the impact of their work.
I think when employees are engaged in the impact of what they are contributing to, then there is already an investment in being successful when they turn up. If employees don’t understand why, then ‘what’ becomes less compelling. For example, volunteering with the Red Cross is obviously a valuable thing to do because most of us grow up learning the impact and scope of of their work. For software projects the challenge is to bridge the disconnect between the software, and the potential enormity for impact. Mifos is an example of a seemingly small project having large-scale impact in the world, and sharing their story is a very powerful way to engage contributors.
Emma also suggests that if open source projects want to find corporate volunteers, they should seek out companies whose CSR mission is aligned with the project’s. She also recommends sharing stories of what CSR volunteers have accomplished for your project in the past.
On a more logistical note, if you’re hosting volunteers for a fixed period, like a one-day volunteering event, you will need:
- A list of priorities or goals for the event. You could tag issues in your issue tracker, or prepare a separate document listing these.
- A mentor or mentors available to provide orientation and to assist developers with any problems. The number of mentors you need will depend on the number of volunteers and their level of experience.
- If you have a “product owner” separate from your technical team, make sure that they are also available during the CSR volunteering time to answer questions about project goals and priorities.
- If your CSR volunteers will be working remotely, you will need a communication channel that is convenient for them to use. (An IRC channel may be fine for volunteers from an open-source-centric company, but may not suit others.)
- After the event, you should report back to the volunteers’ company to let them know what was achieved, and thank them for their time.
It’s important for companies to make sure they can offer useful assistance, and not just a veneer of good works. Short-term volunteers who need extensive training cost an open source project time, and don’t return much benefit.
- Find a project with a good technology match. If you’re a Ruby on Rails shop, look for Ruby on Rails projects that need help, and so on. CSR efforts are often organised by non-technical staff, so make sure you get a technical staff member’s advice on this!
- Make sure your volunteers are familiar with version control (eg. Github) and other open source practices. You may need to provide training ahead of time, or give them time and resources for self-paced learning.
- Give plenty of notice. If you are arranging a specific CSR volunteering event, I would suggest arranging it at least a month in advance, to allow the project to get ready for your volunteers.
- Be flexible about time. Many projects are run by volunteers who have other responsibilities during business hours, or are run by geographically distributed teams in different timezones. Evenings or weekends may work better than weekdays. However, this may be a problem for your employees’ work-life balance; please don’t expect or require them to work unpaid overtime!
- Be flexible about numbers. Ask the project how many volunteers they can handle, and follow their guidance. Too few may not be worth the overhead, or too many may overwhelm the open source project team to the point where they can’t provide mentoring or oversight.
- Offer a venue. The open source project team may be able to come join you in person. You might also like to offer to cover travel and incidental expenses.
- Provide a list of volunteers and their roles/skills to the project well in advance. This will help the project plan work that will productively make use of your people’s skills.
- Put your volunteers in touch with the project team directly, at least a week ahead of time, so that the project leaders can help them get ready.
The time factor
Some companies do once-off annual volunteering days, while others have ongoing arrangements for their staff to work on open source and other community projects.
In my experience of running coding get-togethers for Growstuff’s mostly volunteer developers, here’s what I’ve learned about the amount of time volunteers, especially software developers, need to work productively on a project.
- About three hours seems like a “natural” time to work on a project in one hit. Any more and mental exhaustion sets in. This is the length of time we use for our in-person coding meetups, and tends to be the useful length of our remote pairing sessions.
- A new volunteer who knows the technology platform (in Growstuff’s case, Ruby on Rails), is familiar with Github, and has no trouble setting up their development environment can contribute one or two small features or bugfixes in their first three hour session. They will require about 30 minutes’ mentoring or close attention from a project member.
- That same experienced developer will generally progress to contributing medium-large features by their second or third session.
- A new volunteer who doesn’t know Rails, Github, or who has trouble setting up their development environment will require close mentoring for up to two hours of their first session. By the end of it they may be able to submit a tiny change, such as fixing a typo, and get started looking at a small feature/bugfix. They are unlikely to finish a feature/bugfix in their first three hour session.
- The progress of developers in this latter category depends enormously on their other experience (eg. do they know similar languages/technology stacks?) and their ability to pick things up by reading docs and googling. Good learners with previous experience will typically only take a session or two to catch up.
- You can productively hold multiple consecutive three hour coding sessions (eg. over a whole day or a weekend) if you take long breaks in between, have a good lunch, spend some time outdoors and/or moving around, or switch to entirely different types of thinking from time to time (eg. spend some time brainstorming at the whiteboard, rather than head-down in code). However, productivity — not to mention participant enjoyment! — diminishes with every subsequent three hour session, and diminishes more rapidly the less experienced the participants are, as they have to keep more new stuff in their heads.
- Volunteer developers need to revisit the project at least every month to maintain momentum and remember how to work productively on the project. Long gaps in between sessions means they will need to start over with many things: perhaps reinstalling their development environment, re-fetching the code, and re-familiarising themselves with the project’s layout and processes.
The upshot of this for CSR volunteering:
- If you want to set up a short, once-off volunteering session you will need developers who are experienced with the relevant technologies and with open source practices. They will be able to usefully contribute small features in one three hour volunteering session with minimal supervision/overhead. A well set up project (with “getting started” docs, detailed issue tracker, etc) will make this relatively straightforward.
- If volunteers want to spend a full day (or longer) working on a project, the project will need to make considerable effort to arrange a variety of activities for when the volunteers hit mental overload on the code. This will take time and overhead to plan.
- Inexperienced volunteers (who don’t know open source practices or the technology platform) are unlikely to achieve anything significant in their first session of volunteering, and will take a lot of overhead in supervision and mentoring. If an organisation wants to send inexperienced volunteers as part of their CSR efforts, they should consider committing to at least 3-6 volunteering sessions, no more than a month apart.
- Some open source projects (like Growstuff!) are happy to provide training and mentoring for inexperienced volunteers as part of their own community process: to spread awareness of open source and related collaborative software development processes, to build skills among under-served communities, or in the hope of recruiting some ongoing contributors to their projects. However, companies doing CSR should understand that in this situation their staff are receiving a service (training) while contributing to a fairly indirect and abstract benefit for the project, rather than contributing a direct and immediate benefit.
Emma Irwin pointed out two major problems she sees when it comes to organisations estimating the time their employees will spend volunteering:
Underestimating onboarding time, environment setup, these kinds of things that frustrate people. So a company planning a half day event around code-contribution isn’t realistic (in many cases). Design contribution is probably the exception.
Underestimating employees’ availability, or manager-buy-in. They need to make time for employees. This means clearing it with managers – that this person will be unavailable, and any milestones associated with their work need to be adjusted. Otherwise it’s just added stress, and that’s not rewarding – we have enough of that.
How to connect
The one piece missing here seems to be how find a suitable open source project (if you’re a company looking to volunteer), or how to find a company with a CSR volunteering program (if you’re an open source project).
Two organisations that may be able to help make this connection are OpenHatch, who are mostly focused on helping people develop skills to make their first open source contribution and whose website lists hundreds of projects looking for volunteers, and SocialCoding4Good, which connects volunteers with non-profit open source projects in areas such as civic engagement, crisis response, disaster relief, education, health, human rights, and poverty alleviation.
Unfortunately, most of the (many, many) blog posts and articles encouraging people to get involved in open source are aimed at individual contributors, rather than organisations. If you know of any other good resources discussing CSR volunteering, or connecting volunteers with suitable open source projects, please let us know!
There’s nothing quite as arbitrary as declaring January 1st to be the start of the year. Those of us who grow food know that the seasons shift and vary: long or short, hot or cold, wet or dry, according to far more complex systems than a number on a calendar.
Still, for our northern hemisphere friends, the Gregorian calendar’s new year does mark a time of planning and dreaming about 2015’s garden. I’m seeing more and more people talking about seed catalogs and what they want to plant when the weather warms up. Here in the temperate southern latitudes, our summer is in full swing, with tomatoes and zucchini the most popular topics of veggie-gardener conversation.
Are you feeling inspired by seed catalogs? Overwhelmed by zucchini? Use Growstuff to track what you’re growing and harvesting this year.
We have big plans for 2015.
We’re building a platform to share free food-growing information, helping people all round the world learn skills, become more self-sufficient, more resilient in the face of environmental and economic challenges, and build healthier families and communities.
In 2015 we want to reach thousands more people, collect planting and harvest data from growers on every continent, offer useful growing advice to new and experienced growers alike, foster a collaborative and sharing community, and build an ecosystem of apps and services based on Growstuff’s data.
You can be a part of it.
There are dozens of ways to get involved. Here are just a few ideas:
- Research crops to add to our database
- Run a local Growstuff meetup in your area
- Test our website’s latest features
- Help us tell Growstuff’s story and share it with your network
- Let us know your great ideas for Growstuff’s future
Come join us and help make it happen!
Upcoming Growstuff events
As usual our Melbourne coding contingent are having regular get-togethers to build new Growstuff features. You can join us at:
- Ruby hack night — 2nd Tuesday of the month at Inspire9 in Richmond. The next one will be Tuesday March 10th.
- Hackstuff — last Sunday of the month. This is usually at Library at the Dock, Docklands, but in January we’ll be visiting Ballarat for some veggie garden tours and a change of scenery.
- February 4th we will be at Melbourne’s Open Knowledge Workshop at Thoughtworks in the CBD.
We’ve found in-person events to be one of the best ways to meet people who care about good food, open source software, and bringing the two together. If you’d like to hold a local Growstuff event (either a coding session, or a social get together), let us know!
Information about all upcoming events can be found on our Growstuff events page.
What’s new on the tech front
A quick update on some of our recent progress on the tech side:
- A big change to our process: we’ve moved to Github issues to track features, bugs, and other technical work we want to do. This integrates better with our coding practices, and is easier for new people to participate in, than our previous issue tracker.
- Taylor has led a fantastic effort to upgrade our software to Rails 4, which will lead on to many future improvements.
- Yoong, Alex and Miles have been working on social features, including following other members, improvements to posts and discussions, and better notifications. We’ve also been working on some design for private accounts, and figuring out all the implications of that.
- We have some massive uploads of new crops staged and ready to go, thanks to the folks who attended our London coding weekend, including Juliet, Marion, and Sam.
- Taylor and Maki made a great start on internationalising our website, to allow it to be translated into other languages.
- We’re actively working on building version 1 of our API, as a result of the crowdfunding we ran last year. Thanks to Paul for his work on the initial framework for this!
- Heaps of other features and bugfixes, too many too enumerate here, but a shoutout to our new code contributors Emma, Kevin, Justin, and Wendy all of whom will have code included in our next release.
Thanks everyone for all your work!
Here’s an update on the outcomes of our crowdfunding campaign that finished a few weeks back. Since then, Alex has been travelling and running conferences, so apologies for the slow turnaround on following this up!
In total we raised $6,778 through IndieGoGo, plus a further $500 from Linux Australia who belatedly offered to come in at the “individual sponsorship” level, making $7,278 in total. Sadly, this wasn’t enough to meet our minimum to contract Frances Hocutt to work on the Growstuff API; she’s going to be continuing her work with Wikimedia APIs for the Wikimedia Foundation, and we wish her the best of luck with it!
So, as laid out on our crowdfunding campaign page, we’ll be doing a reduced API project. After fulfilling the various rewards (stickers, tote bags, and so forth) the remaining funds will go toward Alex working on a scaled-down version of the API project through December/January. This will include work towards Growstuff’s version 1 API, and examples and documentation to help people understand Growstuff’s data, APIs, and how they can use them.
Over the coming months you will see:
- Regular blog posts on the Growstuff blog about our API work, to keep you updated on progress.
- API samples and demos will be posted to Github in the api-examples repo.
- Improvements to the API itself, leading to a version 1 API release, will be discussed in our API forum and will make their way to Growstuff’s main code repo over the course of the project. You can also see what work is planned via our task tracker; search for “label:api” to find all API-related work. We’ll be involving the community in this so please do dive in if you’re interested!
- Due to the lower funding levels and Frances not joining us, we’re not able to do the group API workshops we had planned as one of the crowdfunding perks; instead, we’ll arrange one-on-one consultations with people who signed up for this perk, which was originally part of our higher-level “API Partner” perk. For all other API supporters, we’ll be in touch soon to find out more about your API use, technical needs, and how Growstuff’s API can help you.
- For those who signed up for physical schwag (stickers, postcards, tote bags) we’ll be sending these out in December. We’ll email you when they ship.
- To those who signed up for lifetime premium accounts on Growstuff, we’ll be in touch with you, too, to make that happen.
Thanks everyone for your support! We’re looking forward to diving into our API work over the coming months, and will keep you informed as things progress. If you’d like get all the updates as they happen we recommend you follow us on Twitter, like us on Facebook, or follow the Growstuff blog via your preferred RSS reader. We’ll be posting weekly (approximately) with updates.
Today we have an interview with Mackenzie “maco” Morgan, one of Growstuff’s volunteer open source developers. Growstuff is build by a community of developers all around the world; maco lives in Washington, D.C., where she works for a big tech company and is planning an orchard for her new house.
Growstuff is currently fundraising. Support Growstuff’s crowdfunding campaign to bring open food data to to the world!
Hi, maco! Great to talk to you for the blog. So, to start with, what drew you to working on Growstuff? What do you get out of it?
When my friend Skud said she was making an open source site for vegetable gardening, I jumped. I grew up with a mom who made 10 gallons of spaghetti sauce from the garden each summer. It was good timing too, because I was looking at moving somewhere I could garden. This seemed like a fantastic project. But I didn’t know Ruby, the programming language used to build Growstuff, so I held off.
Contributing to Growstuff is working really well for me as an avenue for professional development.
Do you have experience working on other open source projects? Is Growstuff similar or different, and in what ways?
Yes, I worked on Ubuntu for several years while in college and sent in patches to various GNOME and KDE projects, along with the [dreaded?] Linux kernel. I find Ubuntu and Growstuff are similar in their desire to recruit and their helpful attitude in training new developers. It was sometimes more uphill in other projects. On the other hand, Ubuntu was a lot of packaging work, integrating patches from upstream, etc. I didn’t do feature work. I am loving being able to work on new features in Growstuff.
What are you working on right now? Why do you think it’s important/what makes you want to work on that in particular?
Right now I’m working on adding photos to harvests. I want to show off my pretty tomatoes! This is actually turning out to be a bigger task than I really expected because when photos were added to plantings, they were pretty tightly tied together, so I’m having to separate them out a bit and make the photo framework more flexible. At this point, it seems to be *working*, but I need to add some tests around the photo feature to make sure we know right away if any future changes could break it.
Any features you’d like to work on in future, or dreams of things you’d love to see Growstuff do, on the technical side?
I want to work on harvest totals. Right now, we can list our harvests in kilograms, pounds, or ounces, but it’d be awesome to be able to see just how much I got out of the garden total this year.
What’s growing in your garden right now? Or what are your garden plans/dreams/wishes?
I’ve got sweet potatoes, squash, onions, and several heirloom varieties of tomatoes growing right now. I already dug up and ate the potatoes. I don’t think I’ll be planting Brandywine tomatoes again next year unless I get a drip system set up before then, because they turn out to be very sensitive to water levels and crack easily. I’m going to be starting a whole bunch of seedlings from my Opalka tomatoes, though. Several friends have asked for seedlings for their gardens.
The really big exciting thing for this fall is that I’m putting in an orchard in the southeast corner of the yard! I’m going to have 4 dwarf fruit trees and a semi-dwarf almond tree. Hopefully I’ll get that drip system in too. It’d be good for the orchard.
Anything you’d like to say to people who might be interested in the Growstuff project?
If you think of something Growstuff can’t already do, say so. Like any open source software project, we can always use more contributors.
We’re two weeks from the end of our crowdfunding campaign and I don’t mind telling you it’s incredibly hard work — especially when you manage to sprain your wrist and can’t spend too long at the computer!
Here’s how things currently stand:
We’re aiming to get at least $10,000 to have a developer work intensively on making Growstuff’s open food data more accessible and usable by the world, and $20,000 to fulfil our overall goal.
If you haven’t contributed yet, please do so! Here are ten reasons why:
- Growstuff’s database of edible crops is 100% free and open, licensed under CC-BY-SA. It’s vitally important that information about growing food not be locked up in proprietary websites.
- Growstuff’s data is international. Many other food-growing websites are US- or UK-specific, but ours gathers data on how to grow any crop, anywhere in the world.
- We’re edible crop specialists. While there are other open databases of biological species or garden plants in general, we’re the only ones who can tell you about harvesting zucchini flowers or all the different varieties of chilli pepper. Food growing isn’t just gardening: it’s about the use of the crops, too, which means we need different approaches.
- Growstuff is for small-scale growers. Most of the existing open data about growing food is aimed at big agri-business. However, small-scale growers and backyard veggie gardeners are increasingly important to a diverse and resilient food system.
- Growstuff is community-focused. We have a strong commitment to collaboration and transparency, and over a hundred community members from all around the world have helped build Growstuff so far.
- Growstuff mentors and supports new developers through our inclusive open source community. Many of our contributors come to us to learn web development, then go on to jobs in the tech industry.
- Growstuff supports women in technology and open source. Women make up less than 25% of people in the ICT sector, around 10% of executive positions in tech companies, and single digit percentage of open source developers. Growstuff provides a respectful, supportive environment which means that around half of our developers — including those in leadership positions — are women.
- We’re an established project. Many projects for food-growing data are great ideas, but they haven’t built anything yet (and some never do). However, we already have a platform, a database of hundreds of crops, and over 1200 members across 6 continents. We’re not just a flash in the pan.
- We are open data experts. Growstuff’s founder, Alex Bayley, previously worked on Freebase from 2007 until after its acquisition by Google in 2010, and was instrumental in the early days of Wikidata.
- Our API developer’s expertise and experience in working on Wikipedia’s APIs means she’ll bring exactly the right combination of analysis of developers’ requirements, hands-on coding, documentation and outreach. But she’s not available for long — if we want to work with Frances, we have to do it now.
Contribute to Growstuff’s campaign to share our open food data with the world. There are great perks for gardeners and developers, and you’ll be supporting one of the best open food data projects around.
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.
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!
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
Non profit, sustainability, and social enterprise work
3000 Acres: $15720
Non-profit/etc tech contract work: $1365
Other tech contract work: $7520
Total revenue: $31,339
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 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
Marketing and promotion (Sustainable Living Festival, in particular): $190
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
Bank fees: $25
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
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.
Other computer equipment and supplies: $987
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.
Salary (gross): $12,000
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!
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!
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.
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.
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:
- Sign in to Growstuff.
- Go to your settings.
- 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.
- Hit save.
- We’ll look up the location you provided and draw it on our Community Map.
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!
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.
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!
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!
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
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.
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.
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 email@example.com or drop in to #growstuff on Freenode IRC any time.
Looking forward to seeing you 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.)