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Josh Nisenfeld

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Open Source Food Supply

Even in my cramped city backyard I found enough room to grow 5 varieties of herbs and vegetables this past summer.

For a moment, picture a city as a huge farm, producing multitudes of crops and livestock. This "city-farm" is of course composed of millions of individual "farmers". These "farmers" are city dwellers that farm. They are teachers, doctors, priests etc...

Having a garden, no matter what size, is actually not that rare in a city. So my neighbor grew some tomatoes, and I grew basil. Who cares? That is by no means a "city-farm".

To get from a few individual, unconnected growers, to a full fledged, interdependent "city-farm", in which all inhabitants have enough completely local, diverse types of food to eat solely through barter, there has to be a main decision maker and coordinator.

This decision maker of course will be a computer based program, because all we are dealing with is plain ol' data.

For example:
Person A is interested in participating in the "city-farm". Person A enters various data, i.e. horizontal and vertical space, amount of sunlight, type of soil etc... Person B then enters the same information and so on, and thousands upon thousands of other people do the same. Once the database is compiled the program then assigns the ideal crops, or livestock to achieve optimal growing conditions in a particular backyard.

THE MORE PEOPLE THERE ARE THAT PARTICIPATE, THE MORE VARIETY THERE WILL BE IN THE LOCAL FOOD SUPPLY.

All the while, data is continuously reported back to the program. Since if a particular purple tomato was in high demand the program would adjust during the next growing season by assigning more growers to purple tomatoes, and less to the yellow tomatoes of which 45 pounds went to waste.

In order for the system to function, it must be kept separate from other forms of trade.If someone decided to pay a plumber in tomatoes this could offset the balance and leave no tomatoes available.

What does everyone think about this?

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    Sep 29 2011: Beware you paddle a lake in search of water.

    There's been loads of progress on this front.

    Search 'spin-farming', and/or 'John Jeavons' for some happy reading.
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      Sep 29 2011: :-)
    • Oct 5 2011: This is really less about growing food, and more about managing the local food supply in the most efficient manner. What John Jeavons did would be difficult in cities.
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    Sep 28 2011: Josh, Great stuff. Lots of good synergy with the "crowd-source food supply" thread I tried to start. I love the idea. I think the success would lie in how you could start and grow this concept over time and how to leverage the appropriate market forces to motivate participation. To get to the ideal "supply and demand" model that you have here, there is a "critical mass" of participants required, so a key question is... how do we grow this idea to get to that critical mass. I think there is some really good lessons in some of the crowdsourcing operations out there (Quirky.com, threadless.com, etc.) where people's participation is rewarded (say some sort of credit that they could earn by both their crop yield or participating in other ways...like distribution.. evaluation... advice... and then that credit could be used toward seed, fertilizer, or other... these credits could also normalize the barter system, like currency for goods, since one green bean might not be equal to one bunch of grapes.
    I also encourage the idea of building on existing gardening community sites where you build on existing social participation and expertise. With an existing community, you could maybe add this "crop matching" software as a pilot that then could gain ground, and flesh out the idea/concept/implementation.
    I do think there are some challenges around delivery, food safety, and quality control... but that is where I like you "local/city" based concept... it seems to operate closer to a "farmers market" type of setup. Maybe this concept could be joined with a weekly farmers market where participants gather in central locations to follow through with on-line community supply/demand agreements that are facilitated by your software.
    It seems you could also have agreements with for profit markets to buy excess from the barter.

    Great stuff!!
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    Sep 28 2011: What about the distribution of vegs/fruits you are growing?

    It can work but we' would still need supermarkets

    I appreciate the idea tho :)
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      Sep 29 2011: Supermarkets are a recent idea. Groceries stores as we know them have only been around since the 20s and in most of that time have remained small. It's only been in the last few decades that we been super sizing our markets. We really do not need them. What we need is a reliable source for our food. This can take place in an open source way as Josh is alluding to, CSA, farmers market and such. As for Meat, you can have a butcher, and a fish market for you r fish. Why does all our food have to come from under one roof.