Informatics for Community Food Resilience, in times of pandemic and beyond

Good GOATS!

UPDATED UPDATE! We have a website that describes all the of the things we’re up to, as well as a mailing list that you can sign up for to receive monthly project updates. The next Community Call, if you’d like to listen in is going to be on July 1. Here’s a quick run down:

  • We’re interviewing farmers and folks who work in local food within the United States. Learn the basics here
    • If you’d like to participate in an interview, please sign up here or contact me for more information.
    • Help us spread the word! Here are materials to share on your social/email/flyer-your-neighborhood!
    • If you’d like to join the research team, shoot me an email!
  • We’re evaluating software for local foods. Learn more about that work here and contact me if you want to join our effort.
  • We’re developing a process for community food pathway mapping. Learn more here and contact me if you want to join.

Original Post: I trust that you are safe and well. Crises tend to bring things into stark relief. I have been thinking about the effects of COVID-19 on our local food system, in particular, ways in which we can support coordination and collaboration among food producers and consumers within our communities. I’m hankering to be useful so am starting a project on Informatics for Community Food Resilience.

Driven by my research interests in designing digital technologies and technology mediated processes for community food resilience, and my current efforts in building tools for a range of farmers, I’ve written a concept paper and am looking to assemble a team.

Here is the broad plan:

  • Week 1: Human-centered design work to identify critical bottlenecks faced by small scale diversified farmers.
  • Week 2-3: 5 day design sprint. Farmer-centered and community driven design of local food toolkit components, including but not limited to: community coordination processes, triage to tech support process, tools and add-ons to existing tools,
  • Week 3-4: Development of social and technical infrastructure to support community coordination, food distribution, and build rapid prototypes of tools or add-ons to existing tools
  • Week 5 onward: Tech response teams work with farmers, triage their specific needs, port data, set up servers, whatever is needed. Community response teams works with consumers to come together under existing or new food hubs, coordinate distribution and payment etc.

This is a super rough outline and there is plenty of room for wiggle and input. I’m looking for: farmers, designers, developers, researchers, writers, organizers … if you see yourself wanting to contribute in any way, let me know.

I’m also looking for funding for those who will need it but given the timeline I don’t want to wait for that to magically pan out. Also note: funding will first go to compensate participating farmers, then folks who are contributing to the project that are do not have current sources of income.

If you’d like to learn more, sign up here: [old link] I will hold a virtual discussion call, ideally next week, to assemble the team and coordinate next steps.

I’m going to post this on RIOT too. Feel free to share this call to action with anyone.

If this already exists or there are existing efforts we should work with, let me know!

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Hey @sudokita sounds interesting and timely.

I’ve been thinking about tech facilitated community engagement in food growing for a fair few years now, thinking that theres clear potential for people to get a better understanding, also greater control and resilience of their food supply.

I was happy to see, and keen to join, a project that started up in the UK where 40 (later 60) of us contract a farmer to grow grains, while collaboratively deciding what to grow and how to grow it using our Loomio

I’ve found the German form of Community Supported Agriculture - Solawi (Solidarity Agriculture) - particularly interesting/inspiring.

Unlike in most other countries where CSAs are often still very much the enterprise of the grower, solawis are a joint enterprise of a community with a desire to grow their own food.

A few years back I had the pleasure to catch a conference presentation from one of the oldest solawis (20+ years IIRC) where there was talk of a yearly camp/party in the fields & growers who have a short working week, for a very reasonable wage. Much different to my local grower led CSA where the growers work long days for much less than the national minimum wage.

Solawi budgeting is done collaboratively through bidding rounds, participants secretly state their desired contribution to the projected budget. If the budget isnt met a new round is carried out, or budget calculated.

Theres been a European Union funded project, led by Urgenci (the international CSA network) to develop tech for CSAs

That project, Solidbase, carried out an assessment of software tools that could be useful to Solidarity Food Systems (CSAs and food co-operatives). They also developed a budget planning and visualization tool using solid and the Value Flows vocabulary

Interested to hear more about your ideas.

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Fantastic, @sudokita!

I’ve been monitoring (from a distance) the initiatives going on in NYC and the surrounding region to deal with the new challenges of food distribution during this pandemic. It’s been incredible to see the different tech platforms for such distribution, many of which have been gathering momentum over the last several years but were largely still seen as only for early-adopters, suddenly ramping up their capacities, throwing beta and alpha level products into production, and pivoting to face the unforeseen realities this crisis has posed.

I’ll just post a smattering of links here from some farms I know personally (primarily from my work in NYC’s Greenmarket community), and how they’re evolving their operations to meet new demands:

I’d be particularly interested in conducting a more thorough survey of these initiatives, so we could assess where we, the GOAT community, can best position ourselves to make an impact in this rapidly transforming space. I think we could play a unique role as a group that values shared knowledge, transparency and community resilience, so long as we acknowledge our particular strengths and find ways to promote those values amid the existing ecosystem.

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Actually my old colleagues at GrowNYC have already done the survey:

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You should gather strength with Open Food Network.

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Super cool @Darren!

Couple of thoughts/questions:

Value flows looks awesome - the valueflows apple pie story made it particularly clear what they’re trying to do and in my previous work on modeling agricultural systems have gotten stuck on the question of how do you represent a tomato as it transforms from seed to product. I also ended up with a modeling framework (thought somewhat different) and it would be interesting to see how the two can connect.

Putting the link to the Solidbase tools assessment you mentioned here for future discussion reference.

Is the Solidbase app using Valueflows vocabulary?

Both the Loomio link and Solawi concept are super interesting/inspiring indeed. I suspect that in the U.S. community engagement in agriculture is still growing but these are awesome projects to learn from. In particular, I’d love to explore how these types of models can influence the way in which CSA- and CSA-like structures can be tweaked to encourage a more participatory approach.

What might you recommend I read/look at to learn more about Solawi’s in particular? Much of what I found was in German and unfortunately I do not understand German!

@jgaehring Awesome to hear! I suspect both the list you have created and the GrowNYC resource will be valuable for our effort. I’m also down to supplement with a survey of initiatives and hope that during our community call on Wednesday we can get a quick sense of what areas we should focus on first.

So much has already been done I suspect part of our coming work is on bringing information together and providing different groups with a path forward.

@miguel If you know of a way for us to connect with OFN folks that would be awesome. I think someone had mentioned looking into it on the RIOT channel but not sure how far they got.

I could reach out to their US Instance Manager. She and I had a good talk earlier this year about possible collaborations.

I wonder though if we should hold off on reaching out to certain participants (farms, food hubs, online platforms, etc) until we have something we can offer them in return for their time. A lot of those folks are on the frontlines right now, with little time and resources to spare. To show that we’re sincere in our efforts to support them, I would suggest we first prepare some sort of statement of intent, which clearly indicates what they can expect to gain from their participation.

In the meantime, I was reading this article in Civil Eats today:

It brought to mind again a dilemma that faces a lot of the farms and other programs adapting new online ordering and delivery strategies, which is: how to make sure those services reach the most vulnerable communities impacted by this crisis? I know in a lot of the examples I cited above, SNAP recipients are simply excluded. It’s not because the farmers don’t care; most of them are passionate about food access, and none of them want to turn away business at this time. But there are too many barriers to enrolling in the pilot program, which individual farms (or even their intermediary sellers) simply can’t overcome.

Read through the guidelines and see what I mean: https://www.fns.usda.gov/snap/online-purchasing-pilot. It’s no wonder that the only pilot participants to-date are the likes of Walmart and Amazon.

It might be rather ambitious, but I propose one way we could mobilize the GOAT community could be in offering free consulting and technical assistance to smaller online platforms who can facilitate direct sales from farms and food hubs to SNAP recipients in their regional food shed. We certainly can’t do it on our own, but if we can link together the right players, leverage the technical know-how of our community, and “grease the wheels” of government compliance just enough that a few outlets can start accepting SNAP for local fruits and vegetables, that would be a huge impact! It could mean much needed revenue for farmers, while providing safe, affordable access to fresh produce for people who are most at risk in this crisis.

Let me know if that’s at all in line with what others are thinking. It just so happens the CUNY Research Director referenced in that Civil Eats article is someone I worked with a few times at Greenmarket many eons ago. It’s short notice, but I could reach out to see if he or someone from his department would be interested in participating in the Wed call.

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THAT is an amazing idea. I’m 100% onboard for evaluating the technical or organizational needs there. Especially if there’s folks who already do it, so we can see their process from the producers side (rather than just reading the govt. requirements + guessing what it’s like).

We should start a little working group on this, or maybe we could do this as part of GOAT if we do it fully online? Like pick a few projects of this type that everyone would like to contribute to?

I wonder though if we should hold off on reaching out to certain participants (farms, food hubs, online platforms, etc) until we have something we can offer them in return for their time. @jgaehring

I think yes and no: without talking to some of them we might end up going down the wrong path. I’m also working on getting compensation for time spent providing input on what we intend to do. I’m also putting an IRB to make sure that we’re good about time used, compensation, have a clear plan for interviewing, etc. etc. I’ll share more on the Wednesday call.

free consulting and technical assistance to smaller online platforms who can facilitate direct sales from farms and food hubs to SNAP recipients in their regional food shed

@jgaehring

YESSSSS

So in my original post I mentioned "tech response and community response teams. I’m totally on board with this! In the original concept paper I’ve described them this activity to happen in week 2:

Design a triage process to be conducted by a “response” team consisting of local extension educators paired with technical support community members. This triage process must detail how extension educators or farm coordinators can assess a specific farm’s technology needs and capacity, and shepherd them through the process of getting online, with support of technical community members.

and that we would also:

Design add-on features to existing tools and modular open source tools for desired, as yet unavailable, functionality. This work entails the specification of farmer information management needs for implementation by technology developers in Objective 3.

Basically the point of the HCD work is to figure out exactly what the issues are with connecting food producers and consumers: so things like SNAP functionality in a system. I’m currently reaching out to a couple of folks who understand the issues with SNAP a bit better to see if they can join us. I know at least one of the issues is that you cannot use EBT to pay fees - which makes it a pain to implement with a credit card payment system. That’s why at farmers markets they get converted into “tokens” which can be used like cash with no payment overhead. I’m not sure exactly what the guidelines are just yet, but here’s what I had read:

Can I charge an EBT card usage fee to cover the costs of POS device fees?

No. Under SNAP rules, farmers markets and direct marketing vendors may not charge any additional fees (fees over the cost of the eligible food items) to SNAP customers to pay for POS device fees.

Note: This restriction does not pertain to credit and debit transactions. Some markets add surcharges similar to those of an ATM ($1-$3 per debit or credit transaction) to help cover the costs associated with the POS device.
Source

So yes, @jgaehring please reach out to the person from CUNY too :slight_smile: I’m thinking we’ll do several community calls, so if they can’t make this week, let them know we’re going to do it regularly.

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YES! So at least in my current thinking we’d need:

  1. a group to quickly survey the landscape of tools (I’ve started this already and it seems like many others have also)

  2. a group to do the 1-week HCD sprint to make sure we’re taking into account farmer and consumer needs and challenges

  3. subgroups to then work on different projects as identified by group (1). 5 day design sprints or just start building if it’s obvious

then for community engagement and maintenance because this only works if people in their local communities mobilize we’d need two teams for an ongoing period: 1) tech support team and 2) community mobilization teams

Some more links…

First, another good article on the need to accept SNAP from online platforms:

I’ve also been looking at the impressive initiatives taken up by the National Young Farmers Coalition in response to the pandemic:

I think it could be really useful to reach out to them and try to pool our efforts, particularly since they are conducting a similar survey to what we’ve proposed. It would be ideal if our data sets could complement one another, rather than duplicate.

Their resource library is another impressive effort, but particularly their “Guide to Direct Sales Software Platforms”:

I think we’ve talked about compiling a similar resource, but again, it would be ideal not to reduplicate their efforts. Perhaps we could provide additional vetting to their list and help expand it; for instance, we could conduct an audit of the security and privacy profiles of the software systems they’ve evaluated, and add our “seal of approval” next the names of qualifying platforms, or add another column or two to their charts to highlight that criteria.

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Hey @sudokita yes Solidbase uses valueflows vocab

The link for docs on solidbase.info points to the German version.
The English is available at https://learn.solidbase.info/en/solidbase/usage/
This pad of recent testing/user feedback may also be of interest
https://hack.allmende.io/s/solidbase-app-evaluation-user#

What might you recommend I read/look at to learn more about Solawi’s in particular? Much of what I found was in German and unfortunately I do not understand German!

I suffer the same problem, unable to find much in English, and I cant read German (guess theres web translators, but I dont use them much)

The solidbase category in the solawi discourse may currently be the best place to look for bits and pieces in English. Theres a very nice 90 page solidbase ‘booklet’, which has an English version, due out real soon, thats got some more Infos, case studies etc. I’ll share that when its available.

Also been thinking I should try and gather some more Info and write something up somewhere…

The participatory budgeting / bidding rounds are particularly novel.

To speed these rounds up some Solawis use a traffic light system where each member gives their possible contributions in Green, Amber, Red steams - Green being their preferred contribution > Red being the amount they would least like to give, but are still willing to contribute.

The spreadsheet linked from the first post in https://discourse.solawi.allmende.io/t/online-bidding-rounds/416 may illustrate further.

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The booklet I mentioned is available from https://hub.urgenci.net/csa-financial-sustainability/ along with some related webinar recordings. Theres a bit of an overview about Solawis in the ‘Partners and country situations’ section.