Socially Networked Farm – Roger Ingalls
I have visited the farm of the future, it was a mind-blowing experience. Shockingly wonderful, this place presented a roadmap of what could be and gave me a sense of relief and hope that a healthy, happy and properly nourished community was possible in a peak-oil economy.
Like many of the out-of-towners visiting the farm’s Produce Bazaar, I was mesmerized by the sheer variety of fruits and vegetables. There were forty-nine different types of tomatoes—I’ve never tried more than five varieties in my whole life!
The bazaar had question after question popping from my mouth. Again, the choices and coordination of the place were astonishing. Finally, the lead attendant at the info center, probably out of frustration, sent a text message to the farm’s operations manager asking if he could rescue her from the interrogation. He, Joe, would end up spending the next four hours with me—he was rightfully proud of the farm and enjoyed explaining the inner workings of the operation.
Here’s the amazing part; the farm is a co-operative enterprise of over 500 micro-farms, all within a single metropolitan area and all located within three miles of one another. This is an urban farm co-op organized around community gardens, commons, business rooftops, balconies and warehouses but most of the produce comes from residential farms (converted lawns).
Front Yard Farm
The micro-farms sell and barter their goods seven days a week, all year long, at a nearby land commons that is the home of the Produce Bazaar. It resembles a typical farmers market but is much larger and centrally organized by a command and info center. The bazaar is set up much like a wagon wheel with the command and info center serving as the hub.
The co-op organizes and markets using social media. Twitter and Facebook pages give a daily update on which farms will be at the bazaar and what produce will be available. As the micro-farms check in with the bazaar’s command center in the morning, they are assigned a location and their produce is listed on the website. A map of the bazaar is actively updated minute by minute showing produce type and where it is located and all this info is tweeted to interested followers. Phone apps are available so you can create a shopping list and a map of the bazaar is generated showing you where to go to pick up or view your produce of interest. The apps can be used to forward your shopping list to the command center and a runner will pick up the goods and have it ready when you arrive—for a small fee. The farmers also use social media to send and receive customer info, such as, how a particular crop is progressing, when it should be available and also to ask what produce customers would like planted in the future.
Approximately 90% of the produce is organic. Synthetic fertilizer is only allowed in closed-looped farming systems, such as, hydroponic operations. This is allowed because balcony and rooftop farms are best suited for hydroponics. Any product that is grown using synthetic fertilized is labeled as non-organic. Absolutely no synthetic pesticides are allowed.
With so many participants, food is abundant and the variety is unlike any market anywhere. The produce is also inexpensive because most of it comes from converted residential lawns. The former lawns cost the homeowners money to water, mow and fertilize and there was no financial payback. Now the residential land grows edible crops so money is made from sales and the expenses are used to lower the tax burden because the farm is a business.
The co-op had a profound impact. Past becomes future as neighbors talk, farm and socialize making the neighborhood more safe. Participants have an additional source of income. The social media aspect engages all age groups so even the youth want to be involved, and the extra activity along with improved nutrition has produced a healthier community. The farming is local, not based on fossil fuel derived fertilizers and pesticides so the whole operation is environmentally sound.
Every movement begins with a single step toward tomorrow. Their community could be yours, and mine, if we take that step together.
Roger Ingalls is well travelled and has seen the good and bad of many foreign governments. He hopes his blogging will encourage readers to think more deeply about the American political system and its impact on US citizens and the international community.