We interview Federico Mena Quintero, the permaculturist and open source developer who inspired Growstuff

A while ago I interviewed Federico Mena Quintero, who I met at an open source conference back in 2012. Federico’s ideas about open crop data planted the initial seed of what would eventually become Growstuff. He posted yesterday about Growstuff’s current crowdfunding campaign: Growstuff’s Crowdfunding Campaign for an API for Open Food Data.

I used to think that in order to have a collaboratively-developed project, one had to start with at least a basic skeleton, or a working prototype — Growstuff proved me wrong. By having a friendly, mentoring environment with a well-defined process, you can start from zero-lines-of-code and get excellent results quickly. […] I encourage you to give money to Growstuff’s campaign. These are good people.

In that post, Federico also talks about the problems he has with vegetable growing advice from temperate climates like the UK — problems that led him to ask me the questions that led to Growstuff’s creation.

However, their recommendations on garden layouts or crop rotations are biased towards the author’s location. John Seymour’s books are beautifully illustrated, but are about the United Kingdom, where apples and rhubarb may do well, but would be scorched where I live in Mexico. Jeavons’s book is biased towards California, which is somewhat closer climate-wise to where I live, but some of the species/varieties he mentions are practically impossible to get here — and, of course, species which are everyday fare here are completely missing in his book. Pity the people outside the tropics, for whom mangoes are a legend from faraway lands.

Federico, who lives in Xalapa, Veracruz, Mexico, has designed his food garden based on permaculture principles. He blogs about open source (in English) and hand wood-working (in Spanish), and can be found on Growstuff as FedericoMenaQuintero.

Can you tell us a bit about your garden, and maybe show us some pics?

The ornamental garden is in front of our house; it’s a tiny thing, maybe 2.5 by 3.5 meters. We’ve also been guerrilla-gardening the derelict sidewalk across the street.

The “edibles” garden is behind our house, right outside the woodworking shop. We explicitly put the garden in the South part of the lot, to get the most sunlight, since we live in the Northern hemisphere. Strictly speaking the garden is L-shaped, because it goes around the woodshop.

This is the plan of the garden:

federico's garden

Plan of Federico’s garden.

There is a swale between the woodshop and the planting beds. Over a couple of years I filled it with wood shavings and vegetable residue, and once it got deep enough, I filled the rest with soil and some cow manure to help decomposition of the wood shavings. That swale gets a lot of water from the woodshop’s roof – there is a rain pipe with a downward hanging chain that feeds the swale. We built a little bridge, more ornamental than really practical, that lets you walk across the swale.

swale, chain, and bridge

Swale, with chain running from roof (for water runoff) and brick bridge in foreground.

Since soil in the swale is always moist, it has the culinary herbs (chives, basil, epazote, mint, something that smells like Vicks Vapo-rub), coriander, and water-hungry things like lemongrass, papyrus, and thin and thick bamboo which are just starting up. There is an underground pipe that also carries grey water from the wash basin that is above in the house.

Next to the swale there are two delimited circles for two trees, lime and fig. They stay always moist because they are next to the swale. The fig tree yields like crazy, and the lime tree just seems to grow leaves but no fruit. Next to our Western wall there are small trees planted among the grass: lychee, peach, and allspice.

On the North side, next to the woodshop, there is the other rectangle of grass, which also now has a two-person swing for us to be lazy, or for our daughter to be crazy. And on the very back of that area, by a retaining wall, there is an overhead water tank that holds rainwater from all the other roofs in the house. I’ve written a detailed description of how this works.

The main planting beds – the keyhole and the L-shaped one – have held different things. Right now they are a bit unkempt and empty, because we were traveling for some time. But they have a chayote plant that yields quite well; it’s a climbing plant, and that’s why there are tensioned wires for it to spread all above the garden. There is a passionfruit plant next to the chayote which should yield really soon, as it is just starting to flower. There is some out-of-control oregano, some civilized thyme, a monster rosemary bush that wants to take over the world, strawberries, a few leftover carrots, ginger, Thai basil, and the remnants of daikon radish, beans, and sunflowers.

main garden area

Main garden area, with herbs and vegetables.

One of our jewels is a chaya plant we brought as a small cutting from Mérida in the state of Yucatán. This is a slightly poisonous leafy plant – will itch and numb you if you touch it – that you can cook to make it safe, or you can blend it with limeade for a deliciously fresh drink. This chaya lives in the L-shaped bed, next to a nopal (edible cactus), which we should really transplant to a sunnier place than where it is.

There is a raised compost heap next to the neighbor’s wall, by the swale. It is raised, and it has a little downspout, so we can put a bucket under it, to collect compost tea which I then dilute and spread about the garden.

raised compost heap

Raised compost heap, with squash growing over it.

There is a really small grape vine behind the compost heap, which I just transplanted last week; hopefully it will grow tall and long and I’ll be able to trellis it over the swing. The garden has also had our local variety of large pumpkins, cucumbers, some roma tomatoes, arugula, tatsoi, corn, beans.

Is permaculture big in Mexico? Do you have a community of like-minded gardeners nearby?

There are very lively pockets of permaculture in Mexico – in Coatepec and Huatusco, Veracruz (not far from where I live), in Erongarícuaro in Michoacán, in a few places in Chiapas, and very probably others which I don’t know about. These people are very active:

I have bought organic seeds from them and they were amazing – those are what started our garden.

In my town we have some friends that do permaculture on a small scale – mostly rooftop/container gardens. We get together from time to time; one guy does ceramics, another guy makes soap and electronics, and I make wooden molds for the soap.

I’d say that permaculture in Mexico is not very well known yet, but the places that do it well just emanate so much life that it all seems very active!

When you travel, sometimes you tweet about “Mexican” food in the places you visit. What do you grow and eat, in Mexico, that’s different from the “Mexican” food you find elsewhere?

There are various cuisines within Mexico, all quite good, but overseas “Mexican” food seems to be a broken-telephone game of Tex-Mex.

Food from Veracruz, the state where I live: lots of seafood and interesting fritters. “Arroz a la tumbada” is about my favorite dish from here; think of red rice, watery, baked with different kinds of seafood, epazote, and a little chile – the distant cousin to paella. “Fish in Veracruz style” is white fish, in tomato sauce with sliced/sauteed onions, capers, olives, and bay leaves. “Fish in acuyo” – with a sauce made from the acuyo plant, and sauteed onions. Picadas are a fried tortilla with various toppings – beans, spicy sauces, crumbly cheese. “Picadas” means “pinched ones”; the edge of the tortilla gets pinched up before frying so the sauces don’t spill. Gorditas are “fat ones” – generally any kind of stuffed, fried tortilla.

Traditional drinks are varied. Tepache is pineapple juice, fermented a bit – it is sweet and mildly alcoholic. Limeade with chaya is delicious and refreshing. A sweetened hibiscus infusion is very popular. There is also limeade with chia seeds.

The precolumbian diet in Mexico consisted of corn-based things, legumes, chiles, and a little meat or fish. The “three sisters” planting guild is precisely corn, beans, and squash. You can basically grow anything in Mexico; it’s a large country that spans various climate zones.

Diana Kennedy’s books on Mexican cuisine seem to be the gold standard, if you are interested.

I know you’re also a woodwork enthusiast, and love to make things with traditional tools. On top of that, you’re also an open source software developer. What do you think gardening, woodwork, and coding have in common?

I actually spoke a bit about that during a talk I gave in GUADEC 2012. What they have in common is that they are about building things by oneself, or within a small community, and primarily for consumption within that community. With software it is easy to distribute the fruits of your labor to the whole world, but software development is still very much a craft.

They are skills that you can learn; each takes years and years of practice to become a master in only a small portion of the whole craft. They all have their tools, their jargon, and their lore. And just like small-scale farmers or gardeners can grow better veggies than Big Commercial Agriculture, small-scale woodworkers can make furniture that is better made and looks better than Big Commercial Furniture, and free software developers can write software that is more functional than Big Proprietary Software.

It’s not just about quality; it’s also about producing things that you or your close peers will find useful, instead of depending on Big Manufacturing And Commerce for everything.

It’s not just about quality; it’s also about producing things that you or your close peers will find useful, instead of depending on Big Manufacturing And Commerce for everything. It’s quite empowering to learn any of those skills. You learn to garden, and you practically force yourself to cook better. You learn to make furniture, and you learn lots of little subordinate skills that are useful around the house (always sharp kitchen knives! fix a hard-to-open door the right way!. You learn to develop software, and suddenly computers are not a mystery and you can work around problems in computer-controlled things.

When we first met, we talked about free/open sources of planting information. Why’s that important to you?

I’m a lazy gardener. I want a service to which I can ask, “when should I plant this?” “Any companion plants I should know about?” “Are there people close to me who have planted this?” “Help, pests!”.

Internalizing all that knowledge takes years, and a service that is aware of what/where/when you have planted could be a big help. If it could tell me, “careful if you plant your brassicas there, it hasn’t been two planting seasons since the last time you planted them in that spot” or something like that. If it could help me organize plant rotations, or figure out useful guilds, it would make the garden a lot easier to run.

Books are great, but not everyone can obtain them, or afford them, or read them if they are in another language.

There is a ton of planting information in books. And books are great, but not everyone can obtain them, or afford them, or read them if they are in another language. I feel that a crowdsourced website like Growstuff could reach just the right level of detail/pragmatism that many home gardeners would find useful.

When first discussing Growstuff, I think we also talked about aggregating planting data over the years so that you could extract knowledge from there. These and these varieties of some vegetable seem to grow better in these and these zones; that kind of thing. Data mining for gardening info would be very useful worldwide. I’m using my mother’s old gardening books, by John Seymour, and while they are excellent, European climate and crops are not really the same as what you can do in my region.

Thanks, Federico, for your time and the photos of your beautiful garden.

Growstuff is currently fundraising. Support Growstuff’s crowdfunding campaign to bring open food data to to the world!

An interview with Growstuff developer Mackenzie “maco” Morgan

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.

Right now, my day job is as a software engineer at a major tech firm working on some very old code. It’s in a language that has long since seen its heyday, and I’m not doing very complicated stuff, so I started to worry my skills weren’t holding their edge. I realized I needed to get up to date on the latest and greatest technologies and current industry best practices. Ruby is one of the most popular languages in use right now, and Growstuff is following all the new processes for making software better, faster, like agile and unit testing. Contributing to Growstuff is working really well for me as an avenue for professional development. Why spend thousands of dollars on some professional development courses, when I can instead spend a few evenings making the software I use better?

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.

Growstuff developer Mackenzie "maco" Morgan

Growstuff developer Mackenzie “maco” Morgan

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.

First off, try it out. There are some handy features in place, and if you think of something Growstuff can’t already do, say so. Like any open source software project, we can always use more contributors. If you’re not a Ruby programmer (yet), testing is really helpful, and there’s sure to be someone involved who’d like to help you learn if or when you’re ready to give it a go.

Thanks, maco!

If you’re interested in becoming a Growstuff developer, check out our code, Getting Started documentation, or discussion forum.

10 reasons to support Growstuff’s funding campaign

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:

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. 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.
  6. 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.
  7. 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.
  8. 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.
  9. 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.
  10. 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.

Support Growstuff’s crowdfunding campaign for open food data

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.

Growstuff’s finances, 2013-2014

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!

New Growstuff features for September 3rd, 2014

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.

Growstuff Tip: set your location to see stuff near you

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!

Testing Discourse, a new platform for Growstuff’s contributor discussions

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!

Melbourne Working Bee, August 30th 2014

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!

Newsletter: San Francisco hack night, new features, and more

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.