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.

Growstuff Hack Night in San Francisco

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 skud@growstuff.org or drop in to #growstuff on Freenode IRC any time.

Looking forward to seeing you there!

Skud

Happy New Year from Growstuff

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.)

Track your harvests with Growstuff

How much does your garden produce? You can now track your harvests, as well as your plantings, with Growstuff.

We’ve just rolled out the first set of harvest features, including:

As a bonus, we’ve also made CSV downloads available for our entire crops database as well as plantings and seeds.

This is the form for adding harvests:

harvest form

Adding a harvest of beets on Growstuff

As you can see, you can keep track of your harvests in both everyday units that you might use in conversation — individual vegetables, bunches, handfuls, baskets, bushels, and more — as well as by weight, in either metric or US/imperial measurements. We hope that very soon we’ll be able to say “Growstuff members have harvested 500kg of produce this month” right on our homepage. Harvesting is the flip side to the plantings we’ve been tracking since we began, and at least as important — if not more so!

permaculture melbourne logo

This work on harvests is part of our 2013 Roadmap and has been done in collaboration with Permaculture Melbourne, as part of their Harvest Benchmarking project.

There are more harvest features yet to come. If you’d like to help us build them, check out our new Getting Started guide for developers.