This week in the Flog:
- How do I view the future of The Unconventional Farmer and why?
- What is the best thing we can accomplish as a community?
- What is our next step as a community?
- An inspiring video and how it relates to us unconventional farmers
Today I’m going to share something totally new, that’s actually been brewing here for some time. This is a very different post than normal, and I hope you will read on as I share a mission statement for The Unconventional Farmer (TUF). This is something of a Call to Action – and in the modern spirit of iterative innovation, it’s a bit half-formed still. You can help me solidify it…
Once, years ago now, I saw a map showing all these BSF composters all over the world. “that’s so cool” I thought, “wouldn’t it be neat to have a map like that of Natural Farmers, enable them to make connections with each other, and have this visually rich representation of the global network.”
This idea of “network” or rather “community” has always interested me. I guess I’m a product of the new cult of Information Technology – connecting people to form communities in ways that were never possible before is just awesome. But what do we DO with this connection? How do we make each other and the world better? And what does this have to do with The Unconventional Farmer? Read on…
Enter Joi Ito’s TED talk from earlier this year. I encourage you to watch the video, but I’m going to take out some points that directly apply to us.
After the 2011 earthquake rocked Japan and several nuclear reactors blew up, a bunch of concerned citizens formed a group and began measuring radiation and posting it on a website.
States Ito: “…we decided we were going to try to measure the radiation and get the data out to everybody else, because it was clear that the government wasn’t going to be doing this for us.”
Three years later, Joi Ito’s group has 16 million data points, their own customized Geiger counters, and innovative ways for people from all over the world to add to the network of information. As Mr. Ito says “We are arguably one of the most successful citizen science projects in the world, and we have created the largest open dataset of radiation measurements”.
Joi Ito asks “How did a bunch of amateurs who really didn’t know what we were doing somehow come together and do what NGOs and the government were completely incapable of doing?”
A bunch of amateurs? Sounds familiar? Chances are this Natural Farming stuff is fairly new to you. Natural Farming and these fermented recipes are poorly understood and not widely used. We are the amateurs.
“…it was a new way of doing things that was enabled by the Internet and a lot of the other things that were going on…I want to talk a little bit about what those new principles are.”
This is what I think is so interesting about this talk. These principles can be applied to any community. Any “loosely organized group of amateurs” can create tectonic shifts by leveraging technology. This is what I’m talking about:
“So the Internet caused innovation, at least in software and services, to go from an MBA-driven innovation model to a designer-engineer-driven innovation model, and it pushed innovation to the edges, to the dorm rooms, to the startups, away from the large institutions, the stodgy old institutions that had the power and the money and the authority.”
Massive innovation no longer depends on massive companies with massive budgets. It can be done by US, the Community. Joi Ito goes on to discuss factories that innovate right on the factory floor. What was initially only done in “software and services” is suddenly happening in other sectors like hardware, or biological science!
This is where we get some really neat insights. For example Joi states:
“So it’s happening in software and in hardware and bioengineering, and so this is a fundamental new way of thinking about innovation. It’s a bottom-up innovation, it’s democratic, it’s chaotic, it’s hard to control. It’s not bad, but it’s very different, and I think that the traditional rules that we have for institutions don’t work anymore, and most of us here operate with a different set of principles.”
Look at that – “it’s a bottom-up innovation, it’s democratic, it’s chaotic, it’s hard to control.” What a paradigm shift from the traditional way of doing things.
This is the new mode of innovation: Quick, agile, create-in-the-moment type innovation done by a large group of loosely organized, regular citizens, where the whole creation process is facilitated using technology. There is no permission from budget councils or managers or governments, no proof that this or that idea will work out – simply constant innovation towards a high level goal that unifies the group, or “community”.
And something Mr. Ito mentioned jumped out at me, that resonates with us: “…learning over education is very near and dear to my heart, but to me, education is what people do to you and learning is what you do to yourself.”
Don’t worry about formal education and listening to experts. Do your own study, and then start expanding on that by experimenting yourself. Most likely you are well familiar with this concept already. The internet has opened this opportunity to us – all the resources we need are at our fingertips, we don’t need to ask anyone for them.
This talk concludes with a critical piece of advice. Joi states:
“Compass over maps…We could not have planned this whole thing, but by having a very strong compass, we eventually got to where we were going…”
To innovate as this loose group, to practice “citizen science” as Mr. Ito calls it, requires a unified vision. This can be a high level vision, but it needs to be shared by all. I love the compass analogy – if everyone set their compass to North and started walking, we will all meet at the north pole regardless of where on Earth we’re coming from. People may take small detours and zig zag and do all kinds of crazy stuff, but if the general direction is north we will meet up eventually. And the closer we get to the north pole, our destination, the more our paths will intersect and the direction become clearer, the way easier to follow.
How does this relate to the future I see for The Unconventional Farmer?
It’s very simple – I hope to make the TUF site a two-fold resource – to provide the technology to drive the innovation, and reinforce the heading on our group “compass”.
What is our next step as a community?
I’ve taken the first step to providing the technology we need to organize, connect, share information and experiments, and more. We have opened the TUF Forums to facilitate information sharing and storing. The organization comes later. Register now to join this effort, and become a citizen scientist for the natural farming movement.
I have some questions for you…
What is our direction as a community? What do we want to accomplish? Popularize Natural Farming? Drive it towards the main stream? Prove it’s effectiveness through experiments? Show the difference we can make by using these alternative methods?
Do you have the answer to those questions? Can you share with us? I would love to get your feedback, please help us shape our future and the future of The Unconventional Farmer (TUF). Click here to share.
Here are some ideas of how technology can support these goals:
Prove Natural Farming through experiments: Create a test kit, or test methodology that is easily replicable, and assign a number to it, like 1000. Each person can sign up for the test, run the experiment, and add their findings to the pool. Eventually would have 1000 replications of the same simple experiment. Create a bunch of these experiments so people can browse and choose which experiment interests them, then run it at home. These would all be in a customized section of the website which would act as the repo and upload/download interface.
Show difference we can make: Assign a value, like a carbon credit, to each natural farming technique. For example if you make 1 cubic meter of biochar, you can save “x” CO2 emissions, and cut down on fertilizer input by “y”. So people using boichar can put down how much they’ve used and we’ll record that credit. We can show all of these on a world map, like a google maps with heat zones to display how much people in different areas are saving their environment. This would be a wonderful visual representation of our effect as a group.
Popularize Natural Farming: This one relies on site popularity and usage. Adding value to the website draws more people, and more people get into natural farming. We will also produce more on the “how” – home gardeners are used to seeing fertilizer charts and simple-to-follow instructions. We’ll produce those to make these more “normal” as practices and recipes.
What Can you do now?
Sign up for our forums which are now up! As I mentioned, this is the first step we are taking as a community – one place where we can share ideas and experiments. Organizing it comes later but at least for now we can all get on there and share. Register for the forums now and you can post anywhere on there.
I’ll be discussing this more later on – amazing parallels can be drawn between business innovation and academic publishing. It’s going to be a good discussion! In any case next week I’ll publish the post on how to make your own supercharged animal feed – it’s a two part series that’s really interesting!