Public Lab Research note

report back from 2013 Just Food Conference

by liz | April 03, 2013 00:47 03 Apr 00:47 | #6651 | #6651

On Friday March 29th, two staffers from the Design Trust and I led two brief workshops at the Just Food Conference.

We began by making a short presentation on the background of the Five Borough Farm project Phase I and introducing the goals and collaborators of Phase II. Phase II is about helping farmers and gardeners measure the good things in their farms and gardens, and everyone's reasons for participating will vary. To be very clear, I should state up front that in a broad sea of civic horticultural activities, urban farms and community gardens are two distinct categories that should not be conflated. The last three slides of the slideshow showed pictures and quotes from two urban farmers and one community gardener who are already conducting data collection and who each have their own reasons for participating in Five Borough Farm. (See gallery of images above)

Flipping the lights back on, I presented that there are two main goals for most data collection regarding gardening and farming: 1) PRACTICE, meaning how to garden/farm better, and 2) STORYTELLING, or how to tell a narrative of your multi-dimensional work. Practice could be tracking fertilizer inputs and outputs, crop performance, market prices, etc. Telling the story could relate to seeking funding, evaluating programs, lobbing your representatives, and much more.

So that everyone in the room could learn about what their colleagues are doing in this area, we turned to the audience and asked them three questions:

  • What are you measuring in your garden or farm, and why?
  • What would you like to be measuring in your farm or garden, and why?
  • Has anything unexpected ever occurred as a result of these activities?

We had provided paper and markers at each desk, so it was easy to jump into 5 minutes of quiet brainstorming and writing. When everyone was ready, we asked for a volunteer to read from their notes and then went around the room sharing.

The results were fascinating. Quite a lot of data collection is "organically" happening at dozens of gardens and farms around NYC (and we dare extrapolate to other urban agriculture centers as well). Both categories -- practice and storytelling -- were solidly represented. One interesting note was that EarthWorks Farm in Detroit included a personally reflective dimension of their evaluation processes, AKA "how has this work contributed to the deepening of my relationship with my coworkers and the Earth?"

The big questions -- "what to measure" and "how to measure it" -- are going to be defined together during the project. Stay tuned for designing our May 11 "Means of Measure" workshop!


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