Group Members: Brandi Burns, Sarah Nash, and Stephanie Milne
For our mobile history project, we chose to create an online directory of farms in the Treasure Valley. The intent of the project was to create a resource that could be used by consumers to find out more information from general searches of farms in their area to more specific searches for individual farms in the hopes of connecting consumers to locally grown food. For each farm we documented the history of the farm, the growing techniques used, the diversity of crops grown, and the availability for purchase. The directory can be viewed at: http://localgemstvfarmdirectory.blogspot.com/.
Process of Building Local Gems Project
The building of Local Gems started with group members, Brandi Burns, Sarah Nash, and Stephanie Milne, brainstorming and collaborating over dinner at Red Feather Lounge. The initial building of our project required a lot of organization on who would be responsible for the various platforms we would be working with for our project. One of the first items of business we sorted out was the delineation of the social media platforms Local Gems would be working with. We came to the agreement that Brandi would be responsible for the Flickr account, Sarah would be in charge of the Facebook page and Twitter, and Stephanie would steer direction of the blog. From this point on each person was responsible for the establishment and maintenance of their respective account.
Also at this meeting we decided to focus on farms in Ada and Canyon County. From here we narrowed our focus to five farms we would like to highlight. After all the platforms were established, we then set out on contacting those five farms. Our main avenue of communication with the farms was through email. We scheduled times to meet with farms and later in the project with others who have played a large role in the local food movement.
All group members made a commitment to the best of their ability be in attendance at all farm visits to ensure accurate information was collected and a diverse questions were asked of the farmer or local food entity. With the three group members present it also ensured a diverse amount of pictures. All pictures were sent to Brandi the day of the visit or at the latest two days after the farm and local food visit.
After a visit to a farm, one group member would be responsible for the writing of the blog post. This responsibility alternated each time so the writing duties were equal through the duration of the semester. After the post was complete, it was then added to Local Gem’s dropbox account and also emailed so that it could be peer-reviewed by the other group members. Corrections or changes (if needed) were done after this and then the post was emailed to the farm (or other local food entity) to be approved of before it was posted on the blog. After the local farmer or business approved the blog post, it was then posted to the blog. Once the post was viewable on the blog, updates were then announced on the Facebook and Twitter platforms.
Meeting Learning Objectives
Our group outlined three learning objectives for the Local Gems project. The first objective was the desire to connect people, primarily those living in and around the Treasure Valley, to local producers and growers of food. We accomplished this goal by continually maintaining our blog and networking around the Treasure Valley. In the month of April the Local Gems: A Directory of Treasure Valley Farms had over 300 visitors and overall we have had over 420 page views since it went live in February. We’ve connected with people through business cards, posting the blog link to the Local Gems Facebook page as well as personal Facebook pages, Twitter announcements, and simply talking to people around the area, specifically at farmers markets. In conducting various types of networking we’ve achieved our goal of providing a face to local farmers. In some ways we have even gone a step further. Many farmers we visited with mentioned that they don’t know one another. Our blog serves as a starting point in having farmers in Ada and Canyon County get to know one another as well as how and what they are individually farming. Ideally, Local Gems could be a starting point for support groups for local farmers.
Our second learning objective was close the gap between the seeming opposites of smartphone technology and the traditional practice of agriculture. This objective was attained in two major ways. First, our blog is set to a mobile friendly version. Whenever someone accesses the blog from a smartphone or iPod Touch, it is displayed in a mobile friendly manner. This makes it easy for someone on the go to learn about a specific farm or a new feature of the blog. Second, when the Local Gems group went out and met specific farmers, we explained how we were creating our project with mobile users in mind. Many were appreciative and understood that this user platform was a way to get more people interested and potentially purchasing their specialty crops.
The last objective of the project was to increase the public’s knowledge about history of the foods our community eats. While the project did not focus on specific crops, we did highlight important aspects of growing and what traditionally works and doesn’t when it comes to farming in the Treasure Valley. Additionally we provided history on the farms and farmers themselves. Providing this historical perspective enable the project to display a farmer’s practices and more broadly how farms have evolved.
Sources Influencing Project
Resources for this project included Idaho Preferred, the menus at Bitttercreek Alehouse and Red Feather Lounge, Idaho Department of Agriculture (organic list), County Extension Office—specifically Ariel Agenbroad at the Canyon County Extension Office, Farmer’s Market List/Websites, The Boise Weekly, and the Boise Co-op. Another valuable resource was Janie Burns from Meadow Lark Farm who is one of the leading voices in Idaho’s local food movement. The Treasure Valley Food Coalition website was consulted, as well as the Idaho Farm Bureau News blog and other farming-based blogs.
One of the main challenges we faced in the project came from its participatory nature. Our work could really only begin once a farm agreed to be featured on the blog, which meant that it was dependent on farms returning our initial contact. Of the first five emails we sent, only two farms responded to our email. One of the reasons why they may not have chosen to respond was that the project had no visible achievements, meaning they could not see other farm’s profiles on the blog. The need for cooperation slowed us down in the beginning, but we have now begun working with local food organizations and have networked at various events and are establishing a relationship with local farmers. As it stands we already have our next interview of a farm to profile scheduled.
Another challenge we faced was the use of multiple technologies. When setting up the project, we felt it would be best to set up as many forms of interaction with the community is possible. To do so, we created a blog, a Twitter account, a Flickr account, and a Facebook account. It could have easily become overwhelming and confusing if all three of us accessed and worked with all of the accounts. Therefore, we split up the accounts and made each individual person in charge of a different account. Stephanie is responsible for the maintenance of the blog, Sarah is responsible for the Twitter and Facebook accounts, and Brandi is responsible for the Flickr account. For individual blog posts, one person writes the rough draft and all group members edit and review it.
Future of Project
The next step for our project is to do a strategic plan and decide how we want our project to continue. Several farmers and stakeholders in the local food scene have expressed to the group that we are serving a need, so at this point we need to evaluate our vision and be sure that we are not duplicating any services in the community. The idea is to phase the project into a farmer’s alliance that serves to connect local farmers with one another in a support group and a network of knowledge, and an advocate for farmers and food policies that support local food. This new direction would continue to include efforts to connect the consumer with the producer using mobile technologies and other innovative approaches. Our farmer’s alliance could model the Working Lands Alliance, an organization dedicated to preserving Connecticut’s farmland, and consists of farmers, conservationists, anti-hunger groups, planners and local food enthusiasts.
To create the farmer’s alliance, the group will need to seek out other resources. By creating a non-profit, several grant opportunities should become available. It is possible that we could partner with the Treasure Valley Food Coalition instead of forming our own non-profit, but the search for funds would still need to continue. Several resources offer help on creating a non-profit and finding funding, particularly www.idahononprofits.org/Home.aspx and www.grantspace.org. After the semester ends the group will have a meeting about what our vision is, and if it is something that we can pursue. If we can pursue this new idea, then we will take the necessary steps to form a non-profit and begin the strategic planning stage.
Advice to Others
The biggest piece of advice that we can offer is to network and follow it up with a strong internet presence. Through networking with people we know who work with local foods we have been able to talk to local restaurants, connect to farmers, meet with people doing similar projects, and create a relationship with the Treasure Valley Food Coalition. Janie Burns, a local farmer, was one of our best resources and by simply retweeting our posts on Twitter, she was able to direct a larger audience to our work. We also networked at local farmers markets and have gotten many people interested in the project through simply introducing ourselves and explaining our goals. However, networking alone would not have been sufficient because many of the farmers looked at our website before they decided to participate. Our Twitter and Facebook accounts have also been very successful at drawing people to our blog.