Kickstarters for Food: How Farmscape's Awesome Agrisaurus App Will Help You Grow Your Own Food

October 5, 2012 11:11 AM EDT | By Anthony Smith
Agri
When it comes to sourcing the best ingredients, your average foodie probably has some strong opinions on where to go for the most vibrant fruits and crisp vegetables within a given ten-mile radius. But what eludes even the most seasoned foodie is the ability to grow the very best produce for hirself. (Photo: Kickstarter)

When it comes to sourcing the best ingredients, your average foodie probably has some strong opinions on where to go for the most vibrant fruits and crisp vegetables within a given ten-mile radius. But what eludes even the most seasoned foodie is the ability to grow the very best produce for hirself.

Enter Agrisaurus, a new smartphone app project from the team at Farmscape, that's designed towards helping those of us without green thumbs look like regular Johnny Appleseeds (or Arugulaseeds, Broccoliseeds, etc.) Their app is designed to help people plan everything they need to grow the absolute top-of-the-line produce that so many meals in this country are sorely lacking.

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I spoke with Jesse DuBois about his app, his take on small-scale farming, and what it means for people who grew up without green thumbs. Here's what he had to say.

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FoodNRecipe's Anthony Smith: Can you tell me a little bit about your culinary, programming, and/or horticultural backgrounds?

Farmscape's Jesse DuBois: Horticulturally speaking, we've been teaching ourselves about sustainable farming and home gardening since we started Farmscape in 2008. It was this self-education process that started our quest to make Agrisaurus. As we poured through gardening books and online gardening forums, we knew that digital tools could help us parse and understand the data and techniques of food cultivation, but they didn't exist yet.

Most of us love to cook for ourselves, and have been doing so for years.

As for programming chops, well, Farmscape is an urban farming venture, so however green our thumbs are, they're a bit dirty on the keyboards. But we are lucky to have a lot of code-savvy friends we can work with on this project -- veterans from other web ventures, most of whom live and work in the Bay Area.

AS: What exactly is small-scale farming, and can anyone get involved?

JD: Small-scale farming has no official definition, but we think of it in general terms as sub-1acre farms and gardens, everything from a 50 sq ft kitchen garden up to a large market garden for a restaurant operating in the city, perhaps on a rooftop or under power lines. Anyone with access to a sunny, level, well-draining space can have great success with small-scale farming, and most people could find this space even if it's not in their own yard. The right spot might be in a nearby community garden, a neighbor's yard, a workplace lawn, an apartment courtyard, or that vacant lot down the street with the absentee landlord. With enough creativity and persistence, I'm confident most people could find some land nearby to cultivate. Downtown Tokyo? Manhattan? More difficult, but not impossible.

AS: Why is this project so important to you?

JD: It pains us to see people get excited about gardening, build up a plot and sow seeds, only to fail within months or achieve only moderate success. We don't want all this enthusiasm about local food to stumble against knowledge gaps about horticulture, organic soil, and so forth. In what pundits call the "information era," it would be a shame if enthusiasm for gardening fizzled for lack of good and well-organized information!

AS: Can you tell us a little bit about Farmscape, and how your experience there informs your mission here?

JD: Farmscape was born of one simple question we had after getting passionate about the Food movement: why don't more people garden? Our initial answer was: because it's complex, and it takes perseverance. We quickly acknowledged that for many people, the aesthetics of gardens matter quite a bit as well. So Farmscape is our attempt to fix each problem: we provide landscaping services capable of designing, installing, and maintaining fantastic food gardens throughout Los Angeles. Farmscape is now the largest urban farming venture in California, we manage more than 150 farms in a growing network across the city, and the harvests over the last seven seasons have been delicious.

We made Agrisaurus to be an "ag-resource" for people who prefer to garden for themselves. As Farmscape developed best practices and experience with urban farming, we wanted to share our approach with others. We would like all gardeners or would-be gardeners to raise their expectations for how much food they can get from a small plot. Hopefully Agrisaurus will simplify the learning process and some of the ongoing management.

AS: How will your app help people who weren't born with green thumbs?

JD: We want to make it easier to think about crop selection. We want to make it easier to model a garden in both space and time so people make wise decisions before investing time and resources in their plots. For example, most first-time gardeners over-plant because they want the garden to look full the day they plant it, and here gardening can be unforgiving. You have to make a good plan from the beginning, or a few months later you'll look in dismay at all your efforts wasted as the crops over-compete for space and resources and nothing produces. We want people to make really good decisions so they get better returns on their effort. We want small production, both as a hobby or a profession, to be simpler to understand, but also more ambitious about yield expectations. We want people to learn about crops as they plan the garden and see the likely harvest outcomes per plant, if they succeed. That way they won't plant more arugula than they could ever eat, and come away without enough broccoli.

It's been many long decades since society took small-scale production seriously, but speckled across time there are these moments when people got real serious about yield per square foot in urban farms and gardens: Havana after the Soviet Union collapsed, Paris in the early 20th century, and some others here and there. We want to revive these methodologies, we want to people again to raise their expectations for big yields out of small spaces.

AS: How have you been advertising your Kickstarter?

JD: We've been promoting the project to passionate gardeners we know and reaching out to like-minded bloggers.

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For more information on this awesome project, and to find out how you can get involved, click here to check out their Kickstarter! 



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