Friday, June 6, 2008

Building Networks to Support CSAs

For the past few days I have been reading an interesting book titled, "Civic Agriculture" by Thomas Lyson. It is a plain English overview on the emergence of alternative forms of food production systems. It lays out a quick survey of the mainstream industrial food-system model that permeates most of the US and abroad (among developed nations). This serves as a contrast to what Lyson sees as an alternative paradigm that is taking root here in America.

Yet, just as these alternative forms of food production and distribution take hold and fill the spaces that have been ignored or passed over by the dominant system it seems that the modern, firm based system is actually consolidating power and becoming stronger. So if this assessment is true then what opportunities do communities have to take control of the hegemony (and homogeneity) of food production in America? How can a relatively marginalized movement rise as a truly powerful and viable replacement to the current system?

One of Lyson's answers to these questions came out in regards to the development of networks to support Community Supported Agriculture (CSA). He writes: "
CSAs are an important part of civic agriculture. They strengthen the local food economy and preserve farm land. A web of connected and cooperatively organized CSAs could represent a real and viable alternative to the mass-produced, homogeneous, imported produce found in most supermarkets today.
Unfortunately, when one does a simple search on CSAs or CSA networks one finds a relatively small number of connected and cooperatively operated ventures that not only provide alternatives but that work to promote a full fledged food movement. That is not to say that local networks do not exist, but rather they appear to be few and far between. Thus it seems that there needs to be a concerted effort on building up the necessary connections between one another to help foment a "true movement."

This got me thinking and I have spent a couple of hours each evening for the past few days working on building a few applications geared towards building a quasi-social networking system. I have this free Google App Engine account and needed to do something with it. Plus, this gives me an opportunity to learn how to use the webapp framework. For right now it is just a little fun project, but on a serious note there does in fact appear to be a need here.

My hope is to provide a usable and free web space where CSAs, their supporters and unaffiliated advocates can construct mini-sites and link up with one another. The suite of apps include or will include:
  • CSA Mini-Site CMS

  • CSA Blogs (unless I can get blogger to play nicely)

  • Google Map Integration

  • Survey Tools

  • People Aggregator (this will link users of similar interests/locations/etc)

Now, I'm just building a clunky little prototype, something I can complete in my copious amount of spare time. But I would really like to find some people or group of people that can actually devote the time to this and just take it off of my hands. What would be even more interesting is if WSU Extension sponsored a project like this and actually take this opportunity seriously. My thinking is if you want to be a "world class institution" then promote and fund "world class projects."


yishaym said...

Hey Justin,

Have you considered ning as a platform? They do advertise themselves as an engine for building social networks, sounds like what you're looking for.

Of course, google app engine should be more powerful, and if you create some stuff there it would be great.

Perhaps the way to go is to create a set of "social action gadgets" using app engine and other services ( could be handy here). Then, add some "glue" UI that will allow NGOs to mix & match and create a site to fit their needs. Shall we talk?


- Yishay

justingriffis said...

Exactly! That is really what I had in mind. Basically, building a bunch of little gadget apps, which it seems the appengine is really geared for. And with Django templates integrated with appengine I think the glue could be a fairly achievable venture.