sym · bi · o · sis: the relationship between two different kinds of living things that depend on each other
The summer before I began the clearing for my homestead our island became infested with tent caterpillars. Almost every leaf of apples, maples, and alders were eaten. Their orange and black bodies littered branches, their cocoons looking like puffs of smoke in the trees. Yet deep in the forest where I camped the deciduous branches were clean. My tent was stationed under a large maple, its leaves full and wide and green.
As a forest matures each native plant, animal, and soil organism works to support the health of the system itself. We don’t normally think of comparing computers with the forest, but in our technological age data systems can become ecosystems.
Imagine if I said there were two types of people in technology. Two.
This is of course ridiculous. Silicon Valley has made an art and a science of finding the most skilled technological developers from Ivy League institutions to rapidly expand innovation. But when it comes to food we talk about organic or not organic farmers. Local or not local, organic or not organic, these are just the tip of a rapidly melting iceberg. Do we really think the food from one piece of ground is the same as another? Do we really think all organic farmers have the same level of skill? Farming is an art and a science, a craft. But for the most part that story is not being told—the story of the people and places our food comes from.
And why should we care? Because the story of our food becomes our story. The food we eat becomes our hair, our brain cells, the eyes reading these words.
Imagine if Silicon Valley employees lost $1,682 per year? How would technological innovation change?
The average farmer in America did lose $1,682 dollars last year. For small farms, 109% of their household income came from working off the farm. Medium size farms, grossing more than $10,000 but less than $250,000, obtained 90% of their funding from working off the farm. This means farmers' spouses, our teachers, nurses, elder-care providers, are subsidizing small scale agriculture.
It's only 10 percent of farming households that make the majority of their money from growing food, and all those farmers receive government subsidies. For those of us that believe sustainable food is thriving, the numbers tell a different story.
How do we make sustainable agriculture more sustainable? Together. Open source research allows farmers and agricultural academics to collaborate on any number of issues, allowing discoveries to build upon themselves over time. With modern data systems, farmers can understand problems and solutions as they develop. We can understand and share trends in best practices locally and internationally. In the age of climate change, our ability to adapt will be the key to sustainability. And in the age of open source, this information can be available to anyone for free.
While an apple can only be eaten by one person, the information about how it's grown can be shared with everyone. What if orchards around the world collaborated on how best to grow their crop? Agricultural data can become an ecosystem.
Forage is an open source platform for sustainable agriculture. We merge academic and on-farm research from around the world to understand micro and macro trends in food production. And we tell the story behind the data, knowing that numbers only matter if we have a context for why. Our mission is to make the science of sustainable food collaborative and accessible for farmers, gardeners, and those of us who eat.