Open Source Production
Why is it that each year, thousands of pounds of fruit rot on backyard fruit trees, while some Americans go hungry? It’s not that homeowners don’t want to share. The problem is one of coordination. How do we get the fruit from trees to people who need the food—and do it efficiently?
Gleaning, the act of collecting leftover crops for the needy, is an ancient idea dating back to the Old Testament. In modern times, individuals and communities have organized groups, large and small, to move freshly harvested excess food from donors to those who need it. Unfortunately, most of these operations are short-lived, possibly because of coordinators burn out or people worry that volunteering for such an effort would require too much of their time.
It’s true that backyard harvest operations, while fun, are “coordination intensive.” Within a community, volunteers must be recruited, the word must get out that gleaners are willing, fruit trees with excess crop must be registered, harvest routes and schedules must be planned, and the collected food must make its way to hunger relief agencies. In addition, homeowners and volunteers need information, legal and administrative structures must be maintained, and the receiving agency’s hours and preferences must be known. This is a lot of interdependent work.
Group action just got easier!
Today, these obstacles are melting away. Easily available technologies, such as e-mail, smart phones, and a myriad of social connecting tools and sites are catalyzing social change. It’s easier than ever for people with a mission to find each other, get together, communicate, organize, and take collective action. The best-known examples of successful group collaboration within a networked community are open-source software development projects and Wikipedia. These wonderful additions to our toolkit were created by large groups of people, each freely donating a little work, coordinated under one umbrella. Software examples such as Apache, Drupal, Firefox and Wikipedia are creating profound social value—and even more, they showed how people can work together to fulfill a vision.
At the Urban Farmers, we believe that open-source collaboration can be extended beyond software and knowledge. We are borrowing that idea and applying it to the various tasks that are involved in hunger relief. We are building tools, software systems, and organizational processes to make harvesting and delivering food an efficient, community-based effort. We believe that when the work of many people, each doing a small amount of work, is coordinated through a reliable system, it can create significant results. Furthermore, such a project is more likely to attract volunteers, who know they are free at any time to choose how much time to devote to the cause, and when.
A new and better world
It’s a new way of doing things that can change human affairs by empowering groups and individuals to create durable communal results.
If you care about hunger in our region and want to be part of an experiment in civic production, please join us. We promise that the work to be light and fun, the concepts to be challenging and exciting and the results to be worthwhile.
To change the world for the better, we need a lot of people to do a little.