Seeking a volunteer for 3000 Acres (Melbourne, Australia)

As you might know, I’ve been working on 3000 Acres over the last few months. My time there is almost up and they’re looking for volunteers to continue developing the site. If anyone in the Melbourne area is interested in working with me on this, and then taking it over, please get in touch! It would be a great way to get involved in a tech project for sustainability/social good, and the 3000 Acres team are lovely people with a great vision. Feel free to drop me an email or ping me via whatever other means is convenient, and please help us get the word out.


3000 Acres connects people with vacant land to help them start community gardens. In 2013 3000 Acres was the winner of the VicHealth Seed Challenge, and is supported by VicHealth and The Australian Centre for Social Innnovation (TACSI) along with a range of partners from the sustainability, horticulture, and urban planning fields. We are in the process of incorporating as a non-profit.

Our website, which is the main way people interact with us, launched in February 2014. The site helps people map vacant lots, connect with other community members, and find community garden resources. Since our launch we have continued to improve and add features to our site.

So far, our web development has been done by one part-time developer. We are looking for another (or multiple) volunteer developers to help us continue to improve the site, and to help make our code ready to roll out to other cities.

We’re looking for someone with the following skills and experience:

  • Intermediate level Rails experience (or less Rails experience but strong backend web experience in general). You should be comfortable using an MVC framework, designing data structures, coding complex features, etc.
  • Comfort with CSS and Javascript (we mostly use Bootstrap 3.0 and Leaflet.js) and with light design work (eg. layout, icons)
  • Familiarity with agile software development, including iteration planning, test driven development, continuous integration, etc.
  • Strong communication skills: you’ll particularly use them for writing web copy, advising on information architecture, and project management.
  • You should be in Melbourne or able to travel regularly to Melbourne to meet with us. Phone, Skype, and screen sharing may also be used — our current developer is based in Ballarat.

We welcome applications from people of diverse backgrounds, and are flexible in our requirements; if you think you have skills that would work, even if they don’t match the above description exactly, please get in touch.

We envision this role being around 8 hours a week ongoing (somewhat flexible, and mostly from your own location). Initially you will work closely with our current developer, who can provide in-depth training/mentoring and documentation on our existing infrastructure and processes. Over the next 3 months you will become increasingly independent, after which time you will be expected to be able to create and maintain high-quality code without close technical supervision.

For more information you can check out:

If you’re interested in working with us, please drop Alex an email at skud@growstuff.org. No resume required — just let us know a bit about yourself, your experience, and why you want to work with us. If you can show us an example of some relevant work you’ve done in the past, that would be fantastic.

Why Growstuff is Open Source

This was originally posted on the new Growstuff blog, which I set up the other day. I also set up a fortnightly newsletter, to which you should subscribe if you want to keep up with what’s happening with Growstuff as we count down to our public launch, in (eep!) about 2-and-a-bit months.

My background is in open source software, and I’ve been using and producing it for almost twenty years. Sometimes it’s easy to live in the open source bubble, and fail to notice that there are areas where open source software is not common or standard. Over the past few months, working on Growstuff, I’ve attended a number of events for social enterprises and sustainability, and checked out dozens of websites aimed at food gardeners or people trying to live more sustainable lives. Venturing outside my former bubble, I’ve found that open source software is the exception rather than the rule in these areas, so I thought it would be a good idea to talk about why Growstuff is open source, and why we think it’s important.

It’d be traditional at this point to talk about what open source software is, and to give a quick definition. But open source is at least three things, and each needs its own explanation.

First of all, open source is a political movement that aims to change the power balance between software creators and software users. When you use traditional software, you have to take it as-is. If you don’t like it, you have few options. Software makers can change the software any way they like, charge you what they want for it, or withdraw their support for it at any time. You’re locked in an unequal relationship with them, where they hold all the power. Open source software gives power back to the users, letting them — us — understand how it works, use the software how we want, modify it if we need to, and access it regardless of who we are, where we’re from, or how rich we happen to be.

It does this through special software licenses. You’ve probably clicked “Accept” on a lot of software licenses in your time, and open source licenses are just like this, except that they offer you (as a software user) a bunch of rights, where other licenses typically take them away. An open source license says that you have the right to use the software for any purpose whatsoever. It says that you’re allowed to read the source code — the underlying program that makes the software run — and to change it if you need to, to suit your needs. It says that you can share the software freely, passing it on to friends or colleagues without having to pay license fees or worry that the software creator will come after you. In some cases (as in the license Growstuff uses) it says that if you modify the software and share it with others, you must use the same open source license, to make sure that people down the line have the same rights you do, and to share the love as widely as possible.

Finally, by changing the balance of power between software creators and users, and enshrining that greater equality in a formal document, we open ourselves up to a more collaborative way of working. Software creators and users are able to come together to build the software they need, and users can even contribute directly to the software itself, by modifying the source code and offering their changes back to the original creator. Over the years, open source software developers have learned all kinds of effective ways to work together as distributed, often international teams, and to engage their user communities in developing something that they really want to use and in which they feel a sense of ownership.

So what’s this got to do with social enterprise, sustainability, and Growstuff? In my mind, open source, sustainability, and social enterprise are closely intertwined, to the point where I feel that choosing open source is a vital part of the whole picture.

When we talk about social enterprises — businesses that hope to achieve a social good through their business activities — we seldom look at their software practices. But the choice of software to use, or decision to develop software under a closed or open model, has a social impact, just as do the choice of environmentally friendly materials for physical manufacturing, or the decision to employ people from disadvantaged backgrounds. We expect social enterprises to follow ethical business practices; why not expect them to follow software practices that support equal access, transparency, and accountability?

When it comes to sustainability, it’s about more than changing your light bulbs or using a fancy water bottle. Sustainability’s about developing communities and ways of living and working that can survive and thrive in the long term. Open source is a sustainable way of building software. If a company that writes closed software goes under, the software dies with it, but an open source software project can live long beyond the people or institutions that started it. Since there’s a broad community of people familiar with the software, who know how to read and modify its source code, new developers can step up. An open source project is one that builds community and resilience against all kinds of change: exactly what sustainability is about!

These are the reasons why we think it’s important that Growstuff be open source. We want to work openly and ethically, in collaboration with our members, building a community that feels a sense of ownership and deep involvement in the software that runs our website. We want other projects, especially those working in similar areas, to be able to look at what we’re doing and learn from us, through reading or re-using our source code. We want to know that if something happens to Growstuff itself, a new Growstuff — or a hundred new Growstuffs — could sprout up, and that people could continue to benefit from what we’ve built far into the future.

GUADEC talk: done! And a new project.

I gave my keynote at GUADEC today, on the subject of “From Open Source to Open Everything”, loosely based on this blog post from last year. I think it went pretty well, except that I ran badly overtime into the lunch break, for which I can only apologise and blame myself for hitting the wrong option on my laptop and not getting a timer on-screen, realising too late, then thinking I could muddle through without it rather than stop to fiddle with my laptop once I’d started talking. Ah well!

Sadly, after lunch, I was so wiped from the nasty head-cold I picked up somewhere in my travels, that I came straight back to the residence and slept all afternoon. If anyone was looking for me to chat about my talk, please hunt me down tomorrow.

I need to clean up my notes and post them, but stay tuned for a blog post version of my talk here sometime in the next couple of days.

In my talk I touched on a whole range of “open” communities including some in the green/eco/sustainability space. This morning I also attended a talk about “Gnome and the Systems of Free Infrastructure” by Federico Mena Quintero, from Mexico, who touched on similar topics. Federico and I have been talking about this stuff a bit over the last few weeks, to see what similarities we had in our talks. The other day we had lunch together and somehow the subject of open data for food crops came up: Federico asked me whether I knew of a free source of information telling you what crops grow in what climate regions at what times of year, and I said I didn’t know one, but that you’d have to look at information published (usually) by the agricultural departments in various places.

Or, of course, you could crowdsource it. Thinking about that idea, I realised it was in some ways similar to Ravelry, the awesome knitting community and database of all things knit-related. Nobody used to have a huge collection of all the knitting patterns in the world til Rav came along. Then, by each individual knitter putting in their own projects and notes, the aggregate of all of it became a useful general resource. Now you can do a complex search/filter for exactly the knitting pattern or yarn you’re interested in, based not on a centralised authority, but on each person adding their own small part to the whole.

If we wanted to, people growing food in their gardens and allotments and on their balconies in containers could do the same. If I posted, “I planted tomatoes in my garden in Melbourne on the 1st of November” and everyone else did likewise, we’d wind up with an extensive database of food plants, including things like heirloom varieties and where to source them from. We could also build a histogram of the distributions of planting times for every location. Eventually, we could build in tools for sharing your harvest with your local community, saying eg. “I have a tree full of lemons, does anyone want them?” or facilitating seed-sharing and other community gardening activities.

I couldn’t stop thinking about this over the next day or so, and I realised it’s something I really want. Really really want. I want a resource that’s like Ravelry, but with a focus on food gardening, especially the sustainable/organic/heirloom end of that scene. My perfect site would have a strong community committed to sustainability both in the green sense and in the sense of a successful online community. I’m also thinking of Dreamwidth as inspiration, especially with regard to its ethics and the way its developer community works. I’d definitely want this whole thing to be open source and community-built.

So, consider this a launch announcement. If this is something you’re interested in, here’s where you can sign up to be part of it: mailing list, Dreamwidth community. If you’re interested on any level please do join — we will need all kinds of people from coders to gardening experts to people willing to try out early versions of the site as we build it. As I talked about in my keynote today, I would really like this to be the sort of project where we don’t have false barriers between developers and users, but where every person who’s involved can be part of the process of building this thing together. And again inspired by Dreamwidth, I’d love to help anyone who wants to learn to code as part of this, regardless of prior experience. Heck, I’ll probably be picking up a newish-to-me language/platform for this, so we’ll probably all learn together. (That said, if you’re a Ruby or Python person with solid experience of medium-size-and-complexity web apps, and want to be part of this, let’s talk!)

Oh, also, a quick note… “harvest project” is my working title for this thing, but I guess we’ll need a real name and a domain to match at some point; if you have any bright ideas let me know. (ETA: we decided on “Growstuff”.)