FLO Farms, FLO Food
A popular phrase within food activist communities is “no farms – no food.” Within the context of occupy, that phrase could very well mean “if we don’t organize farms, we won’t be able to organize the distribution of food.” From the unlabeled genetically modified organisms (GMO) in mainstream food to the predatory practices of agro-business, the inhumane treatment of livestock to our food system’s dependency on fossil fuels, there’s more than enough opportunities to criticize our existing industrial-captialist food system. So, when Occupy Farms was chartered as a working group within the NYCGA, no one would have been surprised if it had developed into another criticism-oriented group – but it didn’t. Instead, Occupy Farms started building relationships between rural farmers and urban occupiers and helping occupy activists get out of the city and onto some farmland. By approaching its work from the perspective of a service provider, Occupy Farms established itself as a mutual aid group — compelling myself and others in TechOps to join and bring all of our tools to this effort. In doing so, we switched roles from being tool providers to users, allowing us to see things from a different perspective and better understand the type of documentation we need to produce to make these tools accessible to the OWS community.
Like most groups, Occupy Farms needed a website through which to communicate its intentions, share logistical information with its community and collect information about individuals interested in its work. In response to that need, we deployed a WordPress website with the necessary functionality, organized our information on the wiki, used our CiviCRM to match occupiers and began sending out a regular newsletter to our community. We also created a Google Docs collection to share information among Occupy Farms core team members. While Google Docs certainly isn’t free/libre, its usefulness is difficult to exaggerate.
While documentation for all of the tools we deployed existed, it was mostly directed a technical audience who might want to help us support the tools, not an activist audience who simply wants to use them. This became very obvious to us as the Occupy Farmers ran into difficulties and had to come to us to resolve them because the documentation was insufficient for their purposes. Fortunately, in an act of mutual aid, some people in Occupy Farms offered to work with TechOps to write appropriate documentation so it’s easier for more individuals and groups to adopt the tools. This activity will greatly benefit the entire Occupy Wall Street community and will also benefit Occupy Farms. When more people use FLO tools, more bugs are found and squashed, more features are defined and implemented, and more solutions are integrated together to create better products for all. Not only can our FLO systems support ten to a hundred times more users, but we can also easily package our solutions up and distribute them to affiliated groups for a near zero marginal cost. This doesn’t just apply to Occupy Wall Street related groups – it applies to everything.