Farm apprentice Sarah Dehart, 32, is pulling carrots out of Cultivate KC’s field at Gibbs Road Farm in Kansas City, Kan.
She is sporting true farmer’s gear: overalls, a plastic tub of vegetables on her shoulder and a tan. Also tucked into the bib pocket of her overalls is a smartphone, a tool that has the potential to help spread urban farming knowledge in a viral sort of way.
Cultivate KC is a not-for-profit organization that encourages and develops urban farming through policy, outreach and marketing. So Ami Freeburg, the farm’s program assistant, and Dehart commiserate that smartphones are too easily lost or soiled out in the fields to make it very practical to snap photos of the produce as it’s picked and upload the images onto the organization’s Facebook page.
Getting farmers wired requires finding an interface for two different ways of life. On the one hand are most consumers, who work and play networked to one another by computer, smartphone or tablet. On the other are the farmers, who are mostly cut off, working in fields where cellphone signals can be weak to nonexistent.
Handheld technology isn’t designed with agriculture in mind. Nature’s operating system is powered by mud and rain. And for all the wonderful design that goes into a smartphone, working the earth has not typically been a consideration. (Apple has yet to make a decent trowel.)
Plus, the time demands of the virtual world can be out of sync with a farmer’s biorhythms. “It’s hard when you spend sun-up to sundown in the field,” Freeburg, 24, says. “You don’t want to go home and update your Facebook page.”
Consequently, small farmers are falling behind, but consumers may be the ones missing out. It’s a weird symptom of our time that you can go online and find hubs for hipster Disney princesses or people who dress up like animals or any other kind of kink, but there is no easy way to get on your computer and populate your dinner plate with locally grown food.
This green thumb gap separates consumers from direct access to small farmers. But an increasing number of small farmers are finding ways to connect through websites, social media and email alerts.
“Technology is a tool like all the other tools in my garden,” says Linda Hezel, owner of Prairie Birthday Farms, a small farm in Clay County that supplies 15 restaurateurs with wild edibles. It’s a tool that might just drop costs, increase farm income and educate the public about where their food comes from and how it gets to the plate...
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