FarmOS is a Drupal-based software project aimed at easing the day-to-day management of a farm. It allows different roles to be assigned to managers, workers, and viewers. Managers can monitor how things are going with access to the whole system, workers can use the record-keeping tools, and viewers have read-only access to, for example, certify the farm’s records.
I spoke with Mike Stenta, lead developer of farmOS and active developer since 2010, and he had a number of reasons for using Drupal and putting their files, code, and documentation on GitHub.
“I settled on Drupal for farmOS because I see it as a good intersection of flexibility, scalability, and community,” Stenta said. “It uses a modular architecture, so you can build applications in Drupal like building Legos. The community is huge, and the number of contributed modules and themes is mind-boggling. If you can think of it, you can probably build it in Drupal—and chances are someone already has.”
Fourteen modules are currently being developed, including Farm Access, Farm Admin, Farm Asset, Farm Crop, and more.
“The focus right now is laying a strong groundwork so that others can more easily join in and contribute,” Stenta said. “The world of agriculture wasn’t even on my radar until 2008. I started college in computer science, but switched to art and photography—partly because web development wasn’t in the curriculum. After college I found my way to the Olympic Peninsula in Washington state. There I worked as a farm apprentice. Then I came back to the east coast. In 2010, I helped my friend start a small CSA in Connecticut, and the philosophy of food and cultivation sank in deeply over those years. It shaped my direction profoundly.”
Then, he had the inspiration for farmOS. It came from some software he developed for the CSA. To take it to the next level he started generalizing his work, which led to the creation of the modules that are the core of farmOS today. Stenta is also working on a general ledger module for Drupal, which is a double-entry accounting system similar to popular proprietary products.
The community surrounding the project is important too, and farmOS is looking for beta testers and other contributors to the project.
“FarmOS is developed by a handful of contributors, and more are getting involved steadily,” Stenta said. “Community is everything, and it’s important to foster good communication and planning in any open source project. We publish monthly roadmaps and invite people to help. All the planning and task management is done in the Drupal issue queues and on GitHub, so it’s transparent and accessible. The monthly development meetings are a new experiment we’re trying to invite more people into the conversation. The project is still very young, but the interest has been huge and it’s starting to take on a life of its own.”
High tech tools are increasingly being integrated into our agricultural systems every year. New combines often come standard with geo-located yield monitoring technology, while start-ups and researchers are exploring how drones might be used to monitor fields. New record-keeping tools with mobile platforms make it easy for farmers to track their activity, analyze their data, and get feedback and recommendations. These tools are powerful, potentially enabling farmers to see, understand, and manage their land in ways previously less possible.
But many of these tools are costly, proprietary, and crop-specific, often coming with high subscription costs on a platform that makes data inaccessible or less versatile. Their current format can create barriers for farmers that don’t match their target clientele. But are they only tools available?
Open source agricultural tools may be an answer to the emergence of new proprietary, high-tech tools. Drawing on the development principles of the open-source movement, university researchers, farmers, developers, and hackers are building their own tools that often have open-source licensing or are freely available to the public. For example, farmOS is a completely open-source records management system that can be integrated with aerial maps to make management fast and east, and Photosynq is a project that integrates a Bluetooth-enabled photosynthesis meter with an online data management platform.
Individually, these tools are powerful, capable of providing farmers with new ways of collecting, analyzing, and modeling data on their farms. But so many of these tools go unnoticed now or aren’t currently capable of integrating with each other. For busy farmers who don’t have the time to manage and learn multiple tools, paying a premium for a more complete service often seems like the more attractive option.
The Open Agriculture Learning Series (OALS) is a group that formed with all these issues in mind. In an effort to catalog all the tools available and generate conversations about how we can integrate them, we host periodic webinars where developers can present their projects, talk about their needs, and look for ways to collaborate. OALS has drawn in groups like farmOS, Photosynq, Open Pipe Kit, Comet-Farm, and many more.
Through the series we’ve learned about the huge variety of useful tools that are already out there, but we’ve also about how hard it is to get these tools to speak to each other. Simply hosting a space where folks who are interested can have conversations is the first step in the process. OALS has led to fruitful conversations between groups like farmOS and Photosynq, who are now thinking of ways to make it easier to push data from one to the other.
As we continue to map the landscape of great work out there, we keep learning and finding points of collaboration. High-tech tools will most likely be an important part of the knowledge systems farmers use to help them make decisions. Ensuring that they’re inclusive and available to all producers will be essential to building a food system that’s just and sustainable.
Access past Open Agriculture Learning Series presentations in the Archive.