Automating Information Gathering and Accounting Systems

joshuak's picture

Hello Everybody,

I was given the link to Local Food Systems by a reporter at the Mount Vernon News.  What an interesting site!

I have a question.  It seems like most of the data being discussed here comes from external sources - GIS data, Census data, etc.  What applications can you think of for data coming directly from the farms and businesses they serve?

Suppose you could have up to the minute statistics on a farm's products - its inventory amounts, amounts promised out to customers, etc.  If you were a consumer, you could see in real time what kinds of farms in your area had what kinds of produce available.  Think about what other kind of information you could aggregate, information that is not proprietary (competitive) information that could be shared. With such a network, various kinds of business models could be built - offer and acceptance, auctions, etc.

Now, suppose by creating this network you could also provide state of the art GL (general ledger), CRM (customer relationship management) and RP (resource planning) capabilities to each farm.

Best of all, suppose you could do this using 100% open source software?



-Joshua Kramer

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Josh, I think you have hit

webadmin's picture

Josh, I think you have hit the nail on the head.

I think it will be a process to work with people over time, and that it will be up to individuals to share data that they see as being valuable to share.

But, I think an incentive, as you mention, is that sharing some data (and much of it can be anonymized and still be valuable) about yourself will indeed open up new niches, both for yourself and others. Plus, it could make marketplaces more "agile" meaning that participants can adapt, adjust, anticipate and act on changing local and regional conditions. this could be based on demand, or finding emerging markets, etc.

One secret here is that this is not just supplying a template toolset to farms, but meeting needs throughout the whole local food system. People who make products from locally grown foods, people who distribute them, people who make technology locally for people who grow food. Government and education institutions, etc.  It may be surprising to know that many people have multiple roles in the system. Some are educators and food growers, some are retailers and growers, some are suppliers of to growers but also active in policy making, etc etc. Some are not for profit organization members who also run their own farms, etc etc So, there are unique needs for the end users of systems.

I agree that the system can be made 100% from Open Source software. But, I think it is important to realize that there are diverse needs, and that systems that are offered are probably not going to be just traditional applications, but also new ways to access and ask questions of data from many sources: something that puts this question asking in the hands of non-programmers, and let's them have lots of flexibility on the sources of data, and what they share, etc. 

Sam, +1 regarding the

joshuak's picture


+1 regarding the ability of non-programmer users to be able to ask questions of data.  I wonder if a solution such as Pentaho might be one way to achieve that goal?

I don't know if Pentaho has GIS capability.  A quick Google search doesn't return much in the way of Pentaho GIS capability.

This could be another major building block on the business side:

We might be able to build a GIS solution with GeoDjango.  It becomes more interesting then, because someone has built a social network platform (basically Facebook in a box) on top of the regular Django.  Think of a version of Facebook where you could be 'friends' with various farmers or organizations, ask questions of farm data in interesting - perhaps even GIS aware - ways.

If only we had a way to aggregate the data...

 I would say the best way to

webadmin's picture

 I would say the best way to aggregate data, again, is to put data sharing/publishing power right into the hands of of the people who are being asked to share data.There really is no other way to do it.

This creates a "commons" of data. the data itself is not a commodity, not valuable. What is valuable is how you can recombine and view and look at the data.

There are going to be some open source projects emerging soon that
address this, plus the ability of non-programmers to ask questions of
data. Right now, the existing open source applications do some, but not
all of this.  The engine that drives this is modular, and made to work with virtually any existing web application. We are not ready to fully launch this yet, but if you are a developer, and interested in helping us at early development stage, you can contact me privately by clicking on my username, and when we are ready to bring in developers, we'll definitely let you know. All of the code will be released under GPLv2. The code we are working on would allow you to connect in all of the applications that you mention above, for instance.

The biggest problem, though, is not a technology problem, but a human condition. So, it is best to start in the field, face to face, with people who are actual stakeholders, asking: "what do *you* want to do, and how do you want to do it?" very often, you'll find that there is not an existing template application that most of the stakeholders are willing to use, at least not without first creating real trusting relationships with each other.

Adapting the Storytelling Process for System Development

Steve Bosserman's picture

If I understand you correctly, starting in the field, face-to-face, with stakeholders and asking them key questions that tie directly to their roles and responsibilities within local economies / local food systems not only garners useful input for system development, it also gains trust in the system before it goes online.  Perhaps we could put together a guiding framework for those who interview stakeholders so their conversations are more effective in getting pertinent information while strengthening working relationships.  Maybe the LFS Storytellers would want to experiment with the framework as part of their summer activities.  Just a thought...

I think you are totally

webadmin's picture

I think you are totally right, Steve. This could also be guided in part by the table created by Ross MacDonald, which can help inform what problems people are trying to solve, suggest new possibilities, and give a framework for knowing where people are "at", and where they can/could "be", always guided by what they want to do.

Particularly, this is important when we are asking them to share their own data.

web applications for local food systems

David Reed's picture

I have just discovered this discussion group, and very happy to see the comments posted on GIS, data mining, etc.   Regarding applications for connecting to producers for real time data, I was wondering how this group feels about existing realtime marketing apps such as, Greenleaf Market, Philadelphia virtual markets, Oklahoma, and others.