This Innovative Gardening Site Can Teach a Novice to Grow Anything

OpenFarm is building a free, open database that will break down how to get fruits, vegetables, and plants to thrive.
Sep 3, 2014· 1 MIN READ
Patricia Dao is a regular contributor to TakePart. She is a Los Angeles–based serial tech entrepreneur and managing director of the nonprofit Girls in Tech–LA.

If you’re weary of spending $4 for a few organic tomatoes, growing your own garden can be a cost-effective and sustainable alternative. The National Gardening Association reports that in the past five years, there’s been a 17 percent increase in food gardening, up from 36 million households in 2008 to 42 million in 2013. Although these numbers are promising, there are still people who want to grow gardens but don’t know how.

This is where the tech project OpenFarm comes in. It’s a free, open database of gardening information that anyone can contribute to or access anytime. The project aims to be the Wikipedia of gardening and farming and offers green thumbs of all levels the knowledge they need to grow the crops or plants they’ve been longing for­.

“Ultimately we hope for OpenFarm to become the go-to place for all farming and gardening knowledge,” says OpenFarm’s California-based founder, Rory Aronson. “No matter where you are in the world, what you are trying to grow, what your preferred practices and environmental conditions are, the OpenFarm community will be able to help."

The core component of the site is the OpenFarm growing guides submitted by everyday gardeners and farmers to help paint a clear, concise picture of what a plant needs to thrive. Included are garden prerequisites (temperature, sun exposure, location, water needs), optimal time of year for sowing, growing, and harvesting, and growing guidelines for every stage of the plant’s life. Not sure when to prune your cucumbers? A contributor’s guide to cucumbers would break down how much to prune, where to cut on the plant, and what to cut off at different stages of growth.

Aronson says that users could even submit growing guides for hydroponic and aeroponic growing. The project could also be used by cities and environmental organizations working on restoring green space.

The community not only crowdsources gardening information but is also self-policing through a user-powered ranking system, ensuring the best guides receive higher user ratings and rank near the top of searches, making the poorly written guides harder to find.

Aronson saw a need for this system because of his own experiences with growing a garden. “I am a gardener—though not a very good one,” he says, “and OpenFarm was born out of the frustration I had at the lack of a centralized, high-quality, modern website for sharing and learning about growing plants.”

OpenFarm’s software is still in development but has proven through the overwhelming support received from the Kickstarter community that it is essential. Aronson took to the site to raise money for Web hosting fees and to provide stipends to early contributors who are committed to helping build the database. Since the launch of the Kickstarter campaign, the project has more than doubled its initial pledge goal, with more than 1,300 backers and counting.

“I think it has done well on Kickstarter because I am not the only one with this frustration,” says Aronson. “People feel that sharing this type of information is an important step toward a more sustainable future.”