Move Over, Farmville: Virtual Farming with UK-based MyFarm

You can call me Farmer Grace, my alias for the past ninety days. A few months ago, I volunteered to represent the food team at GRACE and participate in MyFarm, a year-long online experiment designed to recruit 10,000 “virtual farmers” to help make decisions surrounding the food production practices at Wimpole Estate, a 2,500 acre farm in Cambridgeshire. To date there are 2,000 farmers signed up, many of whom are school groups and families. MyFarm is to continually recruit more virtual farmers to meet their goal of 10,000 farmers by the end of April 2012. Here’s a summary of my experience so far:

What is the purpose of MyFarm?

The project is an effort to combat the disconnection that many people in the UK have with food production. Sound familiar? The Wimpole Estate is owned by the National Trust, a charity independent of the government, which in part “aims to help people reconnect with farming and learn more about how food is produced.” They feel it is an important program to inspire a dialog about the realities of farming.

The intersection of new media and sustainable food systems has been a longtime passion of ours, and getting to learn about and participate -- albeit, digitally -- in the challenges facing an operating organic farm is an opportunity we couldn’t pass up.

What does a virtual farmer do?

The main thrust has been the monthly votes concerning crops and livestock on the farm. For each vote, farm manager Richard Morris creates a video explaining the reason he would like us to vote on the topic. There is also a blog post, a discussion board and detailed information in order to help us make an informed choice. It’s been a very interactive program so far, informing us of every step along the way and using new media and multimedia to assist in this effort.

What have the farmers voted on?

So far, there have been four votes. The first was what to grow in the main field, called Pond field (wheat), the second was which sheep to breed, rare vs. conventional (rare), the third was to determine which rare breed (Radnor, Oxford or Norfolk) and the most recent being which variety of wheat to grow (Magister or Panorama). To me, the latest vote was the most interesting to date for a couple of reasons. First, there was an interview with a local miller who gave an interesting perspective and a post on the discussion board by a local business man who runs a small farmer-owned organic grain marketing business. He encouraged his fellow virtual farmers to vote for the Magister variety due to its popularity and familiarity with local organic flour millers.

What’s next?

Farmer Morris posted a video letting the farmers know that he is going to bring an agronomist to Pond Field to determine how much seed per hectare for growing the Magister variety of wheat, which won in the last vote. Our next vote will be related to growing the crop most efficiently.

We'll keep you up to date with future votes and happenings on the farm. If you'd like to join in the fun, click here. Note: there is a fee of thirty pounds (about 45 US dollars).

The intersection of new media and sustainable food systems has been a longtime passion of ours, and getting to learn about and participate -- albeit, digitally -- in the challenges facing an operating organic farm is an opportunity we couldn’t pass up. For more stories from that intersection, check out our collection of case studies that highlights the use of tech tools to fuel the sustainable food movement, Cultivating the Web.

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