Creating Open Data Schema With Carbon A List

At the end of last year, OpenTEAM was awarded a grant through the Community Funding Program by Regen Network for “Designing Quality Assets” resulting from ecological interventions, such as implementing sustainable agricultural practices, at the farm level. This grant will build the foundations for other organizations and communities of land stewards to build on top of.

Carbon A List is leading the charge on the grant, leveraging OpenTEAM community and partners like Regen1, Point Blue Conservation Science, Our Sci, FarmOS, Regen Farmers Mutual, and others to map out activities in their programs that show how land stewards can benefit. The work is creating Use Cases around specific asset types – such as a carbon offset, inset, insurance premium, grant, or other market incentive.

Founded in 2016, Carbon A List supports a wide range of organizations and land stewards in tackling climate mitigation projects. From supporting farm groups in capturing ecological data to helping large commodity organizations determine what to do next to drive soil health outcomes, Carbon A List often sees themselves as a hardware store that provides the necessary tools to support those in the agricultural sector in their climate projects.

“We are creating a hardware store. We don’t necessarily build the tools but we can provide tools already built that can get the job done,” says Christophe Jospe, founder of Carbon A List and previous co-founder of Nori.

“Our tagline is ‘Come for the Carbon, Stay for the Ecosystem.’ We have carbon in our name, but our real hope is for anyone we’re working with to recognize that for true systemic change, we need to move beyond tracking carbon, or even seeing carbon as the end-all be-all asset class,” he continues.

Their projects represent hundreds of thousands of acres of farmland where land stewards are capturing data and being rewarded for their positive impacts. As much of their work requires collecting data to support these projects, Carbon A List joined the OpenTEAM community not only for this grant but to support their other work streams too.

“Our goal is to create equity in enabling farm groups to have input and a voice in the institutions that govern how they do things. We are excited about OpenTEAM because we can do this in an open and collaborative way,” says Jospe.

Through OpenTEAM, Carbon A List supports a collaborative process of designing programs and rules that suit the individual needs and interests of farmers and ranchers in their local regions. This supports the creation of open schema, allowing data to move around more easily and help land stewards to utilize their data more fully in accessing various opportunities and benefits.

This is exemplified through the use case Carbon A List is exploring with Our Sci and Regen Farmers Mutual in Australia, thanks to the Regen Network grant. They are designing the right program that ensures land stewards are compliant with rules and regulations set forth by the Australian government. Through this, the government can more easily compensate farmers and ranchers for their positive impacts to the climate through the Australia Carbon Credit Program.

The use case primarily explores creating aggregated data sets and data warehouses which form data coops to encourage large groups of farmers and ranchers to enroll in the program.

“Through a data coop, those who collect data to monitor ecological improvements can gather their data collaboratively and go to market together,” says Jospe, “Making them stronger together than they are apart.”

Through OpenTEAM, Carbon A List can support more open schema to make environmental claims such as these not only compliant with what the government requires, but helps farmers and ranchers make the right changes to their farm to increase productivity, build soil health, and implement sustainable changes.

Protecting Farmers’ Data Sovereignty Through FarmStack

Screenshot of FarmStack Connector interface

Digital Green is increasing their potential for impact at scale in digital tools within agriculture through FarmStack, an open source protocol that is powering the secure transfer of data for farmers.

Digital Green is primarily known for working with government agencies in India and Ethiopia to produce farmer-to-farmer extension videos for smallholder farmers. Working with over 50,000 extension agents, farmers demonstrate the different agricultural methods they use and how to apply them through this visual storytelling. The videos, available in over 20 different languages, have proven to be highly effective by reaching over 2.3 million smallholder farmers—73% of which are women.

As Digital Green began working with different partners, they found that a majority of data collected was not digitized or kept in an information management system. Partner organizations and the farmers they served were not getting the most out of their data.

But, with each video created and shared, more and more data was collected.

“Agriculture just generates tons of different data at the farm level, the soil level, even markets, transactions, and inputs,” says Andrew Hicks, a Senior Program Manager who supports the FarmStack rollout for Digital Green globally.

“There are huge upsides to utilizing data to better tailor agricultural products and services. There’s tons of data that’s held in all these different places,” says Hicks, “And there’s huge potential if we’re able to bring that together to better inform solutions going forward. We have these digital tools and technologies that are rapidly developing that can really unlock additional value for producers from their own data.”

In order for Digital Green, its partner organizations, and the smallholder farmers they work with to use this data to their advantage, they needed to address the barriers preventing different agricultural ecosystem actors from sharing their data. With FarmStack, an open-source protocol that enables the secure transfer of data between two systems, Digital Green is enabling actors such as farmers, researchers, and organizations to look at their data differently and have the tools necessary to share that data while still being able to control it.

Farmers data can often be held in very fragmented services and platforms which exacerbate natural fragmentation, trust and compliance issues. Data might be locked in large silos where corporations maintain access, keeping smallholder farmers from controlling who does what with their data. Through an agriculture data sharing ecosystem, as is imagined with the Ag Data Wallet concept from OpenTEAM, protocols are required to set norms for how information is shared and enable data producers to define how their data will be used.

Applying open-source development to this protocol allows others to use this coded protocol as a platform to build their own applications on top of. Through this, Digital Green is able to catalyze a movement of sharing data across agriculture and food systems that no longer bars smallholder farmers, non-profits, or other organizations from being able to share and access data securely.

Although farmers may not use FarmStack directly, it still carries direct benefits. For example, say there is an advisory organization that wants to share advice and feedback directly with farmers on their own farming and livestock management systems via an interactive voice response calling system. They want to target who receives what advice via phone, sharing specific messages to certain farmers depending on what they do, whether they farm grains or raise livestock. But, that organization may not have all the information needed to link the correct phone number with the right farmer to ensure they receive the information pertinent to them. There are other organizations that may have that information stored somewhere already. This is where FarmStack can help.

“Through a FarmStack connector, you can then match the farmer’s data with the correct advisory data, deliver that aggregated dataset with a usage policy, and send it securely,” says Hicks. Through this, the advisory organization is able to get out the right answers to the right farmers, providing them with the most accurate and up to date information while maintaining farmers’ control through data security policies and protocols.

Through FarmStack, Digital Green is giving back farmers control of their own data, allowing them to use it as both a resource and a tool to learn from and discover other services. Through OpenTEAM, Digital Green will continue to share and expand this work to other organizations and community projects, such as the Ag Data Wallet, to ensure that farmers of all regions, sizes, and production systems can unlock the wide array of opportunities when their data is fully utilized

farmOS Releases First Beta of farmOS v2 in the New Year

After a year of development, farmOS rang in the new year with the first release of their next major version of the application: v2.0.0-beta1.

“If we look back at how much we’ve built in just the past couple years, it’s really amazing,” says Michael Stenta, founder, maintainer, and lead developer of farmOS. farmOS is a web-based application for farm management, planning, and record keeping developed by a community of farmers, developers, researchers, and organizations with the aim of providing a standard platform for agricultural data collection and management.

This updated version is not only built to be compatible with Drupal 9, an open source digital experience platform used to build the application, but brings many additional improvements, modernizations, and new features. Updates include new asset types such as seed or material, inventory tracking for assets and updated log types. Assets refers to anything a farmer or rancher is managing, such as land, crops, or livestock while logs identify either activities or events that take place on the farm like harvesting. Additionally, there is improved group membership logic, upgraded data streams for sensor integration, a better user experience and improved mobile support, updated APIs, and a new user guide so individuals can navigate the changes among other modifications. The farmOS website also saw some improvements and new documentation for hosting, development, module building, and API changes was shared.

“This means that farmers, and the organizations that serve them, can start using farmOS v2 for their data management today! And we can start working as a community on all of the big ideas that we’ve been preparing for with these upgrades, including more integrations with other systems and standardizing management data conventions to support data sharing, interoperability, and community-based benchmarking tools,” says Stenta, “This is just the first step. 2022 is going to be an exciting year!”

Current farmOS users will have the opportunity to make the switch and Farmier, the web-hosting companion to farmOS, is now offering farmOS v2 hosting. To make the migration process easier, farmOS has developed a way for users to automatically migrate from v1 to v2.

“Because so many people are using farmOS, we also have to manage the migration to the new platform and help people through that process, which requires a lot of forethought. So, we’ve created migration code which will migrate farmers from one version to the next automatically,” says Stenta.

Like other tools within the OpenTEAM technology ecosystem, farmOS is open-source and publicly accessible to any farmer. It serves as both a database and interface, so farmers can find, add, and manage data and information for their farm easily. From managing organic certification to equipment maintenance, farmers use farmOS to satisfy many different needs.

The application also includes an API (Application Programming Interface), making it possible for other programs such as Field Kit (farmOS’s companion offline-first mobile app) to push and pull from this database too. This implements interoperability among systems and, in the case of the Field Kit, makes it easier to use the farmOS interface offline.

Ever since the beginning, farmOS has been committed to remaining open source. Through open source development, each piece of code acts as a lego block which others can use and build on top of, moving progress faster and farther than otherwise. By being a part of the OpenTEAM community and technology ecosystem, farmOS has been able to gather support for the development of their application and connect and build off of other programs, helping farmers to more easily protect, manage, analyze, and share their data.

While this release is just the first step, “It’s hard to overstate how big of a step it is,” wrote Stenta in an update to the farmOS discourse group. As the new update makes farmOS more robust, flexible, and easier to use than ever, it creates a solid platform for the farmOS community to build further improvements on in the years to come.

From Excel Spreadsheet to Global Environmental Impacts Measurement Tool

At its inception, the Cool Farm Tool was an excel spreadsheet developed to quantify greenhouse gas emissions. Today it is a tool used by farmers around the world to measure their greenhouse gas emissions, how well their farm supports biodiversity, and the quantity of water used to produce crops and support farm operations.

The Cool Farm Alliance is made up of 132 members. The Cool Farm Tool has over 22,000 registered users in 140 different countries, thus the Tool is translated into 14 languages. It is connected via an Automated Programming Interface (API) to 30 different farm management software packers and sustainability platforms used by farmers globally.

Farmers quantifying on-farm sustainability typically use the tool to gain insight into how agronomic decisions can contribute to mitigating climate change. The tool gives farmers the opportunity to estimate the effects of farming practice changes on greenhouse gas emissions, carbon sequestration, and other measures. The tool is built from empirical models and requires less data inputs by farmers compared to some other tools. Patrick Lawrence, a Cool Farm Alliance Technical Advisor says, “It is easy to use and easy to use everywhere.” Farmers from Australia to Southeast Asia are using the tool to quantify their environmental impacts and determine how to improve their operations, all while maintaining profitability.

As the Cool Farm Tool has progressed over the years, it has expanded in breadth and scope under the stewardship of the Cool Farm Alliance. Organizations that use the Tool to support sustainable agriculture become Cool Farm Alliance members and pay membership fees, facilitating further development of the Tool and keeping it free to use for farmers. This collaborative structure allows Cool Farm Alliance members to help build literacy and understanding about the relationship between agriculture and climate change mitigation across the food and agriculture industries.

Like OpenTEAM, the Cool Farm Alliance cultivates a broader network of members, consultants, and skilled professionals who are collectively developing the Tool and methodology for its measurements. How something is measured, such as soil carbon, varies as there are different methods used. For tools such as the Cool Farm Tool, implementing standardized measurement practices provide a scientifically sound approach for estimating emissions, biodiversity, or water metrics on farms. To help develop consensus on these topics, the Cool Farm Alliance has been participating in OpenTEAM’s Field Methods Working Group and in the recent Carbon Series, where organizations have been co-creating cohesive measurement protocols for soil health testing.

As the science around such protocols continually changes, the Cool Farm Alliance is similarly on a path of continuous improvement serving both those who rely on stable results from Cool Farm Tool for developing long-term emissions baselines, and those who rely on the most up-to-date science.

The Cool Farm Alliance plans to release an updated version of the Tool early next year. This will improve calculations and add helpful improvements to the user interface, says Lawrence.

Furthermore, the Cool Farm Tool has an Automated Programming Interface (API) that enables the connection with external management and data softwares to use existing data for calculating assessments at scale. To make things easier for farmers, the Cool Farm Alliance has been working alongside OpenTEAM community members farmOS and Our Sci to enable data stored on their platforms to be compatible with the CFT data requirements, streamlining the process of calculating emissions. As the platforms connect, farmers won’t have to worry about entering their data more than once. Rather, their data from applications such as farmOS and SurveyStack will auto populate the Cool Farm Tool assessment, making it even easier to measure the environmental impacts of their farms.

With OpenTEAM, collaborations like this are made possible. Cool Farm Tool and Cool Farm Alliance have learned a lot from other participants within the OpenTEAM ecosystem, joining a community of like-minded tools and skilled professionals who interact with those tools who can collaborate towards a shared goal. In 2022, they look forward to cultivating these relationships more and developing the tool further through the introduction of additional modules, making the tool even more accessible and usable to farmers from a variety of geographies, production systems, and scales.

Bridging Indigenous Knowledge with Research in Malawi

Michigan State University is one of OpenTEAM’s original member organizations from 2019. The Michigan State University Hub, located in Malawi, is led by Dr. Sieglinde Snapp, professor of soils and cropping systems ecology and Associate Director of the Center for Global Change and Earth Observations. In Malawi, they are working to build farmer-centric networks of extension officers, researchers, and farmers to generate a new way of working in agriculture that bridges farmers’ indigenous knowledge and researchers’ understanding of soils to create a better functioning farm.

The Malawi Hub is based out of the MSU Global Change Learning Lab, which facilitates agroecology research throughout Sub-Saharan Africa. The co-learning lab is providing a platform where researchers can make long-term observations while interacting directly with farmers through on-farm experiments. Dr. Snapp was inspired to create this learning lab when she first visited the area in 1993.

“I could see that traditional approaches to understanding agriculture and soils were just not working. The idea of sending in soil samples from a small-scale farm, who were very poor farmers, and then they would somehow have to analyze the information sent back, it just seemed untenable,” she says. 

Dr. Snapp, along with others, decided to rethink how they approached agricultural research through the Global Change Learning Lab. “I realized more and more science is done on just a few research stations that aren’t very related to the real world. There are huge gaps between researchers and farmers,” she states. They needed to find a way that was more farmer-centric and took into account farmers’ own capabilities to enact new processes on their farms.

Researchers developed new methods to reverse the usual top-down approach by having farmers inform and contextualize the research that is happening, ultimately making each farm they work with a research farm. Using this participatory research method, researchers interact directly with those who actually manage the land. Informed by this, researchers can provide farmers with options that can improve their agricultural practices while being conducive to their needs and capabilities.

This is realized by Dr. Snapp’s innovative “mother-baby” trial design that links farmer-led and researcher-led research together. Through this, farmers’ own knowledge and choices inform the research happening at the university level and farmers themselves can be exposed to a wider range of ideas and options.

“It’s a way of communication, that what farmers choose tells researchers something about which practices farmers like the best and how farmers adapt things is a way for researchers to learn. What is in the mother trial, that has all the options, is a way for farmers to be exposed to a wider range of options,” says Dr. Snapp. 

This newer way of thinking creates positive feedback loops where farmers’ choices inform research and the research informs the farmers’ choices. Creating a process where farmers and researchers can learn from each other in a multi-faceted way.

Current research at the Malawi Hub focuses on giving farmers options in the field as they learn about their soil health. Over the past year, Malawi extension educators went to a thousand farmers and walked the fields with them, using the reflectometer tool provided by Our Sci, to give real time data on soil carbon status. This was the start of a conversation with farmers, asking what farmer’s observed. If farmers had observed issues such as parasitic weeds like ‘striga’, also called witchweed, and other signs of degradation, then options for soil rehabilitation were discussed. By knowing certain characteristics of a farmer’s soil, the educators can suggest options that farmers can try to fix their soil health. Exploring options and engaging in learning together is the start of an entirely new way to do research, a farmer-centric and community based approach.

Dr. Snapp looks forward to developing more interoperability within the OpenTEAM tech ecosystem to better support this participatory research model, such as e-surveys for systematic feedback, the development of apps that allow farmers to find each other and share options that have worked on their farms, and documentation of their soil status through LandPKS and other applications. This is just the beginning, as the Malawi Hub continues to grow in building out its farmer-centric processes and methods. 

Using farmOS at Organic Valley

Organic Valley is one of our 15 Hubs that are using our suite of tools to help them manage everything from farm planning to organic certification. Of the many tools available to farmers, Organic Valley uses farmOS to keep track of all their records, documents, and logs of what is happening on the farm, ultimately using that information to maintain their organic certification.

Lexi Leum is the Farm Resources Coordinator in the Sustainability Department at Organic Valley. Leum’s work primarily includes applying for grants, offering field support for Organic Valley’s Farm and Land Program, and collaborating with the organic certification department, which is where farmOS primarily comes in, says Leum.

“We use farmOS for the filing of documents and events throughout the growing season. When we are audited at our organic inspection, we can reference the log of events in farmOS to showcase our work,” Leum states.

Of the features farmOS has to offer, Organic Valley appreciates the visual aspect of drawing maps, seeing field boundaries, and then being able to manipulate those as necessary in order to track their progress. farmOS also offers a Field Kit, an app accessed from your phone which allows you to record data without having to be at your computer. These features help Organic Valley and other farmOS users to adequately keep track of all the events and plans that happen during each season, which can later be reported and looked back on.

Leum sees their commitment to using farmOS as a major accomplishment, helping them to manage all of their records in one place. “Because we had been filing data in many different ways, to commit to one is where we really have been giving our best effort to utilize farmOS”, Leum states. 

Leum says there is a growing desire from farmers to be able to use softwares like farmOS, “I think there is a true desire for applications like farmOS, especially 1for producers who utilize technology as a management tool. For those folks, this platform could be useful to sort and file their data.”

farmOS is a web-based application for farm management, planning, and record keeping. It is developed by a community of farmers, developers, researchers, and organizations with the aim of providing a standard platform for agricultural data collection and management.

You can learn more about farmOS and see it in action from the GODAN Open Farms Mini Documentary.