Creative Design Informatics for Horticultural Awareness at the End of the World Garden

Thanks to Paul Chaney who runs The End of the World Garden, we had an opportunity to trial a short workshop based on our Farm Crap App and prototype Allotment Lab on his two-acre forest garden site in Cornwall. This was our contribution to the Bank Holiday Weekend Haymaking Extravaganza (along with a bit of hay-making too).

We started by looking in detail at the Farm Crap App, how it arose from an intersection of governmental policy and the needs of farmers, providing a way to quantify the nutrients present in natural manures that are added to the land. We were able to map a section of the End of the World Garden intended for future agricultural experimentation, and based on its crop history and soil type calculate the additional nutrients required for growing different crops.

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One of our discoveries were the limitations of the underlying DEFRA data, being based on a particular approach to farming it uses a pretty broad brush – the necessary simplicity of the data in some areas (for example in the range of crops present) is not so well suited to smallholders. For example high yield crops that maintain profitability are less important to smallholders who are able to use slower growing strains. It was also interesting to work with people who had less experience with farming (me included) and trying to work out the difference between ‘dribble bars’ and ‘splash plates’ and other arcane muck spreading technology.

We also tested our prototype Allotment Lab. This has been designed to provide a couple of trial walk through experiments based on compost quality and soil type estimation for a more general audience – allotment owners, gardeners and smallholder farmers included.

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We tested the soil in a small area of field, attempting to form different shapes with our hands and a little water, in order to estimate its specific type and consistency. The soil in this part of Cornwall consists of a top layer of ‘sandy clay’ (actually containing larger granite particles, rather than sand) and a lower layer of ‘silty clay’ laid down from melt water during the last ice age. Paul dug down to find the lower layer so we could check the difference between them using the test.

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This workshop was useful in that it highlighted the limitations of top-down governmental data and the potential for citizen science to allow people to gather their own knowledge based on their specific circumstances. One of our challenges is coming up with a range of experiments that can augment official data and allow farmers, allotment owners and others to ask questions, collect data and make decisions that will help them in increasingly difficult social, climatic and economic circumstances.

Bumper Crop released

A release of Bumper Crop is now up on the play store with the source code here. As I reported earlier this has been about converting a board game designed by farmers in rural India into a software version – partly to make it more easily accessible and partly to explore the possibilities and restrictions of the two mediums. It’s pretty much beta really still, as some of the cards behave differently to the board game version, and a few are not yet implemented – we need to work on that, but it is playable now, with 4 players at the same time.

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The 3D and animation is done using the fluxus engine on android, and the game is written in tinyscheme. Here’s a snippet of the code for one of the board locations, I’ve been experimenting with a very declarative style lately:

;; description of location that allows you to fertilise your crops
;; the player has a choice of wheat/onion or potatoes
(place 26 'fertilise '(wheat onion potato) 
  ;; this function takes a player and a 
  ;; selected choice and returns a new player
  (lambda (player choice)
    (if (player-has-item? player 'ox) ;; do we have an ox?
      ;; if so, a complete a free fertilise task if needed
      (if (player-check-crop-task player choice 'fertilise 0)
        (player-update-crop-task player choice 'fertilise)
        player)
      ;; otherwise it costs 100 Rs
      (if (player-check-crop-task player choice 'fertilise 100)
        (player-update-crop-task
          (player-add-money player -100) ;; remove money
            player choice 'fertilise)
          player)))
  (place-interface-crop)) ;; helper to make the interface

Testing the board game, which you can download on this page:

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The game on tablet:

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This is the game running on a phone:

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Bumper Crop

Bumper crop is an android game I’ve just started working on with Dr Misha Myers as part of the Play to Grow project: “exploring and testing the use of computer games as a method of storytelling and learning to engage urban users in complexities of rural development, agricultural practices and issues facing farmers in India.”

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(Warning – contains machine translated Hindi!)

I’m currently working out the details with artist Saswat Mahapatra and Misha, who have been part of the team developing this game based on fieldwork in India working with farmers from different regions. They began by developing a board game, which allowed them to flexibly prototype ideas with lots of people without needing to worry about software related matters. This resulted in a great finished product, super art direction and loads of assets ready to use. I very much like this approach to games design.

From my perspective the project relates very closely to groworld games, germination x, as well as the more recent farm crap app. I’m attempting to capture the essence of the board game and restrict the necessary simplifications to a minimum. The main challenge now that the basics are working is providing an approximation of bartering and resource management between players that board games are so good at, into a simple interface – also with the provision of AI players.

Source code & Play store (very alpha at the moment!)