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CitizenSeeds

Agroecology — the science of sustainable agriculture — offers a new
and positive perspective for the creation of sustainable food
systems. We argue that, from the outset, it is important to involve
citizens in this development to create the necessary, bottom-up
support for this change in agriculture and to re-establish the ties
between food production and consumption. We see new opportunities to
include them in the planning, monitoring and evaluation of
agro-ecosystems through Human Computation and Citizen Science. In the
P2P Food Lab project, we also seek new ways to engage them more
creatively by setting up a shared online/offline platform in which
they can learn, practice, innovate, and share observations on
agroecological techniques.

CitizenSeeds is an experiment in which a group of participants grow a
selection of seeds on a small surface of 1m2. They document the plant
growth using sensor data and weekly pictures. The associated web site
is used to share this data and stimulate collaborative practices. The
long term goal is to evolve this platform into a tool to educate about
agroecology, to stimulate playful innovation through shared
challenges, and involve citizens in agroecological research.

In our first experiment, during Summer 2014, we developed a “Starter
Kit” for micro-agriculture that consisted of a small,
Internet-connected greenhouse. A sensor box was placed inside the
greenhouse that took daily images of the crops and measured the air
temperature, air humidity, and sunlight. The sensor box was built
using off-the-shelf components such as Arduino, Raspberry Pi and
standard webcams. The goal of the connected greenhouse was to create
an on-line social network of participants and gardeners, and use the
sensors for the evaluation of plant growth.

From left to right: 1) The first P2P Food Lab greenhouse near Paris, 2) Subsequent version of the greenhouse in Brussels, 3) Sensor box with camera, 4) Screenshot from the web site, 5) Time-lapse of the radishes and weather data, 6) Children from participating school near Paris.

The Starter Kit was a stepping stone that helped us develop the sensor
technology. However, the project but had several drawbacks. First, the
kit was too complex to build and too expensive to engage many
people. Secondly, we needed to give participants clearer guidelines if
we wanted to obtain reusable data. To achieve this, we simplified the
requirements for participation in Summer 2015, in the new experiment
called “CitizenSeeds”.

In “CitizenSeeds”, participants only needed a mobile phone equiped
with a camera and a 1m2 plot of land, either on plain soil or in a
raised bed. We also defined a collection of seeds to plant and a
fixed, shared planting schedule. These two elements greatly help in
aligning the participants, comparing the data, and stimulating social
interaction. To measure the environmental data (photosynthetically
active radiation, air temperature, soil humidity) the participants had
the option to use the Flower Power device produced by the company
Parrot. They also had the possibility to buy soil for their plot to
normalise the substrate used in the experiment. Few participants chose
this option, however.

Participants are asked to upload photos of their plot and the
vegetables once a week. About 80 people registered of whom about 30
contributed to the experiment. A single web page displays the states
of the plots and the environmental data of the community (See
https://p2pfoodlab.net/CitizenSeeds/experiments/6.html).

From left to right: 1) The seeding calendar, 2) A 1.2 x 1.2m plot with seedlings, 3) Matrix of photos uploaded by participants, 4) Visualisation of recorded environmental data.