Without community participation, OpenFarm would be a mere shell. It must be fleshed out by the people it is designed to serve. So who are these people and how do you connect with them?
I was recently invited to an event through my Facebook network that was geared towards connecting and encouraging collaboration between social entrepreneurs, green businesses, non-profits, healers and farmers. It was hosted by a man I had only ever seen on Facebook, but that some friends had met. He is a self proclaimed lover of laughter yoga, creating space for deep conversations, and social connection. He is the kind of person who (over)zealously posts on Facebook, leading many of his friends and followers to think he's spamming them. Perhaps its a generational thing. Nevertheless, Rob (let's call him Rob) is a valuable ally for the community developer. Rob represents the hub that has the potential to connect you to the far reaches of his wheel of influence and connection.
This event hosted by Rob brought about twenty of us together, all interested in collaborating and examining the networks we share and can build upon. I was the youngest person in attendance, being 23. There were maybe three people in their late twenties and the majority of those in attendance were upper/middle-aged. Interests were diverse and included death cafes, lifestyle training, cosmic energy and affordable housing. There were a number of topics and people that I honed in on as helpful to growing a community around OpenFarm. Tess (let's call her Tess) is an environmental educator and has involvement in the local permaculture guild, the city farm, food systems, and the UC Cooperative Extension. She turned me on to more than ten other local organizations that would be interested in the work OpenFarm is doing. Navigating social environments is difficult at times, and although Tess was well connected and knowledgeable, she has a strong personality that could come off as challenging. I quickly saw some friction between Rob and Tess, and when it was my turn to speak about my organization, felt some of the weight from these large personalities directed at me.
When explaining OpenFarm to any group of people, it is helpful to know your audience. I was speaking to people who spend most of their time outdoors and are often reluctant to adopt new technologies if it means they have to navigate the internet. Tess challenged me on the usefulness of OpenFarm, asking if there were not already sites that tell people how to grow things. "Well there are," I said, "but the data isn't well structured and we gain strength from our content being user-generated and location specific". This is an example of how not to answer such a question. Who cares about structured data? Why is it relevant to her? These must be explained. A better answer I crafted was an explanation on how other websites don't have every plant, they don't give easy step by step growing instructions, and they don't account for differences in climate. Tess gave me the chance to defend OpenFarm and maybe even expound upon questions others may have had. That act of challenging gave me a platform to discuss why OpenFarm is different (and better!) than the average plant growing site. It became an opportunity to show my strength and the organization's strength.
I met new people, some of them I may never see again, and others may become great allies. People are not lists, they are not LinkedIn accounts with quantifiable stats and they are not a means to an end. I think this is important to remember when networking. When I was a freshman, I met someone who was exceptionally kind to me. He told me that people create for themselves a karmic web of connectedness. He went on to explain that he could end up meeting my sister, fall in love, and have his life radically altered from what was initially a brief interaction between him and I. This concept has stuck with me for some time, and as networks are tapped into it is good to remember this. I may be challenged, I may disagree with someones lifestyle or philosophy, but how I interact with those around me shapes my environment and provides many opportunities for growth and development.