Survival Gardening

Survival Gardening

United States
Project Summary
Elevator Pitch

Concise Summary: Help us pitch this solution! Provide an explanation within 3-4 short sentences.

We developed a simulation of virtual gardening which helps people learn more about nutrition and environmental sustainability (as well as gardening).

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Plot your innovation within the mosaic of solutions
Which of these barriers is the primary focus of your work?

Narrow Corporate or Public Policy Mission

Which of the principles is the primary focus of your work?

Physical Health

If you believe some other barrier or principle should be included in the mosaic, please describe it and how it would affect the positioning of your initiative in the mosaic:

This field has not been completed

What is your signature innovation in one sentence?

We developed a simulation of virtual gardening which helps people learn more about nutrition and environmental sustainability (as well as gardening).

Describe your innovation. What makes your idea unique and different than others doing work in the field?

A high degree of realism. SimFarm (which came after we started ours) is not very realistic at an individual level. Harvest Moon does not have a very complex garden model (though is otherwise excellent, including having the player get sick if they work too hard). Lunar Greenhouse focuses on science experiments. We bring gardening to the individual level by starting with the best agricultural simulation models we could find (EPIC and SPUR, developed by the USDA Agricultural Research Service). We want to further enhance our simulator to help any expert to easily make their own gardening and physiological models (how nutrition effects health) to use within our framework; we want to create an online community around that sort of work, where experts share the models they develop under the GPL and where they comment on each others work and improve it. But we want to do that in a game-like framework where players have to survive year to year by what they grow in their own virtual gardens.

What barriers exist that are creating the problem your innovation is hoping to address/change?

A lot of time and participation is needed for creating realistic but useful mathematical models of gardening and health. We hope to improve a platform with multiple models of gardening and human physiology within a survival game-like framework. Then others can use these models to see how their health is impacted by their gardening and eating choices. Our first version of the software includes nutritional information from harvested items:

Delivery Model: How do you implement your innovation and apply it to the challenge/problem you are addressing.

We develop free and open source software; anyone can download it and run it and modify it at no direct financial cost. There are several challenges we are concerned with. One is helping people see the long term effects of short-term actions. Another is seeing the link between nutrition and what they grow and eat. Then there are also aspects of learning about science and mathematical modelling. All of this is done within an open-ended "microworld" simulation environment, inspired in part by the ideas of people like Seymour Papert.

How do you plan to scale your innovation?

Again, anyone on the internet can download the software for free. But we hope to create a community around the software by creating a newer version where the models are easily replaceable with ones tailored to specific geographical situations or to specific physiological models of interest by various experts or professional amateurs in nutrition. Towards that end we have been translating the software from the proprietary Delphi language we first used to the open source (and easier to use) Python language. But the most important issue is to build a community around the software -- improving it, making variations of models for it, and creating a discussion place on the web for collaboration. We also want to add multi-user aspects to the software, so groups of players can work together to sustain each other, perhaps each specializing in a few crops and trading seeds or harvested items. We would also like to add the plant-breeding part of our PlantStudio software to the Garden Simulator.

Provide one sentence describing your impact.

We have helped thousands of people learn more about gardening and indirectly health and nutrition.

What impact has your innovation had to date? Exactly who are the beneficiaries of your innovation?

Our software has been used by people of all ages in many countries.

How many people have you served directly?

We estimate that a few hundred thousand people have received our Garden Simulator software to date.

How many people have you served indirectly?

We don't know. Requests have come in to translate our software for use in developing nations, but those efforts seemed to have foundered without our having time to help them much (we need to improve our internationalization support and are looking into doing that for a version of our software for the OLPC project: in Python).

Please list any other measures reflective of the impact of your innovation

Mostly we look at actual downloads. The software has also been included on several magazine cover CDs.

What are the main barriers to creating your impact?

Mainly, limited time to work on free software given a need to otherwise do private consulting to support ourselves. Secondarily, foundations that emphasize subsidzing proprietary software (and thus misses the point of free software anyone can improve or use). Typical is the feedback we got from the NSF a decade ago, where they said "We don't understand why you don't want to sell the program commercially." See: (The NSF seems to be changing since.)

How is your initiative financed?

We have financed this work ourselves. We think a focus on long term sustainability for free software projects should be guided by the notion that anyone can continue to move the software forward if it is free. The more the non-profit community supports free software and free content, the more an entire ecosystem of freedom proilferates and grows, as examplified by GNU/Linux. We are taking part in that process to the extent we can given other obligations. We think it unfortunate many non-profits and grant making agencies still focus on a pre-internet "subsidy publishing" model developed for book publishing where money is given to subsidize proprietary works of software or literature which are closed off from others for further improvement.

Provide information on your finances and organization: annual budget, annual revenue, number of staff:

We are a husband-wife team who work together on this software as a labor of love as well as now doing unrelated consulting engagements to pay the bills. We would like to spend a greater percentage of our time on free software projects. We have tried to reduce our personal expenses somewhat via voluntary simplicity for us to give us more flexibility and free time for developing free software and free content.

What is the potential demand for your innovation?

Gardening is both widely popular and an effective introduction to science. It is the most popular recreational activity in the United States; and over half of the households in the US have a garden. Potentially, hundreds of millions of people worldwide might use this simulator, especially if it becomes part of development intiatives worldwide (such as with the One Laptop Per Child project or similar initiatives using other hardware).

What are the main barriers to financial sustainability?

We don't plan to make a fortune from this; we just want to support ourselves while we do more free software. Even just the $5000 cash from the prize competition means we have another month or two to work towards this full-time. The further the software goes, the more others can continue to innovate on top of this platform for their own reasons, since the source code is available under the General Public License (GPL). We hope someday all non-profit funded work will be under free licenses.

The Story
What is the origin of this innovation? Tell us your story.

Paul was at the Stony Brook Millstone Watershed Association in Pennington, N.J. around 1990 as Certification Program Administrator for NOFA-NJ and from interactiion with people and ideas there got the new idea that people could learn about health and environmental issues through virtual gardening, where one could see a lifetime's impact in an hour of simulation. He joined a graduate program in Ecology to learn more about this field to help build the simulation, and there he met his future wife (Cynthia Kurtz), and the two then spent over six person years working on this sofware. In the process of doing this work, we came across a book called __Survival Gardening: Enough nutrition to live on from 1000 sq. ft. (just in case)__ by John A. Freeman from 1983 which we found inspirational in thinking about making a garden simulator into a game about survival and nutrition; unfortunately in the pressure to get something out within our financial time limits, many of the survival game-like aspects were sacrificed, and we have had to spend much of the past ten years doing unrelated consulting (like at IBM Research and on Wall Street) -- so we have not yet had time to add all these survival game features back in.

Please provide a personal bio. Note this may be used in Changemakers marketing material

Paul D. Fernhout and Cynthia F. Kurtz are a husband-wife team. Both received their M.A. degrees from the Ecology program at SUNY Stony Brook (where they met). Together they have well over thirty years of programming experience. Paul has an undergraduate degree in Psychology from Princeton. Cynthia has an undergraduate degree in Biology from Clarion University of PA.

How did you hear about this contest and what is your main incentive to participate? (this is confidential)

A college mailing list.