One of the main goals of starting the gratitude gardens was to empower people around the world to learn about biodiversity and participate in protecting it. If you've ever seen Food Inc. or Future of Food, you've probably been frustrated at how powerful and shortsighted certain huge multinational agribusiness firms are.
When I first saw Future of Food, I wanted to go outside and do something about it. The way that Monsanto, Dupont, and Cargill conduct themselves on the international stage is shameful, and downright terrifying. They're trying to force their chemically reliant and genetically modified products into sustainable loops around the world, and using every dirty trick in the book to do it. Just read Stolen Harvest if you want an inside perspective on their shady dealings in Africa, India, and Latin America. In many countries, farmers would rather burn their crops than become slaves to unscrupulous corporations.
So what can you do about it? Well, surprisingly alot. One of the things that prevents agribusiness firms from being able to patent a seed or technology is something called 'public disclosure'. When I first came up with the idea for Gratitude Gardens, where people around the world would document and share heirloom and landrace crops from their local climate, I was concerned that one of these industrial farming companies would abuse the information we gathered in the way that they abuse seed banks.
I consulted a trademark and patent lawyer, and was extremely happy to hear that by posting these seeds and crops on an internet forum, that counts as 'public disclosure'. Companies will be less likely or able to patent a seed that has been disclosed, as it would be next to impossible to file or defend a challenge to their patent if they can't demonstrate that they generated the intellectual property.
The lawyer also suggested having an intellectual property forum on the Gratitude Garden website, and offered his services in protecting the rights of those who post their content on there. While the primary goal of the competition and game of Gratitude Gardens is to inspire people to explore their heritage and to cultivate and share exciting and delicious crops, its awesome to know that in doing so we'll be protecting this valuable genetic diversity from biopiracy.
Wow, more great news! I spoke with Professor Victor Zordan, who teaches Computer Science and Engineering for Bourns College at University of California, Riverside. Earlier this year, UCR’s program in video game design was named one of the top 50 of 500 at North American universities by The Princeton Review and GamePro Media, and they just finished hosting a summer video game academy.
I told him about the Gratitude Gardens application, and he said he'd be happy to get some students on board. He recommended a partnership between UCR's developers and engineers, their world renowned botany department and Sustainable UCR. We've already had Sustainable UCR come and host their leadership summit at Growcology and our gratitude garden, so they're already on board. Now its just a matter of finalizing with the Undergraduate Research in the Community department (who've already committed to getting students to partner with us).
So we've got the programmers, and if we raise enough funds we'll offer them stipends to work on this project. We also will probably partner with RCC's graphic design department to design the 'sprites' for the game.
Its coming together!
I spoke at length with Chelsea Howe, one of the developers of Farmville, the application with millions of viewers on Facebook. I met her because she was a developer of Urgent Evoke, the competition that inspired the Gratitude Gardens. One of the moderators of that game, Evo, suggested I give her a call.
She gave us some incredible feedback and direction for this project. That program was actually written over just 5 weeks with 3 developers! Chelsea heard all the ideas we have for creating a gardening game that teaches elements of sustainability and permaculture and said that its completely achievable.
She said alot of the work on creating the application for Gratitude Gardens could be done by college students. She manages quite a few for her project. She gave me great pointers on how best to motivate and engage student developers, and discussed timelines and the like.
Its great to know that we have the support and guidance of people like her on this project. My next update will be soon, I have to tell you about some exciting partnerships...
We sat down with one of our main inspirations for the Project, Lorene Sisquoc, as well as with Bianca Chavez, President of Growcology, to create a video explaining what the Gratitude Gardens will do: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7E3TQ5kOYuI
Check it out, and we'll have more videos and project updates online soon!
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