Kestrel: A Simple Web App for Community Supported Agriculture

January 03, 2008

I'm just getting started on a new project nicknamed Kestrel.

The basic idea a simple and user-centered web app that helps facilitate ordering, billing and member management for CSA's. Things are JUST getting started and I am soliciting help in doing some feasibility research as well as a basic evaluation of existing CSA management applications.

A CSA, (for Community Supported Agriculture) is a way for the food buying public to create a relationship with a farm and to receive a weekly basket of produce. By making a financial commitment to a farm, people become "members" (or "shareholders," or "subscribers") of the CSA. Local Harvest
So far were in stage zero: Over the holidays I was brainstorming with some of my agri-geek friends in North Carolina, notably tes thraves. (I like to say that tes is to poverty + agriculture issues as Jay-Z is to hip-hop — a badass producer who just makes things happen.) :) So far there's been a lot of excitement about it from both consumers and producers.
  • Stage zero is lots of talk over drinks around the New Year's bonfire, basically. Check.
  • Stage one is research about what real CSA's need.
  • Stage two is getting a few CSA's to pilot test a first iteration for a season.
  • The rest is iterating and improving based on real feedback. This is the hard part. And the fun part.
  • The only real spec so far is an application that is incredibly simple and driven purely by a real understanding of the users' needs.

    There is no timeframe yet. I imagine things could take a year or so; nobody's getting paid by Kestrel.

    Codewise, I've done some simple scaffolding of the application, but really I think the requirements for this type of thing are simple — the codebase is not really the issue. Just a few forms, login/out and billing. So I'm not looking for help from coders as much as I am trying to garner some interest from A) the users of the application, farmers and consumers and B) people with experience in user-centered application design and user testing.

    The goal is a management tool that would simplify the process of ordering food from your CSA, but also serve as an educational model of CSA best practices.

    Right now I'm thinking a hosted solution, almost certainly built in Rails. And of course completely Open and Free.

    The basic use case comes from my mom : she doesn't like very much lettuce in her box. Last year she got six heads of lettuce at a time. So ideally mom could just login and set her preference, pay her bill, update her address, give notice that she's out of town for a month, etc. The farmer then knows exactly how many heads of lettuce to harvest, and can keep the rest in the ground until going to the market on Saturday.

    It's not a new idea, I know. There are several in San Francisco. I haven't seen them yet. But I am sure that they're not as good as they can be and I want to put the users at the front of developing a new open source solution.

    CSA's are great for environmental, social and economic reasons. And they're really just a lot of freaking fun. So if you are a consumer or producer with opinions about what you'd like to see in this type of software, let me know in the comments or