Yes, We Can Farm From Our Computers Now

Yes, We Can Farm From Our Computers Now

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By: Robyn Gee

There's something satisfying about being able to say, I'm a farmer--I get up at dawn to milk the cows and eat the fruits of my own labor.

For city folks who feel encumbered by their surrounding urban sprawl, we have just the thing: A new project called MyFarm. It allows people from around the world to get experience running a farm without getting their hands dirty. The project is an online experiment, created by Jon Alexander, that allows 10,000 people to make the pivotal decisions that run a real-life farm, which is physically located on the Wimpole Estate in Cambridgeshire, England. The project launched in May, 2011.

MyFarm farmers subscribe to the site for the price of 30 Euro, and then become active voting members of the community. Upon joining, you automatically get a free visit to the farm, and the founders are currently brainstorming more benefits for members.

MyFarmers come together on the website to discuss and make decisions on important farming issues including the kinds of crops they grow and the breeds of animals they stock. Every month, the creators open two questions to the community for debate and discussion. Then the community has a chance to vote.

Jeannette Heard, spokesperson for MyFarm, says, "Jon Alexander wanted to find a way of engaging the masses with a real, working farm to better understand where their food comes from and everyday farming life."

Heard tried to pin down the most rewarding part of the project: "I think it's the feeling of being involved in something real and unpredictable as proven by the sad death of Queenie's foal this week. By signing up, and therefore having the ability to vote, you do feel you can make a difference and having some say on a real farm—when you're never going to be able to own your own—is a great feeling," she says.

So how do people who know nothing about farming make informed decisions that will impact the lives of real animals and plants? They discuss, debate, and research. "The idea is that as their knowledge improves, they will appreciate all the different things farmers need to consider when making a seemingly simple decision. Richard, the farm manager, then implements the majority decisions on farm," says Heard.

People of all ages are signing up for the MyFarm project. Teachers are even using it in their classrooms as a teaching aid. Heard says the experience has been educational for her as well. "It's a reality check—understanding where your food comes from gives you a better appreciation of what you eat everyday. I've already found that I'm more interested in hearing about anything affecting farming, food prices, the weather, etc., and think much more about what I buy when I shop for food."

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