about platform

The FoodPlaces team has created an innovative approach to assembling foodscapes. Here is an overview of the platform’s operating system and components.

After emerging from the creative process of developing FoodPlaces, we now see patterns everywhere!

Patterns are built into our DNA (literally) and it’s embedded in the way we learn, think, communicate and function. One of the first things we learn as humans is to put a round peg in the proper shape hole. When we play a musical chord or heed a road sign; move in a certain way to a song; describe tastes, smells or colors – we are responding to patterns in a specific way. These are all pattern languages.

Living systems theory recognizes that life self-organizes by repeating certain patterns at varying scales. From one perspective we see materials (the elements) organized into repeating nested patterns: universe, galaxy, solar system, planet, continent, ecosystem, habitat, community.

Pattern recognition is the operating system living organisms use to function in their environment. So, it’s not surprising that the best way to describe living systems is through pattern language. Using pattern languages provides us with a map of any given field so we can understand it and interact with it competently.

Permaculture and regenerative design are both built on careful observation of patterns in nature to design human communities that thrive within their ecological contexts. At Inhabit Earth, we have embraced this as foundational to what we do.

As we approached the challenge of building a platform to enable people to create foodscapes, which mimic ecosystems using productive plants, it is only fitting that we build this platform using a pattern language.

When we say this platform is built on a pattern language OS, we mean that on multiple levels we are using a pattern language to communicate concepts and accomplish tasks. The following bullets describe some of these.

  • Elemental patterns – Our most basic patterns are the plant patterns we use in a foodscape assembly – if the plants are the sounds we make, then patterns we use to categorize these in Species Index becomes our alphabet.
  • Patch patterns – Patches are the most basic unit of design; one or more patches make up a foodscape. Plants and other elements can be assembled into patches and foodscapes, like letters can be assembled into words and sentences. The words can mean different things and are not assigned a meaning until one knows the context (language spoken, sentence usage, etc.). The many versions of patch patterns represented by the Foodscape Templates stored here, become words in our dictionary with several possible uses each.
  • Site-specific (spatial) patterns – There are various site-specific patterns that begin to define the context spatially: both vertically (horizons) and horizontally (zones). This is the structure of the sentence and defines which combinations of letters (words) we use to best convey meaning. This allows us to filter out which element assemblies or patches are not appropriate for use, given the context.
  • Global (climate) patterns – Different plants thrive in different conditions. We use various climate pattern languages to describe the various conditions in a given geographical area. Climate is our global context, the culture that defines how we make meaning and communicate.
  • Platform patterns – FoodPlaces itself is built on concepts and ideas that are relatively new to the emerging field of productive placemaking, so we’ve begun to develop our pattern language – the language we are communicating in (to continue our analogy) – to describe this field and guide users in effectively using this platform to grow food everywhere!

The FoodPlaces platform was built as a container for the Foodscape Toolkit. The Toolkit has several related tools. The Plant Wiki and Species Index are ancillary tools but have significant value of their own.

These two tools work in conjunction with the Foodscape Tool, whose purpose is to guide users through the process of creating a foodscape.

FoodPlaces provides several resources as well, including:

  • a blog (The Understory), featuring original topical articles, productive plant profiles, and foodscape templates on a regular basis;
  • a community site, FoodPeople where users can create profiles and connect with each other;
  • really cool, ancillary resources that were essential to the platform’s development; and,
  • a glossary of terms, so we can all be on same page.

In many ways, what is now the Plant Wiki started several years before when Mario began scanning plant profiles from the Inhabit Earth library on the hunch that it would a vital piece of the puzzle someday.

With the FoodPlaces funding, we now have about 15,000 PDFs of productive plants from around the world. About half of which have been loaded to the platform and incorporated into the plant wiki. From here forward, we plan to crowdsource wiki entries through our community of practice.

The wiki is organized by species and categorized by genera. Each entry has a basic description and one or more PDF files linked. It supports multiple file formats. Each entry can have tags for its duration (“perennial” or “annual”); for its contents like plant type (“tree” or “shrub”); or for its content categories (“description” or “uses”).

The wiki and the species index are linked, so that any species from the index that is suggested for consideration in a foodscape will automatically have access to all the information in the wiki.

The Species Index is a database of over 500 productive, perennial plants for North America. The index tracks over 80 fields for each species that describe the plant’s identity, structure, and behavior; it’s particular needs, the services it provides to surrounding plants and it’s yields.

Collectively, the index’s plant profile values, allows the system to generate a pattern language of elements to be used by the foodscape design assembler tool.

Here too we will rely on the good will of our community of practice, especially our beloved “plant geeks” out there, to crowdsource the update or to expand the database.

The Foodscape Tool is at the heart of the FoodPlaces platform. This is where it all comes together and the magic happens.

It was designed and built with ease of use in mind. Any level user, who has a good grasp of the context they are planning a foodscape in, can easily walk through the process.

The more advanced user, can modify existing, or create new, templates. These templates can be reflective of existing municipal codes or can be utilized to generate code.

In order for the FoodPlaces team to develop an algorithm for the foodscape assembler, it required us coming up with a whole pattern language operating system (OS) and many cool system features along the way. We definitely plan on utilizing this OS for all kinds of useful future platforms and are excitedly sharing these here in case they are helpful to others.

The Understory, will be our blog dedicated to disseminating FoodPlaces far and wide. With it, we will draw new people to our portal and keep our growing Community engaged.

Beyond the occasional updates about the platform (tools, resources, etc.), we imagine all sorts of original articles about productive placemaking, foodways and foodscapes, regenerative design, pattern language, and all other sorts of creative approaches to growing food everywhere!

We also imagine creating productive plant profiles from the thousands of PDFs in our plant wiki. These profiles will be a step towards adding a new species to the species index.

And, of course, we can feature new foodscape templates as they are generated and ready for use.

The Understory, promises to be a fantastic opportunity folks in our Community to be fed by and contribute to relevant topics.

The ultimate goal of farming is not the growing of crops, but the cultivation and perfection of human beings.

— Masanobu Fukuoka

Just as farming is not just about growing food, FoodPlaces is not just about producing amazing foodscapes! Indeed, we are confident these regenerative land use patterns will be replicated everywhere.

But, only if we are cultivating FoodPeople, thousands of people around the world joining our community of practice, that are manifesting this across the planet.

As a member of our FoodPeople, you will be able to set up a profile on our budding social network and participate, along with others, in our Community of Practice. Here we will build a resilient, self-supporting virtual community, which will continue to collectively stretch the boundaries of the various fields represented here (panning, urban agriculture, economic development, landscape architecture, ethnobotany, design theory, permaculture, etc.).

As previously mentioned the community as a whole will grow the capacity of the tools and resources by keeping entries updated and posting new ones to the wiki, index, foodscape templates and more.

As custodians to this portal, the folks at Inhabit Earth can’t wait to grow with you!

But wait, there’s more…

In the process of creating and editing the species index values, there was so much we had to do on the side to standardize or validate the data points we were entering. As a by-product of this process, we have many interesting resources we can provide convenient access to here.

These include: Climate Zone descriptions and maps; definitions and visual guides for Plant Types, Growth Forms, branching patterns, etc.

One of the most amazing resources in the “more cool stuff” category is The Glossary.

The Glossary is probably the most overlooked by-product of the FoodPlaces process. It just became obvious that we needed it or we could not even keep track of our own terms. Talk about creating a pattern language of a pattern language.

Anyway, it’s a very cool resource that we hope you will find indispensable. It will show up all over the place on this portal to explain terms when needed, so we are all on the same page and communicating effectively.

Together, through our growing Community, we will keep updating and curating more entries.