Big independent Maryland farm launches Kickstarter to build iPhone apps

One Straw Farm, one of the biggest independent farms in Maryland and a familiar presence at farmers' markets across the Baltimore region, is on a quest to build two iPhone apps that will help modernize its business and better connect with its customers.

Joan and Drew Norman, the owners of the farm, have gotten hooked on the iPhone and believe they can use it to make their work on the farm more efficient and better share and connect their customers. They've been farming since 1983 and grow on 175 acres.

They've launched a Kickstarter campaign to raise $30,000 to pay for the design and development of the apps.

"I'm very excited about it," Joan Norman said. "Even if the Kickstarter fails, I don't feel like we've failed. We're just getting started."

The project is being guided by Callie Neylan, an independent interactive designer, and Will Dixon, a tech product manager, who are friends of the Normans. Neylan used One Straw Farm as a case study for her students at a class she taught at UMBC last semester. The students did a lot of research into how One Straw Farm could use the iPhone to better run their business and interact with customers.

Neylan said she focused on designing a mobile app -- not a desktop app -- because the Normans are always on the move on their farm.

"They're not at a desk or a coffee shop, they're out in a field," Neylan said. "This really needs to be mobile first."

So far, One Straw Farm's Kickstarter campaign has raised more than $4,700. But Joan Norman said the campaign has also drawn the attention of more than 10 developers who have offered to build the apps, in some cases for free.

Neylan and Dixon will work directly with developers to design and engineer the apps.

One Straw Farm sells what they call "shares" as part of their CSA, or community support agriculture program. Think of it as paying a one-time subscription fee for a summer of vegetables and some fruits. (Disclosure: I'm a One Straw Farm CSA member, and I found out about their Kickstarter campaign from an email they sent to their members.)

One Straw Farm delivers portions of vegetables to CSA members to more than 40 locations around Baltimore. They also sell their vegetables to restaurants.

The first app the Normans want to build would help them and their 20 workers organize their work on the farm. The second app will be for customers to use, and could include pictures of the veggies they pick up each week, recipes, and ways to social network with other CSA members.

"We're not content just doing the same thing we've always done," said Joan Norman.

Here's a video about One Straw Farm, featuring the Normans:


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