Thursday, 11 September 2014

03-09-2014: Testing of first prototype

The first prototype test was done on the farms through the farmers so that they could interact and give real feedback on the prototype. I started off with explaining how each test was going to work and what the farmers had to do for the next to weeks to maintain the test and on how to give me proper feedback. 

Assembling the tests was pretty easy. I started with the planting of the seeds. The seedling trays were filled up with some soil that was mixed with compost that the farmers had on site in buckets. Making holes and planting the seeds was done very plainly through making holes with your finger and dropping a few seeds in the holes. The farmers did point out that the seedlings grow faster if the holes are not too deep as seedlings grow up first. 

Initial watering of the seedlings was done through decanting water into buckets and gently sprinkling water over the trays with their hands until the soil was wet .

The reservoirs were then filled up and the inner containers with the seedling trays in it was placed inside the bigger container. The tests were then placed in the kraal while the farmers tried to place them as level as possible.

I will return to the farms on the 17th of September to pic up the tests and see the progress of the seedlings and hopefully apply positive results to the final design. 

02-09-2014: Making first prototypes

For my first round of prototyping I wanted to make simple prototypes that would test the principle of watering seedlings. The process started with sketching out the 4 tests that will be taking place to understand the process better. The 4 tests consisted of two tests that water seedlings from underneath through a reservoir but the two tests used different materials for the absorption of water. The third test looked at watering from the top through tiny holes in the lid to disperse the water while the 4th test was just a control with normal conditions.

The first two tests were done by placing a smaller container in a larger one with a bit of a gap to serve as the water reservoir. 

Holes were drilled in the outside and inner containers for ventilation so that the seedlings could breathe

The first test used felt cloth to absorb water from the water reservoir and feed the seedlings from underneath while the second test used hessian fabric.  

A medium sized hole was drilled in the top lid to allow the farmers to refill the reservoir when needed.

The third test was a simple watering test where the lid of the container had many small holes drilled into it for to disperse the water into the seedlings. This way the farmers can easily water the seedlings with a hose pipe and acts as air circulation. 

2-09-2014: Soweto Imvelo Market

The first Soweto Imvelo Market was held on 2 September. I was quite excited for this new experience in the beginning as it meant a new start and opportunity for the farmers. When we were driving there we were expecting a huge tent with all the farmers but was quite disappointed with what we found. The tent was a small makeshift tent on a dirt patch on the side of the road with one or two farmers selling from a bakkie. Nonetheless we stayed for a while to see how things would pan out. 

There weren't a lot of farmers who participated in this first market as it is not quite harvesting season and most of them didn't have produce to sell. The produce that was available looked very fresh and appetizing and ranged from spinach to celery and onions. 

Some of the students that are busy doing a farming course also had a stall at the market and were selling organic chemicals for people who wanted to start farming. They were also selling some seedlings. I found with the seedlings that they were selling them in big trays and people had to buy the whole tray as it is difficult to sell them one by one or in smaller quantities. A cardboard seedling tray would be great as the can just tear or cut off the amount of seedlings they need for the buyer.

20-08-2014 Field Visit 3: Concept feedback and planting seedlings

For the third visit to the farms I had planned to show the farmers some of my concepts or ideas that I have thought of so far. These concepts were very rough but I felt like it would help in explaining the process of design and help the farmers understand what I have in mind for the product. After I had explained all the sketches and concepts the pages were passed around to the farmers for them to have a closer look at them. I offered them pens to write on the drawings or circle ideas that they liked or didn't like. They were initially reluctant to write anything on the sketches and I feel like at times there was a language barrier but after a while they rather just spoke to me about problems or things they like instead of writing it down. 

From their feedback I found that they like the idea of protection from pests and weather a lot as well as the product being portable to sell at markets. I explained the concept of watering seedlings from underneath, which was new to them, and most of the farmers seemed excited about it but some explained that things should not be too complicated, that simpler is better. The issue of ventilation was raised in the discussion. My initial concepts had not included good ventilation in the design and the farmers picked up on that. 

After the discussion of initial concepts we decided to test different types of seedling trays. Seedling trays form quite a big part of my product so it is important to find which seedling tray is best suited for the farmers.The range of seedling trays included: the normal and most common black plastic tray, a biodegradable peat tray, a jiffy dehydrated pellet tray, egg cartons and toilet paper rolls. 

The test was done with potting soil and the soil from the farms to test if there is a significant difference. The seedling trays were half buried under the ground in a small kraal for protection. The watering process was an interesting thing to observe. Watering seedlings is different to watering normal plants as the are fragile and can be over-water or damaged. The farmers used an old watering jug that was a bit broken and didn't work that well. They had to get the water flowing properly first on a patch of ground before watering the seedlings. 

When I returned a week later the seedlings had not grown at all which was quite a disappointment as seedlings should only take 7-10 days to grow. When I first thing I noticed when i saw them was that the ground was dry which is not a good thing as it is important to keep the soil moist at all times. The farmers did inform me that due to the cold weather of that week it was unlikely that they would grow in 7 days as they need heat and at least 6 hrs of sunlight a day. 

Saturday, 16 August 2014

15-08-2014 field visit 2: Talking to the farmers

This weeks visit was one of first were we would experience participatory design on a first level basis, so you could imagine my excitement...along with some anxiety. Nonetheless, I soldiered on and made sure I had some sort of activity prepared for our second field visit. By prepared I mean i had enough sunblock, water and a hat to keep this pale skin from burning

After our drop off in Tladi we had a quick greet with the farmers and decided that a focus group would be best suited. The farm site is quite big with 6-7 farmers and more on site, so doing individual interviews would be tricky and take too long, hence the focus group. The focus group went quite well with us discussing and asking questions about not only seedlings but about their environment and things regarding their practices. 

A questionnaire was also given to the farmers regarding precedent studies and products, things similar to what I might be designing for them. Originally I thought just giving the farmers space to comment the good and bad of each design would be enough but in the end I had to explain each design a bit to them and take note on what they said about each design. 

I walk around the farms at the end gave us the extra insight to how seedlings are grown on the farms and what conditions these farmers work in. It was also interesting to see what types of vegetables they grow and which work better than others. 

 Here some farmers have tried to protect their seedlings from birds and pests.  

 The farmers mostly grow their seedlings in tires with some soil. They use nets to cover and protect them, although it does not always work

Wednesday, 13 August 2014

06-08-2014 Field visit 1: meeting with RDFF

Most research up until this point has been done at home usually, hunched over my laptop, filtering through endless list of sources, readings and journal articles but today I had the chance to go into the field and get my first taste of what this process and experience will be like in the weeks to come. 

Dr Naudé Malan, one of the supervisors for this project, organised for my fellow students and I to sit in on the Region-D Farmers Forum (or to make things easier the RDFF) monthly meeting. The meeting was supposed to start at 10:00am but we were the first to arrive there with only the chairman, Sakhile, and deputy chair, Masorame, there to greet and welcome us. We took our seats and slowly the farmers started strolling in one by one, looking quite intrigued by the new-comers to the meeting. As each of them strolled in I noticed that majority of them were over the age of 50, most likely pensioners with only 2 or 3 younger than that. 


The meeting started with a prayer and blessing. This is something new to me, not really being a very religious person but gave me insight to their beliefs and culture. The meeting carried on with introductions of everyone and also discussing the up coming food market, Soweto Imvelo Market, and what farmers needed to have ready by then. 

 After the meeting we were driven to individual farms, or gardens as they prefer to call them, to have a brief introduction to the farmers and get our first insight to what the gardens look like, what tools and equipment they have access to and with what conditions they work. We also gave a brief explanation to the farmers of what each of our projects are on and the process of the design and research. I was glad to see that a lot of them seemed interested in my idea of designing some sort of technology to help with growing seedlings. 

The first visit for me was more to just observe and introduce ourselves to the farmers. From what I observed, most farmers are very hard working and are enthusiastic about the projects and interested in the whole process of participatory design. They need improvements on the gardens and are willing to help to get to a better future. Hopefully next week I will be able to interact with them more and get solid feedback on how I am actually going to help them.