In an increasingly climate-conscious, plant-based society, the identity of rural New Zealand sits at a crossroads. Having rural roots, I wanted to focus my creative skills on helping Kiwi farmers take back their social license to farm by shifting towards more regenerative farming practices. Regenerative Agriculture is a symbiotic approach to farming that, among other benefits, can sequester carbon from the atmosphere and help mitigate the effects of climate change. Fellow fields use interactive design to facilitate regenerative knowledge exchange across New Zealand with the aim of empowering farmers on the frontline of the climate crisis.
In an increasingly climate-conscious, plant-based society, the identity of rural New Zealand sits at a crossroads. Having rural roots, I felt compelled to focus my creative skills on helping Kiwi farmers take back their social license to farm by shifting towards more regenerative farming practices.
Regenerative Agriculture and my intention
'Regen ag' is a symbiotic approach to farming that seeks to restore soil fertility, biodiversity, water retention and cleanliness, and soil carbon. The climate crisis, coupled with the environmental effects of intensive farming, is driving the movement. There is currently a transition period happening on New Zealand farms where the next generation is taking over traditional systems. The target audience of my project encompasses both this next generation of Kiwi farmers who are starting to question the highly extractive nature of conventional methods, as well as farmers that have already embraced regen ag. Farming regeneratively goes against the conventional ideas of on-farm health, success and progress that are deeply embedded in New Zealand farming culture. Consequently, fear of stigma and having to shift social groups can prevent farmers from becoming regenerative.
In a time when rural mental health is at a tipping point and farmers are painted as climate change villains, I wanted to use the power of design to empower the farmers on the frontline of New Zealand's fight against climate change. The aim of my research was to investigate how I can support Kiwi farmers on their regenerative journeys using interactive design. The goal was to ease the sense of intimidation and help farmers embrace a regenerative mindset to re-evaluate their idea of health, progress, and success on their farms. Restoring the health of our soil is crucial to sustaining food production, restoring biodiversity, improving our waterways, and sequestering carbon from the atmosphere.
"How can I support social resilience among the next generation of rural Kiwis farming regeneratively through interactive design?"
My research journey began with reviewing academic articles to gain contextual knowledge about a typical regenerative journey, speculative design for eco-centric innovation and co-designing applications with Farmers. To further my understanding, I conducted market research to understand what was already in the digital space getting farmers onboard the regenerative movement. My user research involved semi-structured interviews, lived experience journaling, competitor analysis, observations and casual conversations with my family who owns a family farm. My design thinking approach started with various
UX methods to research the problem space and understand farmers' regenerative experiences. I began my research journey with wider questions to understand farmers' attitudes, challenges and the mediums that would appeal to them:-
· What are farmers' attitudes towards regen ag?
· How do kiwi farmers learn about regen ag?
· What are the challenges farmers face during the transition?
· What visual communication styles and mediums would resonate with Kiwi farmers?
My research journey explored what was stopping farmers from crossing the 'gully' and using UX/UI design to help them take the leap. There were three main factors I've discovered from an interview I had with regen coaches, suppliers, transitioning farmers and traditional farmers.
· Lack of decision-making support
· Fear of being different
· Limited relatable case studies.
Journaling our own farm's journey over lockdown was a breakthrough in my project where I realized my dad needed to see how similar farms had implemented regen ag into their own systems. We planned on attending a field day up north, however, this wasn't possible due to lockdown. As I discovered during my interviews, farmer-to-farmer learning is key to making decisions and most Kiwi farmers like my dad don't have peers in the regen space. A key problem is accessing lived experience knowledge, especially when not all farmers use Facebook or can attend field days due to covid restrictions, location, or farm responsibilities.
Designing an interface fit for sharing farmers' context-specific learnings and experiments made me derive three techniques:
· Cartographic storytelling
· Visual story mapping
· Social mapping.
I researched various techniques in which farmers could directly share their own place based regenerative journeys. Using maps would allow stories to be more interactive, easier to comprehend and showcase regen ag in different contexts. I based the concept around social mapping (essentially crowd sourcing) to lift the power of local knowledge. The use of satellite maps enables farmers to easily find similar farms and regenerative fields around New Zealand. Feedback from user testing sessions indicated that satellite imagery speaks to my target audience and adds spatial structure to enhance the regenerative place-based storytelling experience. I drafted a new application flow of the screens around the minimum viable product:
• Share lived experience.
• Discuss and ask questions.
• Find and follow similar farms.
• View the regenerative process.
• Save practices to your toolkit.
• Document the journey of your farm.
• Connecting with other farmers.
Regenerative agriculture is all about mimicking nature in that farmers constantly move animals
through the pasture, instead of intensive grazing, which leaves tracks through the lush pasture. This
the natural process inspired my branding experiments and logo development. The overall design aesthetic is designed to speak to the younger generation of farmers. The evolution below encapsulates the branding journey I went on as I refined my target market. Initially, I was trying to capture the old rural identity, but I felt it didn't represent the new way of thinking. The final name alludes to the fact that the app is like an online field day. It also holds personal significance in that 'Fallowfields' is the name of my family's deer farm.
Fellow fields are the first dedicated platform that connects regenerative farmers around New Zealand so they
can share knowledge, and ideas and support each other on their journeys. The platform sends push notifications to encourage attentiveness and keep farmers up to date with their peer's experimentations. Users can easily capture photos of progress in the field and upload directly from their learnings from their overall pockets. Ultimately, Kiwi farmers moving towards regenerative practices could benefit from a dedicated platform that connects them to a support base of fellow farmers. The nature of the app befits farmers' highly active lifestyles and encourages frequent, easy access to a regenerative knowledge hub through their smartphones. The interface has been tested with a sampling of my target audience and the feedback revealed that the concept has merit. This project demonstrates the power of interactive design in fostering connectivity among distant communities to empower positive, community-driven change. Once travel and gathering restrictions have been lifted post-Covid, Fellow fields could enhance the learning experience of physical field days with attendees using the app to view fields' digital timeline during farm tours. Fellow fields have commercialization potential to integrate sponsored content from regenerative suppliers into the feed, such as diverse seed mixes and direct drill machinery. The platform could also be further developed to include educational modules from regenerative coaches. The connections I've formed within New Zealand's regenerative farming community throughout my research journey have ignited my passion for user research and a desire to continue using my creative skills in this field.