The Seed Bank Hackathon Story

I spent last weekend at UMass with over a hundred fellow hackers to work on local challenges as part of the National Day of Civic Hacking. The event (Hack for Western Mass) itself was masterfully run by an amazing group that I hope to work with again.

The team I was on successfully completed our goal to get the Hilltown Seed Saving Network  a webapp to manage their decentralized seed bank.

Here’s what worked for us

We started before the weekend. Using the event’s wiki, Rosemary (a member of the network who knows HTML, but needed help on the back-end), Beryl (a CIT professor at Elms College) and I connected. We had a thorough discussion in the week before the event, and it became clear that Beryl and I could collaborate in python using Django to do this. Beryl knew python and did Django tutorials to prepare, and I have a few small Django backed sites.

We were a small team with complementary skills. At the event, we picked up Sheila, a new team member who set up our Facebook and Twitter pages, as well as training Rosemary on Hootsuite so that should could manage interactions.  During the event, a seed swap was executed using Facebook — talk about a minimum viable product! Beryl and I worked on the site, and Rosemary worked on our HTML template. We were a small, but efficient and effective team.

Rosemary came with wireframes. Here are the login and the add seed wireframes. She brought about a half-dozen more. Here’s the production version of login and add seed.

We set up a system to keep going. By Saturday night an 80% functional app was in the hackforwesternmass/seednetwork repo on GitHub. Since the event there have been dozens of small commits. It’s been really fun working with this team, and we have systems set up to work together.

We got to production as fast as we could. One of the organizers, Andrew, gave me a crash course in Heroku, and I had it done Sunday evening (Hilltown Seed Saving Network seed bank production site). Next time, I would do this as soon as we had anything ready to go.

We stayed focused. By Sunday, with only four hours or so before the presentations, there were a lot of possible distractions (incorporate maps? go on community access TV? prepare our presentation!) We tried to keep the end-goal in mind — get the Hilltown Seed Saving Network a functional app. We might revisit some of those ideas later, but having a clear goal made it possible to ignore everything else.