Introducing the GROW Observatory

Where the idea came from, and what we hope to do together

The inspiration for GROW came ten years ago. We had the idea of a global observatory in which thousands of people could collaborate to observe and care for the environment.
Behind GROW is a community of people who share an interest in sustainable food growing, soil, climate, open data, accessible technology, and the incredible things that can happen when people come together to make change.

The idea

The idea came about during an earlier project with the Met Office and FutureEverything using participatory art and design to generate datasets that are novel to science. This created friendships, and a collaboration, that would many years later give rise to GROW.

Soil underpins society, from the food we eat, to the clothes we wear, from furniture to firewood, and even new genetic discoveries. Soil is a threatened resource vital to our future, and many of the threats are linked to agricultural practices, contamination, and surface sealing. The world faces the challenge of producing sufficient high-quality food while reducing carbon emissions and preserving the quality of land and soil resources.

Over the coming growing seasons, we will learn about soils and growing for food, and take action in growing spaces. We will collaborate to take observations in growing spaces or in surrounding land, and validate those data, so that they can be accepted and used for science and policy. We will be able to share knowledge and advice across our community, and take practical steps to preserve the soil for future generations, as well as using it to inform wider science and research.

To achieve this GROW will combine an online education platform, simple testing kits, innovative data handling, and a low cost, but high power soil sensor, developed for flower pots, but capable of collecting valuable data for science across Europe.

The ambition

In GROW we have big ambitions. We hope to increase small-scale food production and preserve the soil quality for future generations, whilst improving forecasting of extreme climate events, such as heat waves and floods.

GROW will combine data contributed by individuals, groups and publicly available scientific data to generate new open knowledge and practices. GROW will look at how this data can contribute to services and applications that help forecast and prepare for extreme climate events, such as heat waves and floods.

There is a bold vision behind the European Commission’s support for citizens’ observatories, to create a movement around environmental observations to inform and empower citizens to participate in environmental decision making.

A key challenge for environmental monitoring is the ability to measure soil moisture at high spatial resolution over large geographical areas. A new generation of European Space Agency and NASA satellites are orbiting the earth to detect it. But the information is derived from computer models, this depend on ground observations for validation, and across all of Europe there are currently only 173 official measurement stations.

Soil moisture is one humble variable that is essential to agriculture, and to understanding of climate events such as flooding and heatwaves. Step forward we the growers and citizen scientists. We hope we can increase this to many thousands of measurements across Europe, contributed not by official measuring stations, but by growers and citizen scientists.

The journey

On this journey we hope to find like minded people with who we can collaborate to contribute to science and to sustainable practices. We are all only individuals, but if many of us make small steps at a local level we hope we can contribute our small part to a global transformation.

GROW is the result of the coming together of different groups of people who share a passion for the land and an interest in soil condition. Growers, people with hands in the earth, producing high quality, local food. And scientists who need to know local soil conditions to understand climate and ecosystems.

Many people joining GROW have made a life long commitment to sustainable growing practices, in agroecology, permaculture and organic farming. Across Europe, there are millions more who more recently started growing, but still have a passionate connection to the soil and land, and want to take small steps to increase the sustainability of what they do. Some of you may take part in GROW to improve and inform your own growing practice, or to help you train others in sustainable practices, or to contribute to global earth observation efforts.

The earth observation and environmental science community around the world are working together to share an open global resource of environmental data, GEOSS. Citizen science has a long history, and increasing availability of smartphones and low-cost sensing technologies has opened up new possibilities for collaborative data collection and sense making. Many people are striving to overcome barriers to citizen observation data becoming a standard and central part of global environmental monitoring.

Thanks to the GROW team and partners, who worked for three years unfunded to make this project happen, and to the European Commission for supporting citizen science and citizens’ observatories.

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