‘From the ground up’ veg box, short film design

[Criteria 1; SADIM, Holmgren principles, stacking, incremental design, mind maps, ethics. Criteria 4; dissemination. Criteria 5; community building]

To begin I am writing in Jan 2015 what I would do differently in future, this was one of my very early projects and not being as familiar with the design tools then as I am now, I did not work as collaboratively with the permaculture design element of this project as I could have.  The project itself was very collaborative, just not permaculture design collaborative!  If I were to do it again I would use the following tools:

  • Client Interview – we could have developed a template together and used it to interview all of the interviewees rather than taking a less formal approach
  • PMI – as I do with teaching we could have used it as a review tool at interim points in the project with the small film team and with the wider FGU team to check in on how things are going
  • SADIM – I could have arranged a ‘SAD’ workshop with the FGU team and film team to gather ideas and develop the design story for the film.  Although I would have had to think creatively about how to do it with minimal time intrusion on the already very streched team.
  • Brainstorm/mind map – we could have done some joint brainstorm in the early stages
  • Resources mandala (natural, physical, social, personal and financial) – I think this tool could have brought out some interesting points if used at a ‘SAD’ workshop or similar
  • Web of connections – this tool could have been really useful in helping to map out the process when we were developing the storyboard, rather than using our linear approach.

Back to 2012:  From the Ground Up (FGU) is a local veg (and more) box scheme set up by Transition Town Kingston.


When FGU began in 2009 a very simple film was made about the scheme, this needed updating – well redoing.   I agreed to take on this project with the following aim:

  1. Firstly to try and find a group of local students who were studying film/media who might actually do the work with me overseeing it
  2. Failing option 1 then to use the videoing skills I have to create the short film
  3. In either case I would co-ordinate the work to take the burden off other members of the team who were busy running the veg box service.

Having committed to taking on this project I realised that I could use this opportunity to try and adopt a permaculture approach and use the design tools when planning and designing the project.  i.e. the film came first and then realising it was a design opportunity came second!

The project took the form of two distinct stages.  The first stage trying to achieve aim 1, and when that failed I moved on to aim 2.  The design began in Oct 2011 and overall took about a year to complete.

Stage 1 survey

The following lists the things I did during the survey phase.

  • Observe the process from order through to customer collection – what happens ‘behind the scenes’


    Ethics mindmap

  • Ask key members of the team about the story of FGU
  • Survey my time, what time is available for doing this project

How will I make this an ecologically based film?

How do other groups promote community based schemes, veg box and others, what type of films do they make, content, style etc.

  • What film courses are running at Kingston College, Kingston University?

Stage 1 analysis

How do I make this an ecologically based film?

I thought about the ethics



People care:

Bike/shared car for journeys Use vimeo – free and more open source than youtube Don’t make me, or anyone else stressed by doing this project.Don’t put people on camera unless they feel comfortable doing it.
Use existing software/camera Use a local musician for the music Involve lots of people – and give them ownership – they could produce film footage or photos
Don’t overuse batteries/camera Ask people if they want to be part of it – don’t assume that they do I can get to know some of the people in the team better

Stage 1 design – writing the brief

After my initial observation and analysis I designed a simple brief to send out to local students to see if I could find a group who would be interested in taking on this project as part of their portfolio.  At this stage I thought that the design would evolve further once the team was in place, the brief was just the very beginning of the design work, describing the problem.

FGU video brief

FGU video brief

Stage 1 implementation

I contacted both Kingston University and Kingston College.  There was no response!  I could have waited and searched further, but I felt that this would simply delay completion of the video.

Stage 2 – reclassification of aims

With option 1 exhausted now it was time to creatively use and respond to change, time to revert to option 2 of my aims, I would have to take on the actual filming.  This made me nervous because though I have made short films in the past a lot of the actual good quality filming was made by my partner and having the two of us made the whole process easier, and she was very busy and didn’t have any time to help out.

Given that stage 1 had adopted a small and slow approach, it had given me the opportunity to think about the aims a little more, I now had some personal aims with this project too.

  1. As I have recently moved to Kingston and recently joined the veg box, I now had the opportunity to get to know more of the people involved
  2. Given that I had looked into other schemes during the initial survey I realised that filming the whole process of the veg box would allow me to identify tweaks to improve the service
  3. The film could do more than passively supply information, it could have more than one function for the one element it could get our customers re-invigorated about why they are using this service and therefore to go out and tell their friends and so get more people involved, i.e. catch and store the energy of our customers

Stage 2 survey

I decided to visit each part of the FGU process from customer order through to customer collection with my video camera to have an informal chat about what goes on and ask some preliminary questions at the following key stages in the chain.

  • Wholesale
  • Quality control
  • Local community farms

These first three I stacked by doing filming and interviews all on the same day – as the locations were all quite close together.

  • Volunteer packing at 2 venues – I did this at the same time as volunteering (stacking functions)
  • Customer collection at 2 venues – customer interviews at the same time as volunteer interviews (integrate rather than segregate)

Alongside capturing this survey material, through observation and particularly listening I heard the stories of the people involved.

I recognised the need to use and value diversity on this project and my desire to use people from the community in the making of the film, I knew that I needed more than just me working on the film to make it as good as possible.  So I asked the FGU community for help – film makers, musicians, artists etc.

Stage 2 analysis

The quality of the survey phase filming itself wasn’t very good because I was trying to multi-task – this was an example where stacking was inappropriate – asking questions and listening was my primary focus, holding the camera at the same time led to a lot of blurred images and poor audio.  However the following key findings came out of the work, which were a surprise to me and helped to inform the design of the storyboard:

  • Many people thought organic shmorganic i.e. organic wasn’t a key factor in their decision making – this was contrary to my understanding from the founders
  • Money was a key driver – being cheaper than the supermarket was what brought people in
  • The community aspect, having fun, catching up on gossip, it being much more enjoyable than going to the supermarket were all top reasons why people bought from the veg box.

Whatever you doI love this quote and have had it written in my meditation book for a couple of years, occasionally I meditate on it – although I haven’t recently.  Writing this project up, I suddenly realised how powerful and pertinent it was.  Right during this phase of the project Jerry a very good amateur film maker and his wife Chris a professional photographer who had just recently joined the veg box came forward with an enthusiasm to undertake the technical aspects of the project!  Amazing – film cameras, picture cameras, software and taking a massive burden off me!  On reflection I realise that it was only my commitment to the project that opened the door for them to get involved.  With me leading the project, having done the initial survey work and making the connections, it was easier for them to step in and get involved.

Stage 2 Design

With the survey information from stage 2 available and the brief from stage 1 I was able to get Jerry up to speed on the project very quickly.  We designed a story board together, the table shows the change in the design of the story over time.  This was an incremental design process that evolved and changed over time as we delved deeper into the detail and then stepped back to look at the patterns the design of the storyboard developed:

Storyboard version 1 Storyboard version 6.3(!) Storyboard – final version
from humble beginnings Intro Intro
a growing enterprise Organic – seasonal – local Local-organic-seasonal-choice
now two collection hubs, a dedicated army of volunteers, an online shop and supporting 2 local community farms Quality control Website and logistics
the process orders; wholesale/warehouse; quality control; local growers; delivery to Kingston; packers; collection Volunteer packers Summary
organic – local – seasonal Customer collection
… something about the future/the take away message How do customers feel and why do they use the service
Conclusion of current benefits

I designed the film capture process to stack functions so as to minimise the impact on our time.  I arranged for all the out of Kingston filming to be done in a single morning – which worked well and then followed up with 2 customer collection mornings.

FGU prompts

FGU video prompts

Together we designed a series of prompts to help with the filming process, in case people were nervous about being on camera (people care) and to ensure that we got useful footage.  With my improved knowledge of our customer base through the survey phase I was able to pick customers I knew would not be camera shy and those who actively wanted to share their thoughts and would likely speak concisely.  During the filming I adapted the prompts to the interviewee.

We also designed a feedback (apply self regulation and accept feedback) session with volunteers to review the film before it was finalised both to get valuable feedback and to get group buy in to help with the spread of the film once finished.

Stage 2 Implementation

With 3 mornings of filming and photography we had 99% of the material we needed to edit the film.

The final bits of filming we captured only once we were certain of what we needed.

We edited the film and redesigned the story board and reedited the film including incorporating volunteer comments until we reached the final version.  This was a long process of patterns to detail to patterns to detail, looking at the whole story and the detail of what each photo or voice says and how it fits into the big picture.

Stage 2 Maintenance

During the initial planning stages I considered how to make this film easy to edit in the future so that as and when things change we could add/subtract bits without having to remake the whole thing – which was the current situation then.  We sort of have achieved this – it is entirely possible to re-cut etc, however it does require Jerry or someone who has the software and the knowledge to do it, but I guess that’s the compromise with good quality filming and editing!

And here it is the final film…


The budget for the project was £0 and use of volunteer time.  I’m not sure how much time it took I didn’t keep a record, but I know it took longer than I anticipated both in terms of time past and time working on it, it was approximately one year from initial commitment to completion.  We were compensated with £100 worth of veg each (in the form of credit – not all at once!).

Lessons learnt and improvements for future design project

I tried to stick to SADIM, but found that survey and observation stages kept cropping up throughout the project, and some design work would take place during the survey stage.  Its very hard to be totally unobjective during the survey phase.  Though I have written it as a linear course of events, it didn’t always feel very linear during the process, however it is interesting that with hindsight I did sort of follow the SADIM approach.

I used the principles well in this design and tried to follow a design process, I kept the ethics in mind throughout the work I think that my use of design tools was poor.  I mentioned at the very beginning how I could have improved this.

I observed how I nurtured the relationship between myself and Jerry and Chris.  At the same time I had a relationship with a contractor who was doing work for me.  I observed the difference in relationship on this project and the other – it was really important that there was a lot of goodwill between the three of us – as we were all volunteering our time to do this.  I compared this to my contractor who was being paid by me to do a project – even though I have worked with the contractor over a longer period I have not nurtured the relationship in the same way, I wonder if this was because of my consideration of people care at the early stages of the design.

Fortune favours the brave – this has been my biggest lesson (beyond this project and more generally through permaculture), I made the initial commitment to a group of people I hardly knew to take on this project.  Because of my commitment I have met and got to know some great people whom I otherwise wouldn’t, I have also opened the door to allow Chris and Jerry to get involved and get the rewarding feeling of a job well done to support a great local community project.

I feel much happier in the role of a co-ordinator rather than a do-er, especially when the doing is not something I am totally confident in (film-making), but I am totally willing to throw myself in to co-ordinating with only a little bit of knowledge about the process.

In future I would have liked to share my design process with the team, particularly it would have been good a review of sorts during the project (using PMI or similar), as this was one of my first designs in a group context I did the permaculture bit myself, and whilst I brought my permaculture bit into all of the work I did on the project, I didn’t do it overtly and think on reflection that maybe I should have.

There were times when getting stuck in and getting on took precedence over taking the time to listen and observe, I would like to work on stepping back to listen and observe whilst working ‘in the thick of it’.

Was it a success?

Yes from a project perspective because we created a film that the team love and have on their website to draw people in.

Yes from a permaculture learning perspective as set out above.

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