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Origin Story

LiteFarm was founded by Dr. Zia Mehrabi. In 2016 he proposed the platform to a group of researchers at the Centre for Sustainable Food Systems (CSFS) at the University of British Columbia (UBC). He saw a widespread gap between farmers’ needs to plan and measure sustainability on diversified farming operations and the digital infrastructure available to do so.

Since 2012, researchers at the CSFS had been participating in a working group called “Measure Everything” to begin to design new methods to better collect and synthesise the huge amounts of ecological, social, and economic data being generated by research and operations on the 24 hectare UBC Farm. The farm grew a broad range of crops and perennials and, like many commercial  diversified and organic farming systems, was struggling with data management and looking for better digital solutions. 


When Dr. Mehrabi met Dr. Hannah Wittman, the new Academic Director of the CSFS, in early 2016, an arrangement was struck, and Dr. Mehrabi began to work on a prototype “custom-built farm management software” that would one day become LiteFarm.


Early activities centred around interviewing UBC Farm staff and researchers. With support from the UBC Sustainability Office, Dr. Mehrabi worked with undergraduate student Tiger Oakes to build a conceptual plan and prototype. Together, they iterated on this prototype and initially showcased it at the Gathering for Open Agricultural Technology in 2018. Quickly, Dr. Mehrabi came to the conclusion that the project would need diverse stakeholders beyond UBC to build a scalable solution. He began working with several individual and organisational contributors to realise that vision. 


Dr.’s Mehrabi and Wittman began searching for funding that would allow the project to continue development. The Weston Family Seeding Innovation Fund arose as a potential fit, and Dr. Mehrabi wrote a proposal that would allow LiteFarm to grow. In the meantime, volunteer contributors, UBC students, the CSFS research team, and the UBC Diversified Agroecosystem Research Excellence Cluster continued to support the project. In 2018 the Weston Seeding Innovation Fund bore fruit, with new engagement from key grassroots community partners like the Ecological Farmers Association of Ontario (EFAO) and COABC (now OrganicsBC).

As the project progressed, Dr. Mehrabi continued to lead the project and in doing so wore many hats, doing product management, UX research and design, as well as the core scientific work. Dr. Mehrabi leaned heavily on his partner, a UX designer in the tech industry, for best design practices during this period. Dr. Wittman and her PhD students Dana James, Susanna Klassen, and Sarah-Louise Ruder used social science methods to interview and understand diverse farmer needs around digital farm management technology and data governance, especially with agroecological research networks and farming communities in Canada and Latin America interested in certification options.

Other UBC professors lent a hand in their respective areas of expertise as well - from soil science, to biodiversity and ecosystem services, to nutrition and water management. UBC undergraduate students Justin Lee, Craig Yu, and Eric Chan wrote the majority of the early code and product designer Irene Huang built much of the early UI. Her branding and illustration style can still be seen in the app today. Additional UX/UI work was done by Gurvi Singh. The number of farmers who contributed to the design and testing of the app over this period are countless. Many students supported the project through short term internships facilitated through UBC as well.


As many founders can relate, the hours were long and often unpaid, but by mid-2019 the team had a proof of concept to show to the world. The team released LiteFarm to the general public on in December 2019, making LiteFarm the world’s first community-led, not-for-profit, digital platform joining farmers and scientists together for participatory assessment of social, environmental and economic outputs of farming systems. 

Keen to sustain the project in the long term, the team - now including Laura Morillas and Mollie McDowell as research and data managers at the CSFS - began searching for funding mechanisms to hire a product manager - a first step in sustaining LiteFarm as a public good for years to come. The team developed several successful grants from the Inter-American Foundation, SSHRC, and the Investment Agriculture Foundation of British Columbia. These funds as well as ongoing financial and operational support from UBC gave the project a good foundation for growth.


Kevin Cussen joined the project in May 2020 as the first full-time employee of the LiteFarm organisation. He built on Dr. Mehrabi and Wittman’s early vision and successes to set a clear direction for the LiteFarm Community. As of early 2023 , the LiteFarm community consists of:

  • More than 3,500 farmers, extension officers, and agricultural researchers logging in from 140 countries

  • An active and growing community of staff and open source contributors

  • Dozens of staff and student alumni

  • Partners on every continent

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This is just the beginning.

LiteFarm’s story is being written every day by people all over the planet. You can help write that story and be part of the change you want to see in the world!

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