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preparing for fieldwork

Megan Betz

This summer, I'll be heading to Portland, Ore. and Berea, Ky. for fieldwork--quick trips to get my bearings on how community orchard projects in these three places (the two sites + here in Bloomington, Ind.) compare. I was fortunate to receive support for the logistical travel expenses, to have a free place to stay in Portland, and to have recently purchased a far more fuel-efficient vehicle. That meant I could use a bit of discretionary income to get the "equipment" I'll need for fieldwork. It looks something like this. I'm really impressed by all of the "equipment," and I highly recommend these simple work-arounds when you don't want to spend money on lots of things you then need to carry around. 

  1. I purchased an iPad mini at the start of the school year, when my first-generation Macbook Pro officially had to be retired. That Macbook was a powerhouse, and it went through a lot. When it was time to replace it, my husband and I were both in positions where we had PCs in offices at work. We didn't want to have endless computers sitting around. We decided to invest in one desktop for the home, while I got an iPad to fill in the between-desktop times of my day. It's going okay so far. Subtotal for stylus, the most basic iPad mini, and a case: $250
  2. I wanted to maximize my use of the iPad during fieldwork, to limit (a) expenses and (b) things I need to carry. So, I grabbed a keyboard. If you're wondering, the answer is yes: I realize at this point I've put almost as much money into this iPad as I would have buying a non-Apple laptop. Subtotal for keyboard: $90
  3. But here's where the size of this tool and the up-front cost starts to pay off. I was looking at voice recorders, which were averaging around $90. That's the entire cost of gas to Berea and back. Instead, I found Voddio, a great voice-recording app that a lot of journalists trust. It has high-quality recordings with a good volume, doesn't take up too much space on my lowest-tier GB iPad, and is simple enough for a novice like me to use (with a bit of practice). Update: I ultimately used SoundCloud, since Voddio doesn't allow exporting for free, but SoundCloud also has a cap on how much you can record for free. This is still a work in progress. Subtotal for voice recorder: $0
  4. All that's left was finding a word processor that did just enough without taking up too much space or struggling to share between the iPad and iMac. I opted for Textilus and then found out that you have to upgrade to the non-free version before you can send these documents around. I started composing documents only to have them trapped in my iPad. So, I switched to Google Docs--reliable, linked to my e-mail, and allows for highlighting/commenting. It's not great for formatting, so I'm open to suggestions here. Subtotal for word processor: $0
  5. I also live in Evernote and Adobe Reader, for what that's worth.

So, other than a few notebooks and some printing costs (for maps to use during participant observation), I'm squared away. I got all of my "fieldwork equipment" for less than $400. More importantly, I'm excited that I have just one piece of equipment to carry, and have limited the materials that were consumed to put together this tiny laboratory. I hope others have similar success maximizing one tool for all fieldwork needs, and I'd really like to hear what other folks are doing to limit equipment/purchases. (If you know of better apps than the ones I'd selected, I'd appreciate opinions there, too.)