Repair Cafe: a free meeting place for repairing things

A simple and brilliant idea for the DIY, anti-disposable, community-based hacker movement!

Repair Cafés are free meeting places and they’re all about repairing things (together). In the place where a Repair Café is located, you’ll find tools and materials to help you make any repairs you need. On clothes, furniture, electrical appliances, bicycles, crockery, appliances, toys, et cetera. You will also find repair specialists such as electricians, seamstresses, carpenters and bicycle mechanics.

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source: LA times

 

Martine Postma organized the first Repair Cafe in 2007 in Amsterdam, and the idea has subsequently spread around the world. Local organizers host events, and they are posted and mapped on RepairCafe.org

Apitronics Kickstarter is Live! Check it out.

Apitronics is an exciting start-up of Farm Hacker Louis Thiery, originally birthed from a Farm Hack NH greenhouse monitoring project. The Apitronics Kickstarter is live, and it’s great! You can pre-order Apitronics monitoring “bees” and help Louis get off the ground at the same time. He’s already a quarter of the way to his funding goal – help out a fellow Farm Hacker and get a useful new farm gadget!

from apitronics.com
from apitronics.com

About the Platform

Apitronics is a wireless platform designed for the outdoors. It includes a base station, or “Hive”, that coordinates a swarm of field-ready “Bees” which collect data and control switches.

What a Bee does depends on what sensors or switches you attach to its waterproof plug. Apitronics will be releasing more plugs as the platform matures. At one site, they are already doing some chicken coop monitoring, with a door sensor and a water level sensor. The system can send alerts if you forget to close the door or to bring water to the chickens!

Through the Kickstarter, Apitronics is offering user-ready systems with Bees connected to weather stations or soil humidity sensors. Louis also hopes that other developers will build off the platform and that a diverse ecology of products and other solutions will be built around the open architecture. By bringing open-source to farm electronics, Apitronics hopes to see more innovative solutions that are more farmer-driven.

More about the project at the Apitronics website

Visit the Kickstarter here

 

Farm Hack Davis Meetup! Sept 15th

Farm Hack Davis – Come meet up for beers and conversation with fellow farmers and tinkerers at Plainfield Station outside of Davis!

Sunday, September 15th, 4–7 P.M., Plainfield Station

Hi folks! The Farm Hack Davis meet-ups are back for a bit as we continue to gear up for our big event in November. This coming Sunday, we’re going to talk about what nifty innovations have come out of other Farm Hacks around the country, including tools, gadgets, and relationships that they have fostered. Come hang out with your farmer neighbors and tinkerer friends that have an interest farming and food!

We are looking for folks who have problems to solve, inventions on the back burner, or tools to tweak, who want to share ideas with each other and other skilled craftspeople to see what comes out of it.

We’re getting ready to send out a call for proposals for farm-related design projects for the upcoming Farm Hack, so keep your eyes peeled! Come to the meet-up, look for the RFP or email us with your ideas.

Farm Hack Davis event will be November 16-17, 2013. Remember to save the date!

Hope to see y’all at Plainfield Station this coming Sunday, Sept 15thRoad Construction Note: (Rd. 29 is open, use CR 99 as 98 is still closed!)

Info on Plainfield Station

Vote to help Farm Hack get to Maker Faire NYC!

Dear Farm Hack posse, help your fellow farm hackers get their hacks to Maker Faire NYC this fall!

Farm Hack is in an online voting competition for $2,500 so that we have a truck to take us to Maker Faire. Maker Faire is an expo of all things DIY.  The truck will take a route from Cambridge, MA up to Burlington, VT hitting places in the Pioneer Valley and NH. Then towards NYC through the Hudson Valley, picking up all the Farm Hacks we can and to make it easier and more stress free for others to attend.

We attended Maker Faire last year with all sorts of great hacks, including a converted washing machine greens spinner, pedal powered compost chipper and flame weeder.  It’s a great way for us to educate the general public about what we are doing, and to connect with the techie crowd that can help us create future farm hacks!

So vote for us here! And if you are interested in sharing your hack at Maker Faire too, respond in the forum thread.  We hope you can join us, and help us get our hacks to the Faire!

 

– the Farm Hack team

Infragram: A cheap infrared camera for monitoring plant health

The folks over at Public Laboratory initially developed the Infragram camera, a near-infrared camera that assesses photosynthetic activity in plants, to empower citizen science monitoring of wetlands health in the Gulf after the BP oil spill. It turned out so great that they want to share it with others!

 

from infragram.org
from infragram.org

Through their current Kickstarter campaign, Public Labs are offering the Infragram to the wider public of farmers, hikers, gardeners and anyone else who wants some infrared insight into the plant world around them.

Check out the great project video and read more about the Infragram camera on the their Kickstarter page.  You can get an Infragram of your own (or some other related gadgets) by pledging to the project.

The Quadractor: an all-purpose work vehicle

homeshopmachinist.net
homeshopmachinist.net

The Quadractor, manufactured in the 1970s and 1980s by Traction, Inc. in Vermont. The quadractor has a vertical shaft gear train originally developed by William Spence for using in aircraft landing gear, who designer of the Quadractor and founder of Traction, Inc. The tractor operates through four identical vertical drives to the wheels, and is therefore continuously in four wheel drive.  This drive design allows for the lightweight Quadractor (around 500 lbs) to pull loads up to two tons.

Spence wanted to create a tractor that was lower cost and that used less fuel than conventional tractors with comparable workloads, and be highly dynamic (also that had really good traction, hence the company name he came up with). Though the tractor been used most extensively for logging, it can be used with cultivating, rototilling and plowing implements that are attached underneath the tractor rather than behind, the weight of which are distributed to all four wheels.

Though the quadractor is no longer being manufactured, there is a community of users restoring, retrofitting and using the quadractor for their small farming operations, homestead and woodlots. These users can exchange and dialogue on the tractor, modifications and implements through a user Forum. Specs and more information at www.quadractor.com.

Read a more detailed account of the quadractor and its manufacture in this 1979 Mother Earth News article by Bill Rowan.

Farm Innovation Talk with Ben Flanner of Brooklyn Grange

Ben Flanner, president and farmer at the NYC rooftop farm Brooklyn Grange (and co-host of Farm Hack NYC last fall), talks on this week’s Farm Report episode about different organizations and projects that are helping farmers create and innovate on their farms and share these designs and tools, and strategies the Grange has adopted to grow productively in a limited rooftop space.  And read up on the Farm Hack NYC meetup and build project he mentions in the forum!

“Farmers are super collaborative…we are all about that. In terms of specific farming type things, thats all completely shared, open source, you put as much time as you possibly can to people, especially farmers and aspiring farmers.”

 

 

 

Kiva Zip: Crowd-fund your farm innovation

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You likely have heard of Kiva.org, a micro-lending site that lends to the entrepreneurial projects of individuals in developing countries through crowdsourced financing.

A year-old project of Kiva is Kiva Zip, which flips the tables.  Through Kiva Zip, individuals in the United States (and Kenya) can apply for an interest-free loan up to $5,000 for their project. This tool could be great for farmer-entrepreneurs with a well-developed innovation idea that want to market their innovation to others, and that need startup capital to bring this project online.

One Farm Hacker has already used Kiva Zip to do this – Louis Thiery, co-developer of the FIDO greenhouse monitor, applied for and received a $5000 loan through the service to produce 100 initial units of the Fido monitor.  This loan allowed him to build the original FIDO unit, and also develop a second improved iteration, now called the Sentinel Bee, through his new business Apitronics.

To receive a Kiva zip loan, you must apply through a Kiva Zip Trustee, whom you can locate on the site.  You also need to prove your business plan is viable, and be vouched for.

If you are applying for a loan, let us know at info [at] farm hack [dot] net, and we can vouch for your project!  Once you are approved, your project is then posted to the site, where users (hopefully) crowd fund your project.  The great thing about the Farm Hack community is that we can use our network to get out the word about projects, and ensure they get fully funded.  Use that farm hack community capital!

Find more info about Kiva Zip on their website.

Homemade Biochar

photo  courtesy of David Yarrow
photo courtesy of David Yarrow

David Yarrow and the folks at Four Oaks Community Farm in Topeka, Kansas, are making some exciting strides towards an efficient small-scale TLUD (Top-Lit Updraft) biochar stove. They’ve done 6 experimental test-burns thus far, and are learning more with each one.

Biochar is produced through a controlled process of heating up biomass in a lo/no oxygen system. In the absence of combustion, the result of the burn process is mostly biochar, and sometimes syngas. The process, when done correctly, produces no carbon dioxide, and is in fact a way to sequester carbon from the environment into a stable form that can be stored in the soil. This stored biochar can be used to make a “microbial reef” in our soil. Biochar holds much promise for the mitigation of climate change, and also provides a useful soil amendment for crops that need high potash and pH.

At 4 Oaks Community Farm, David and his colleagues are ready to find equipment and insulation to build a better, more efficient, permanent TLUD. They will be holding four biochar workshops in April, and are also preparing to build a smaller, 30-gallon TLUD that is portable. They’ll take this smaller stove to events and fairs around the region to spread the word about biochar and teach people how to make it.

They are innovators and changemakers worth checking out!

 

Tool Development Diary: Wireless greenhouse monitor

I have run my own farm for eight years, but because I have always farmed rented land, I have never lived within two miles of any of my greenhouses.  That means that I have had a lot of restless nights, wondering if my seedlings were alright.  Fortunately, a few collaborators and I recently received a grant that will help us to develop to new tool to solve this problem.

Over the next few months, I will use the Farm Hack blog to document our progress as we brainstorm, prototype, test and tweak the tool that we have come up with.

The problem

CSA vegetable farmers like me have a lot at stake in our seedling greenhouses–  tens of thousands of plants, which we depend on for a productive season.  If it gets too hot, or too cold, a die-off in the greenhouse can have a devastating impact on the farm’s bottom line.  I can’t count the number of times that I have driven several miles from my home to my greenhouse just to check the temperature,  sometimes at 1am on a cold night, or at 1pm on a hot afternoon.  95 percent of the time, everything is fine:  the heater is fired up and keeping things warm;  or the fans on thermostats are working properly and venting out the heat.  A waste of a trip, except that without going to check on the seedlings, I probably wouldn’t have been able to fall back asleep.

There are alarms that farmers can buy and install in their greenhouses to monitor temperature.  Some of them just sound a siren if things get too hot or cold.  Others hook into a land line, or an internet connection, to call a farmer with a temperature alert.  None of those were going to work for me, since  my greenhouses aren’t near a land line or an internet connection,  and they are miles away from earshot.  This situation is common to a lot of young farmers who are growing on leased land.

An idea for a solution

At Farm Hack New Hampshire last fall, we had a working group on “smart farm” tools.  We were lucky to have both farmers in the group, as well as some allies with skills in open source software and hardware development.  I joined the group to discuss how farmers might use sensors, open-source circuit boards, and computer code to create DIY tools that could make our farms more efficient and more sustainable.  We threw around lots of ideas, some crazier than others.  One project that seemed straightforward and useful was creating a farm-built greenhouse monitor that could deal with any problems that might come up.  We knew that the possibilities for this were wide open:  it could monitor soil moisture and turn on sprinklers, or temperature and send turn on fans, all while collecting data that could allow the user to monitor the temperature trends in the greenhouse over the day.

We wanted to make the first attempt at this tool simple and useful, so we decided to tackle the problem outlined above.  We wanted a greenhouse monitor, built from easily accessible parts by a farmer without major electronics skills, that would send a SMS text message to a farmer if there was an “alert” situation in the greenhouse, or that would just send regular status messages about the state of the greenhouse.  We decided we’d also like to make the communication two-way, so that the farmer could text the greenhouse and get a response with the current temperature.  We knew that many farmers didn’t have a landline or internet access at their greenhouses, so we wanted our tool to operate using cellular networks to communicate.  And it would have to be cheap enough to appeal to cheapskate farmers!

Applying for a grant

 

A subset of our team set out to apply for a grant to fund the development of this tool so we could build it, document it, and share it with the farmer community at large.  RJ and Louis (open-source computer programmers and hardware developers) joined up with me (Ben, vegetable farmer) to apply for a USDA Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education (“SARE”) Farmer grant, which funds farmers to carry out research and share it with other farmers.

We just learned this week that we got the grant!  So we are excited to spend a chunk of time this spring putting together a prototype of this tool, getting some other farmers to test it, and documenting the whole process to share with the world.  This is the first step, and you can keep tabs on the project as we go forward right here at Farm Hack.