Report from the field: Pedal Power Farm Hack in Boston

This past weekend, an ace team of farmers, fabricators, engineers, and pedal-powered truckers gathered at Metro Pedal Power in Somerville, MA for a weekend build event. What project would bring such an intriguing group of individuals together? Only the culticycle, a pedal-powered cultivating tractor designed by Tim Cooke, that uses human brawn and bicycle brains to replace fossil fuel powered tractors for lightweight field cultivation.

Culticycle video

First, a quick introduction of our weekend hosts. Metro Pedal Power is a pedal-powered hauling business in the Boston area, replacing box trucks with custom-built freight trikes to haul last-mile inter-city freight such as compost, recycling and CSA shares. They hope to reduce urban congestion and traffic, improve human wellbeing, and encourage others to see the appropriateness of pedal power in the urban environment. Wenzday and Eric from MPP generously hosted the build event at their fully outfitted shop in Somerville, without which the event would have been wholly impossible and a lot less comfortable. Many thanks to them and the rest of their team for hosting, convening and offering their fabrication skills.

The goal of the pedal power hack was several fold. We wanted to showcase an already built culticycle for those who had never laid eyes on it before, and bring minds together to brainstorm improvements as Tim moves forward in his development of the tool. Several attendees also were in the process of building their own culticycle, or had already done so, so we additionally hoped to build some replacement components and share knowledge of the build process that we could take home with us.

Additionally, we wanted to document the tool more thoroughly, specifically in CAD design format to be shared freely on the Farm Hack Tools platform. We also wanted to use this opportunity to shoot video and take photos to capture the Farm Hack collaborative design and build process as it was happening.

With those goals in mind, we set forth Saturday morning by working together to assemble a pre-built culticycle, so that everyone would have a chance to look over the design and get a sense of how the pieces fit together. We then split into several teams. Team 1 started from scratch with steel stock, cutting and grinding the structural pieces of the chassis – using Tim’s documentation to guide their effort but also improving upon the design as they went. Team 2 worked on “Culti 2,” a culticycle which was about halfway completed but still needed steering linkages and the parallel lift which raises and lowers the tools. Team 3 began to rebuild the “belly mount,” or toolbar, which is attached underneath the culticycle and which the weed killing tools are clamped to. This new and improved belly mount will be delivered to Hawthorne Valley Farm and installed on their culticycle, replacing the older, less robust model which was a part of the earlier culticycle design iteration.

For a day and a half, the shop buzzed with activity as folks dropped in to observe the process or get their hands dirty cutting, grinding, and welding. Lu Yoder brought along his pedal powered grain grinder, grinding wheat and making bread on Saturday and grinding corn for his brother Chris’s CSA Sunday. By midday Sunday, we had made significant progress on both the second and third culticycles, finished a pile of DIY, cheaply made star hoes, nearly completed the belly mount, and made many small modifications and improvements to the Culticycle.

Farm Hack supports an approach to tool design and innovation that is built on principles of resilience. Instead of the top-down approach to tool development put forward by corporate agribusiness, the event this weekend prioritized local manufacturing, easily repairable and modifiable tool design, and collaborative and iterative research and development. For the better part of the last decade, Tim Cook has spent countless hours in his basement shop designing, tinkering, and building this machine from scratch. This is a familiar model: an isolated innovator who is the focused, driving force behind a revolutionary tool design. The community of support which showed up this weekend to pitch in, cut, weld, prototype, and offer their design feedback and support are a vital part of this process of resilient design.

As we concluded the weekend-long build sprint, the conversation turned to next steps for the Culticycle and for Farm Hack, both community-driven efforts to re-imagine the landscape of our collective farming future. Keep an eye out for upcoming opportunities to be involved with both, including another eastern Massachusetts culticycle build TBA, a Farm Hack event at the Draft Animal Power Field Days in Cummington, MA this September, and a late Fall event at Lu Yoder’s place. And if you’re inspired by this Massachusetts flurry of activity, keep in mind that Farm Hack is made up of the collective efforts and contributions of all of us. If you would like to organize an event in your community but you’re not quite sure how to do it, check out the helpful event organizing tool on the site. Still have some questions? Shoot us an email at farmhackopen [at] gmail [dot] com

2014 Buckminster Fuller Challenge Finalists Announced


Some of the brightest minds thinking at the intersections of design, technology, and social change are applying for the Buckminster Fuller Challenge. Past winners have been ECOVATIVE (2013), THE LIVING BUILDING CHALLENGE (2012) and BLUE VENTURES (2011). See below for the press release from the Buckminster Fuller Institute:

Tuesday, 23 September 2014

The Buckminster Fuller Institute is pleased to announce the Finalists for the 2014 Fuller Challenge. Now in its 7th cycle, The Fuller Challenge invites designers, architects, activists, entrepreneurs, artists, planners and scientists, from all over the world to submit their game-changing solutions to solve humanity’s most pressing problems. A $100,000 prize is awarded to support the development and implementation of one outstanding strategy.

With the strongest and most diverse pool of entrants to date effecting change in 93 countries across the world, The Fuller Challenge remains the only prize program specifically working to identify, catalyze and celebrate individuals and teams employing a whole systems approach to problem solving. Buckminster Fuller described this approach as comprehensive, anticipatory, design science and was one of the early pioneers of design-thinking that starts with a deep understanding of the ‘big picture’ context, or macro-system, of a problem space.

“We are very proud to track the impact our prize program is having on the international discussion about how to address the big challenges we face. References to holistic, systemic and integrated approaches are everywhere, but it remains difficult to really understand this approach unless you can see it applied in a specific context. This is complex, complicated, long-term work that does not lend itself well to a simple sound bite or elevator pitch. The Fuller Challenge continues to be unique as a showcase for applied whole systems design and the remarkable people at the leading edge of this approach,” said Elizabeth Thompson, BFI’s Executive Director and Co-founder of The Fuller Challenge.

Fuller defined design as “the effective application of the principles of science to the conscious design of our total environment in order to help make the Earth’s finite resources meet the needs of all humanity without disrupting the ecological processes of the planet.” Each of our seven finalists detailed below applies Fuller’s expansive definition of design. They also embody Fuller’s definition of a design scientist as a synthesis of artist, inventor, mechanic, objective economist and evolutionary strategist.

To see the full list of finalists, click here.

Thursday 10/2 @ 7:00 // Web-Focused Organizer’s Call

For the past several weeks, Farm Hack has been gathering via google hangout every Thursday @ 7:00. We named these calls organizer’s calls and we’re using them to work on the community, work on the site, and keep in touch and up to date with the Farm Hack community working around the country.

This Thursday @ 7:00 pm, we’ll be focusing especially on web development. There are a lot of improvements that we want to make on the site and we’re looking for more drupal developers and organizers to make them happen!

A few things that we’ve identified as priorities for the site are:

 //     transferring old blog posts from the last iteration of the site to the new site, making a page for them, and 
        bringing them back as a resource for the community

 //     redesigning the front page functionality—adding a featured tools view to the blog role

 //     making it easy to sign up for our e-newsletter with a big sign-up button on the front page

 //     lots of other things on our [public web trello board](

If you’d like to join the call this Thursday @ 7:00 eastern, contact Daniel Grover @

Upcoming Teach-In: Techno-Utopianism and the Fate of the Earth, Oct 25-26, Cooper Union

On October 25th and 26th, 45 LEADING SCHOLARS, authors and activists will convene at The Great Hall of the Cooper Union, New York City, for a PUBLIC “TEACH-IN” on the profound impacts – environmental, economic and social – of runaway technological expansion; the tendency to see technology as the savior for all problems. And, on the urgent need to change directions; returning the fate of nature to the center of economic and social decision making.

Farm Hack board member, Severine VT Fleming, will be joining the conversation. Learn more here and register here!.

The event is a joint project of the International Forum on Globalization, The International Center for Technology Assessment, The New York Open Center and the Schumacher Center for New Economics and is cosponsored by The Foundation for Deep Ecology, Foundation Earth, Local Futures/International Society for Ecology and Culture, the Greenhorns, the Agrarian Trust, The Oakland Institute, and the Post Carbon Institute.

Check out these reading lists relevant to techno-utopianism:

Come join in the conversation about appropriate technology, and by taking part in the conversation, help conceive of a grounded vision of our future on this planet.

We’ll see you there–