Reversing the Mississipi: documentary about the Open Source Ecology project

This article was originally posted by Michel Bauwens on the P2P Foundation blog

photo of Michel Bauwens

Michel Bauwens

REVERSING THE MISSISSIPPI is a documentary about a genius technologist and a rebel educator, two pioneers from opposite spectrums with one goal in common: Build a sustainable community. Can two men driven by determination overcome global challenges to change the world?”

Watch the trailer here, commentary from Shareable below:

 

Anna Bergren Miller writes:

“When filmmaker Ian Midgley set out in search of a subject, he had no idea that he would wind up a matchmaker. But matchmake he did, forging a connection between two young changemakers working in the Katrina-ravaged southeastern United States. Midgley’s new film, Reversing the Mississippi, tells the story of two men—scientist-inventor Marcin Jakubowski and teacher Nat Turner—united by a passion for expanding access to economic opportunity.

Midgley met Jakubowki first. The physics PhD and TED fellow was living in rural Missouri on Factor e Farm, a living laboratory for his life’s work: re-engineering life-sustaining machines to allow anyone to build them using basic tools and materials. To create the open-source Global Village Construction Set, Jakubowski relied on the time and energy of a motley crew of volunteers. Despite Jakubowski’s good intentions—and the huge media attention Factor e Farm generated—the project had stalled, the overworked volunteers increasingly disgruntled with their leader’s detached management style. “If he took time to consider it, he would be glad that I was here,” remarked a member of Jakubowski’s crew. “But I don’t think he’s taken that time.”

Enter Nat Turner. A former New York City schoolteacher who resigned following controversy involving a trip to Cuba with some of his students and their parents, Turner responded to news of Hurricane Katrina’s devastation by packing a school bus and driving to New Orleans. There he established Our School at Blaire Grocery, an alternative school and sustainability education center in the Lower Ninth Ward. Students at Our School learn the fundamentals of urban farming and career skills in addition to preparing for the GED. When Midgley told Turner about Factor e Farm, the teacher was intrigued enough to travel to Missouri in search of new machinery for his agriculture program.

Midgley’s film documents Jakubowski and Turner’s fruitful knowledge exchange. What began as a quest for technical assistance quickly evolved into much more. Turner, too, had had experience with the tricky transition from visionary to staff leader. And beyond the nitty-gritty of organizational operations, the men shared a commitment to realizing the seemingly impossible. “The work that we’re doing is like what it would take to reverse the flow of the Mississippi River,” said Turner. “That’s how big it was.”

Source: Reversing the Mississipi: documentary about the Open Source Ecology project

Feminism and the Commons

This article was originally published in the Fall 2015 FOOD/LAND Issue of GUTS Canadian Feminist Magazine
Tallulah Fontaine
Image: Tallulah Fontaine

 

by Alison Hugill

 

This time … it is women who must build the new commons so that they do not remain transient spaces, temporary autonomous zones, but become the foundation of new forms of social reproduction.

— Silvia Federici, “Feminism and the Politics of the Commons”

In the last decade, the idea of the “commons” has taken root in new territory. The commons refers to a moment when the distinction between public and private property was both challenged and defined, and today, in the face of widespread austerity measures, urban studies, architecture, and planning, in particular, have revisited the term in the pursuit of a radical spatial politics.

The recent “Make City” festival in Berlin, and its corollary ideas competition “Designing the Urban Commons” in London this spring, interrogated strategies for collective self-management and invited participants to challenge established ideas of property and ownership. The events began from the premise that the distinction between private and public property is a false binary that ignores the possibility of land and resources beyond the purview of the state or market. Whether evidenced in local community gardening initiatives like the “Agrocité” project in the Paris suburb of Colombes, initiated by collective Atelier d’Architecture Autogerée (AAA), or in the theoretical underpinning of critical educational forum “Campus in Camps” in Palestinian refugee camps in the West Bank, led by members of the “Decolonizing Architecture” research group, the commons has presented a refreshing alternative for understanding the politics of space.

Additionally, we’ve seen a worldwide proliferation of discussions about the urban commons cropping up in response to crises: unprecedented examples of spatial commons resulting from protest movements or cases of extreme need such as the current refugee crisis, community farming initiatives, and efforts to safeguard the digital commons. Whether material or immaterial, the topic seems to quench a contemporary social drought brought on by the so-called “retreat of the public.” With this in mind, the question of how to scale the politics of the commons beyond local, spatial, or resource-based definitions is an ongoing concern.

The commons has historical roots in the English peasant revolts of the Industrial Revolution, a time period which entailed the seizure and enclosure of commonly held land. Residents and subsistence farmers were violently expelled and land was released into the privatized mainstream of capital accumulation, creating a landless proletariat. Karl Marx called this the moment of “primitive accumulation” from which capitalism as we know it was born.

Commons are intimately connected to a moment of loss and, if understood as a singular historical event, threaten to solidify the reign of capitalism and create a nostalgic political outlook. Contemporary theories around the commons insist, instead, that primitive accumulation is a constantly recurring cyclical phenomenon, through which capital seeks boundless expansion. New commons are constantly to be found and enclosures ceaselessly follow. Rather than a foundational moment, capitalist accumulation and the dispossession of commoners is seen as a dynamic process that demands a more structural challenge if it is to be curbed.

A recent turn away from the term as denoting a site or resource, and towards its understanding as a social process, has resulted in the active verb “commoning”: the creation of a community that shares political values concerning the common ownership of food, land, and knowledge resources. Importantly, as Greek academic Stavros Stavrides points out, commoning is about difference not commonality, and the ideal commons would constantly expand the scope of its participants. Beyond a purely resource-based definition of the term, this social pact entails a focus on immaterial forms of work, communication, self-management, and knowledge exchange.

If we think of the commons only in terms of spaces or resources, we risk missing the deeper structural problems inherent in capitalist ideology. A useful challenge to stagnation is found in Italian autonomist feminist Silvia Federici’s short essay “Feminism and the Politics of the Commons,” wherein she points to the feminist and Indigenous roots of commoning. In this piece she makes the important, and contentious, claim that a revaluation of traditionally feminized reproductive labour is crucial to any understanding of commoning as a future anti-capitalist political program. Reproductive labour sets the initial conditions for production to occur: it involves sexual reproduction, care, nourishment, and shelter. Without aiming to essentialize present-day instances of reproductive labour, it has historically been understood as women’s work. Federici proposes that we need to collectivize reproductive labour in order to make commoning a social reality, and argues that women are historically poised to lead the transition.

As noted above, the idea of the commons as a historical alternative to the state and market has gained renewed critical relevance in contemporary urban studies discourses for the way in which it addresses ever-increasing privatization of land and natural resources, as well as agricultural practices. Federici, who has been approaching the topic from a feminist perspective for decades, warns of the dangers inherent in the concept’s misappropriation, citing the ways in which the term “commons” has been hijacked by the UN and the World Bank to allow “a crisis-ridden capitalist class to revive itself as guardians of the planet.” Additionally, the promise of the internet as a commons has been increasingly debunked, as every corner of cyberspace becomes subject to privatization and surveillance.

Federici asserts the importance of considering the feminist roots of the commons and commoning, in order to present a structurally more cohesive alternative political project. In her well-known book Caliban and the Witch: Women, the Body and Primitive Accumulation, she traces the countless ways in which women’s bodies have been persecuted and policed—particularly as medieval heretics and, shortly after, as witches—by the church and state in the transition to capitalism. She lays out the systematic quashing of women’s social power and its inextricable ties to collective subsistence and reproductive health. It’s no coincidence that heresy flourished amongst the rural proletariat, particularly among poor women who took control over their own reproduction, creating powerful “sterility potions” to avoid further economic ruin. Heresy became increasingly associated with reproductive crimes and a prototypical women’s movement emerged within heretic groups.

Federici pinpoints the witch hunts as a direct response to the kind of social life and gender relations that prevailed in the communal living situations of rural peasants and serfs in the Middle Ages. Medieval serfs had relative autonomy over common lands—meadows, forests, lakes, wild pastures—and direct access to the means of their subsistence. No social separation existed between the production of goods and the reproduction of the workforce: “women worked in the fields, in addition to raising children, cooking, washing, spinning, and keeping an herb garden; their domestic activities were not devalued and did not involve different social relations from those of men, as they would later, in a money-economy, when housework would cease to be viewed as real work.” Though Federici is certainly not advocating a return to serfdom, nor glorifying the conditions of servitude, she does note certain social benefits that resulted from unfettered access to common lands and collective food resources.

In contrast, capitalist societies have since organized economic life in such a way that there is cooperation at the point of production, and separation and isolation at the point of reproduction. To combat this atomization in family units, Federici cites examples of urban gardens as playing a significant role in the production of food for local or neighbourhood communities. They have, however, largely remained spontaneous grassroots initiatives and the question of how to scale the idea of commoning, without ultimate subsumption in the capitalist market, remains largely unanswered. Foregrounding a number of contemporary examples—including the African tontines (autonomous, self-managed, women-made banking systems) and the ollas communes (common cooking pots) of Chile and Peru—Federici shows the ways in which women have been and continue to be the “subsistence farmers of the world.” Her insistence on the gendered nature of this struggle comes from a historical study of the role of women in struggles against land enclosures. Federici predicts critical feminist responses to her argument within the text, aware that many feminists would find her argument, that reproductive labour is intimately related to women’s lived experience, essentializing. She writes:

Arguing that women should take the lead in the collectivization of reproductive work and housing is not to naturalize housework as a female vocation. It is refusing to obliterate the collective experiences, the knowledge and the struggles that women have accumulated concerning reproductive work, whose history has been an essential part of our resistance to capitalism. Reconnecting with this history is a crucial step for women and men today both to undo the gendered architecture of our lives and to reconstruct our homes and lives as commons.

Many of the current examples of this kind of collectivization are taken from Indigenous communities in the Americas, including women in the Zapatista movement in Chiapas, Mexico. The enactment of the Women’s Revolutionary Law in that context strived to combat patriarchal domination by addressing women’s grievances with regard to political representation, labour, reproduction, and domestic violence. Indigenous feminisms in revolutionary movements have positioned women as intimately involved in the political and social struggles of the community. These movements have managed to avoid situations where Indigenous men and women are forced to enter the globalized capitalist economic system, which has reduced women’s power within the family. Under capitalism, paid economic labour has simultaneously been positioned over and against unpaid subsistence labour, while paradoxically depending on it.

A more recent example of feminist commoning is visible in the Kurdish Women’s Defense Force (YPJ) currently operating in the Rojava cantons (Afrin, Cizire, and Kobani) in the liberated region of Northern Syria, or western Kurdistan. Since 2012, the region has been largely governed by Kurdish militia, who have been in more or less constant battle with the surrounding Assad regime. The autonomous region has set up a series of district people’s councils, which collectively decide on matters of administration such as garbage collection, heating, land ownership, and cooperative enterprise. Women make up at least 40 percent of these councils, and autonomous women’s bodies have been additionally set up at each level in an effort to revolutionize the gender imbalance. In cases of internal conflict over issues directly concerning women (marriage, reproduction, polygamy, domestic violence), the women’s council has the right to overrule the mixed councils.

This particular effort to reverse gender imbalances and collectivize reproductive labour does not necessarily lead to a situation where women are isolated or pigeon-holed in domestic duties. Even in local examples of commoning, the importance of reproductive labour becomes clear as soon as efforts to cooperate emerge: questions of subsistence precede production and are its undeniable backbone. As feminist sociologist Maria Mies observes: “The way in which women’s subsistence work and the contribution of the commons to the concrete survival of local people are both made invisible … have common roots.… In a way women are treated like commons and commons are treated like women.”

The task, then, is to recognize and reverse this devaluation of reproductive labour and its inextricable relation to land and natural resources. A recent symposium in Berlin as part of the “Make City” festival attempted to tackle questions of how the commons can become a transnational project, beyond isolated local initiatives, and whether—from the perspective of architecture and urban planning in particular—it was possible to design the commons. What emerged, above all, was a sense that the topic concerned primarily social relations. Commons do not simply mean open and free access to land and natural resources, but rely on a deeper set of socio-political values that must be rooted in anti-colonial and feminist struggles.

ABOUT

Alison Hugill has a Master’s in Art Theory from Goldsmiths College, University of London (2011). Her research focuses on marxist-feminist politics and aesthetic theories of community, communication and communism. Alison is the editor of Berlin Art Link magazine, and a writer and curator based in Berlin. www.alisonhugill.com.

“Feminism and the Commons” is from our FOOD/LAND Issue (fall 2015)

Hand labor, tractor labor and horse labor: a question of power and scale

Peter & Jelmer with the Melotte

By Jelmer Albada

This article appeared in the Spring 2015 issue of the Small Farmer’s Journal (Vol. 39 No. 2). Thank you to Jelmer Albada and Stephen Leslie for providing access to the text in digital form.

When considering the potential utility of draft animal power on the modern 21st century farm, I like to begin from the perspective of examining those farm models where all the work was done by hand. That hand work was done with a lot of care and precision and with great attention to detail towards the soil and the crops (these methods persist in our times in small scale community gardens and among some subsistence farmers). I have heard about, read about, and also have first-hand experience practicing these cultural gardening techniques involving hand labor and find it useful and inspiring to use these methods as a springboard from which to examine where draft animal power can be most useful and where the hand work can readily be improved upon. My conclusion is that there are many areas where a horse can do a better job in replacing the hand work, and that live horse power will usually not be ”over-kill”, as could be the case by introducing a tractor into a relatively small-scale operation. In this light, the horse could be viewed as a four-legged employee of the farm, always ready to take on the big and small jobs.

What I am saying in other words, is that there are different methods to the goal of an efficient system that stewards the soil, harvests healthy crops, and does not over-tax the human labor. Of course in the first instance, everything depends on the goals of the farmer (in the context of his or her farm setup, soil type, climate, etc.) as to which methods are best suited to achieve the goal. What is the best way to get to your goals in terms of how you go about soil preparation, fertilizing, planting, cultivation, harvesting? Does it make sense to do it all by hand, with draft animals, a tractor, or perhaps a combination of all of these? For a produce grower who makes their livelihood farming with horses, the principle reason to pursue the goal of using draft animal methods to grow crops and to make money is because it works better than working only by hand or with a tractor. What can a draft animal do better than can be done with hand work or a tractor? That should be our main criteria as a horse-powered produce grower. Second to that consideration is one’s love of working with horses (or other type of draft animal) which comes with other criteria and reasons.

The origin of agriculture reaches back at least 12,000 years. We humans have been utilizing draft animal power for 8,000 years on this planet we call home. When comparing that history with percentages of how long the tractor has been “engaged” in the sphere of agriculture we see that the presence of tractors comprises a tiny percentage compared to that of the draft animal. For example, in my native land the Netherlands we have used the tractor for about 70 years now. In the Netherlands agriculture is thought to have been introduced around the year 4,000 B.C. Percentage wise the tractor is present just over 1.16% in our long history as farmers. When it is seen in a bigger context it puts our choices for power systems on our farms into a different perspective. As the current generation of new and young farmers face choices for which will be the optimal sources of traction on their farms I think it helps to give a view of the role of draft animal power from this longer deeper perspective.

Modern mechanized agriculture impresses us with its massive scale and it is easy to forget what a recent development this is in the context of our whole human history. We modern people often lack an interest or curiosity about the way things were done in the past and we are prone to over-estimate the effectiveness and efficiency of our present developments. As a case in point, draft animal power is often regarded as something that is only relevant to the “Developing Countries”, in other words, those whom we consider “under-developed”. And when talking about mechanization, which means replacing hand labor with machinery, this was first achieved by using machinery in conjunction with draft animal power, for instance, treadmill horse-powered stationary threshing machines (also some of these machines had hand powered versions). Later those horse-power machines replacing hand labor were adapted to tractor traction.

Almost every generation is overly confident and claims to be better than the generation before. When one goes deeper into the cause or matter it appears that most of the crucial developments in agriculture have an older history than is commonly assumed and the pivotal technologies were introduced earlier than one would think. A fuller knowledge of the past leads us to a greater respect for the generations that have come before us. We begin to marvel at what the older generations were able to achieve under different circumstances. With this in mind and from this perspective we can shine new light on the development of draft animal power. Some would even say that live draft animal power is not a step backwards—-but a step towards the future.

In the Netherlands, beginning in the early 1600’s the population of the cities started to increase and with that came the demand for more food. Vegetable growing, or gardening suddenly took on a more serious character. This surge in raising produce was largely focused on a hand labor gardening culture—it was a significant agricultural movement with a lot of rapid development of new tools and systems. Different regions of the country also tended to develop their own unique customs in regards to soil management, and this led to the specialization of crop varieties, growing methods and tools. Unique words and phrases reflecting these regional developments became particular to certain districts and reflected the level of craft these farmers brought into their work. A one person farm or garden could be as large as 1.5 hectares, all work being hand labor. These small holdings were most often in the periphery of the cities where the gardeners had a ready base of customers. Many of these mini-farms were small enough that the farmer and his family could do all the work by themselves, while some were a little bigger and could justify hiring workers. The soils types were light clay or sand soils. Many fields would have canals on all sides—the quintessential landscape of the Netherlands. The bigger canals were used for transport, where small hand-powered (pole) boats could navigate. The farmers could use the canals to bring manure to the field and to “ship” the harvested crops away. First the gardeners brought their harvest to the markets in the city, later to auctions. The harvest was done in the field, stacked on the boat and the farmer went by boat to the auction. Some areas would have auctions where the farmers “drove” their small boats through with, for example, the fresh harvested white cabbages from the field beautifully stacked so the buyers could see the product on the boat as it floated by.

When bringing manure to the field, the boats were unloaded with wheel barrows. To mitigate compaction, planks were laid on the ground where the wheel barrow was to be driven. These “barrow planks” or “krui planken” (as called in some regions) were put down on the field to prevent compaction, and to make the work lighter than it would be wheel-barrowing through the mud. After the job was done, the farmer would take up the planks and harrow the spots where they had been laid. The harrows they used were wooden frames with wooden or metal teeth and were pulled by one person. Next, the farmer spread the heaps of manure with a fork. After which, it was time for hand spading the field. The dirt from the first furrow was put in the wheel barrow, and later brought over to the last furrow to fill it in and make the soil even again. To avoid compaction, spading was often done by setting planks (“stap-planken” or translated “step planks”) next to the furrow to walk on as one worked. One plank would be next to the furrow and a second plank lying next to first plank but on the yet to be turned soil. While spading you walk on the first plank and after finishing another furrow, you move that plank behind the second plank and continue on that way.

When this job was done, it was time to harrow the field with the same hand-pulled implement described above. As another safeguard against compaction, the farmer would affix planks to the bottoms of their traditional Dutch wooden shoes. Also when they were seeding or performing other jobs for preparing the soil or working in between the young plants, these wooden shoes with planks attached were used. This method also makes the work lighter as one does not “sink” as much in the loose soil, much like walking on snow with snow shoes. These wooden shoes with planks where also used for other purposes, as when hand planting the potatoes, one makes the wholes with a hand tool, then a person follows dropping the potato in the hole, and the third person walks on wooden shoes with planks to compress the soil over the planting holes—effectively closing the holes while stepping. And again, these wooden shoes with planks were used on a freshly spaded soil, which was carefully stepped over while preparing a seedbed.

Something similar was also done with the use of horses in low swampy pastures, where a working horse easily sinks in the sodden ground. In many places in the Netherlands the water table tends to be quite near the surface. For getting hay in or for any other reason to be in a wet field with a horse and wagon, square planks were attached underneath the back hooves of the horse. These “horse boards” (called “hynsteboerd” or “trippen” in the Frisian language), fitted to be a bit wider and longer than the horse’s hoof, were at first made out of wood (oak or ash) and later also of metal. These planks were attached underneath the back hooves since the rear legs are where the driving power of the horse originates. On the wettest fields all four legs would be “boarded” in this fashion. If one observes a horse walking on freshly turned soil in good tilth it becomes clear that even horses can do damage to the soil. Horses don’t have “golden hooves” and can damage the soil structure badly when used at the wrong time.

I had direct experience of these same spading and planting systems where they were used for planting in a green house. In this case, it was an autumn planting of lambs’ lettuce (mache). The wooden planting boards had squares blocks underneath them, leaving a print (of plant holes) to show where to plant after you lift the board. You begin by laying the first step-board in the plant ready soil, and then put the second board behind the first one. Then the first board is placed after the second one and you put your plants in the marked spaces. The trays with plants are placed on the board and one also kneels on it. Some growers have a rail in the greenhouse where the transplant trays can be put on the rails and moved along as you go along planting and moving the boards, other have paths and you can use to bring the trays to the boards which also limits how much you have to step on the ground. This way of planting works best with two people. When lifting the board, each person lifts on one side, carefully at the same moment lifting the board and placing it over the board they are standing on.

For me the Warmonderhof Biodynamic Agricultural School was very important time in my life as it was a transition from the conventional farming I had been raised in to the organic and biodynamic world, and from the dairy culture of my family’s farm into the vegetable growing culture. This school does a good job at preparing young farmers and giving them a foundation from which to start their own small farm or agricultural business. At the Warmonderhof they teach skills in driving the tractor, hand labor, and also they present classes on working with draft animals. The students get hands on experience working with the horses. For the Netherlands, having draft animal power incorporated in one’s educational curriculum is very unique and it is a rare opportunity to get this kind of hands-on experience.

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On a Dutch herb farm where I worked, we also hand spaded the smaller plots. After spading it was time to level the field and to get rid of the first germinated weeds. This job could be done with a hand rake or the harrow—which was my implement of choice. A horse would not have enough space to turn on these small plots. So there I chose to “drag” the harrow myself. I could harrow these small plots faster than I could rake them, and also faster than if I had taken the time to hitch and harness a horse to do it. Then making beds and planting by hand would follow. We marked out the rows, 3 or 4 at a time, all by hand. Before using the marker we would set out a straight rope to establish the first line. For every new bed we would use the rope to keep the rows straight. The field we were planting was 3.7 acres (1.5 hectare). Even today, there are still many farms in Holland that do everything by hand. It is not uncommon to use a spade to turn the soil and follow this with a harrow that is also pulled by hand. This is in part made possible by the light nutrient rich clay soils or sandy soils that are free of stones. I would not necessarily recommend these methods, but describe them here to point out that, given how much human labor alone can accomplish, we should then consider just how much potential a single horse has in small scale farming. There are quite a few people that have a horse standing idle on their farms, which could be of great help to them in the garden. On the herb farm all the spading, cultivating and harvesting on these smaller plots was done with handwork, and the bigger fields were worked with a draft horse.

Later on I had the opportunity to visit a farm in Peru, South America. One time we wanted to seed alfalfa in a stony field of 3.5 acres located in the Andes Mountains. There the field had been irrigated (letting water from a canal over flow the whole field) a day before and two ards (a primitive type of scratch plow) and two mules (each hooked singly) were used to loosen the soil. This operation with the mules took two whole days. After that, the remaining weeds were pulled out by hand. Then we hand seeded the alfalfa. We hand raked the seeds in, with 3 people which took us 8 hours, having rakes that were about one foot in width. In that situation I would not have minded having the harrow to rake in the seeds with a mule.

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I also visited another Andean mountain farm, this time at Terrasana Organics in Ecuador, where 25 acres were planted in produce. The setup there was quite flexible. Terrasana Organics has 3 sources of draft power. First, a walk behind tractor, secondly, the horse, and third, the tractor. The tractor is used for the heaviest work, like for example; turning the soil with a spader (on a crank shaft to prevent hard pan) and also the disc harrow. The loosely turned soil would be hand planted and later cultivated by the horse. A cultivator is lighter to pull and the tractor has much more power than necessary to do this work. The horse is much better suited for the cultivation work, and for the growing crops there is less soil compaction. Using the horse to cultivate means more soil pores remain open and this preserves and stimulates an active soil life. To be organic means you have to cultivate more than the conventional farmer who can resort to spraying herbicides. If you have less compaction while cultivating this will enhance the growth of your crops. The other draft source at Terrasana was the walk behind tractor which was used with a cart hitched to it to pick up and bring in the year-round weekly harvest. On this farm, having each draft source working at what it does best works well. Having these different draft sources in place allowed the farm to be more flexible because each power source can be operated at the same time. The tractor operator would prepare the soil, while the horse “driver/operator” was cultivating—all of which gets more work done at once in an efficient way (and within the window when the weather and soil circumstances lend themselves to do the work).

When I visited among Amish farmers, I got acquainted with their methods in using draft animal power. The utilization of these draft-power source keeps their farms smaller and sets a certain pace and scale. It also fosters a lively and interactive sense of community among them. It was quite impressive and valuable for me to experience such a strong and tight-knit community. Compared to dairy farming, growing produce is quite a new thing among the Amish. Given my own background in market gardening there were not a lot of new things that I observed in terms of their growing methods. I was surprised by the extensive use of plastic mulch, since I come from a culture that doesn’t use this at all. We focus on weed control principally through the use two different models of hand hoes (on a long handle) to hoe in the row. I do remember the experience of harvesting with nobody holding the lines of the team, which was hitched to a wagon. One person harvested cabbages and threw them to the person stacking them on the wagon as the horses stood patiently waiting. This was also done in Holland, for example when harvesting cauliflower, when it was time for the horse to step up, the farmer would knock with the harvesting knife on the wagon, and then to stop just say; “Whoa”.

In the agricultural methods that the Amish practice, I observed the use of motorized power mounted on horse drawn machinery. The horses or mules pull the machine and the engine drives the PTO (power-take-off system). With a relatively small engine, modern small tractor machinery can be used behind a team of draft horses or mules. This has allowed those groups who permit it to use tractor machinery behind horses and work with a more modern method (all aspects of Amish life are dictated by a list of written or oral codes of behavior, known as Ordnung, which outline the basics practices of the faith and help to define what it means to be a member of the church community—the Ordnung are not uniform among all the Amish, as they are decided upon by local churches—for instance, some communities allow the use of horse-drawn motorized equipment while others stick with ground-driven implements only).

When the first wave of horse drawn machinery industry was at its peak in the early part of the 20th century, just as some of the Amish manufacturers do now, there were engines used on some of the machinery. For instance, in Europe a mower with an engine mount was developed which enabled the farmer to hitch just one horse on the motorized mower, using the same mowing width that was formerly done with a team (and with less or no clogging of the sickle bar). So it is obvious to see that the second wave of the horse machinery industry (happening right now)—which is fueled mainly by Amish machine shops—continues in these footsteps of incorporating motorized components into horse drawn implements. However, at the same time Amish manufacturers are also developing innovative ground-driven machinery with new lines of smart improved “re-inventions” of the older mid-20th century models. One of these re-inventions is on the new two-bottom plow from White Horse Machinery. The lifting system of this plow (without having a 3-point hitch as on a tractor) is made simple for the driver; all one has to do to lift the plow is pull on a rope. This activates a mechanism that can lift and lower the plow in and out of transport position, all of which makes plow very light, easy and safe to operate, similar to the old dump rakes, where you just step on a peddle and the machine goes in and out of engagement. I know I would enjoy having such a mechanism on a riding plow or riding cultivator. We can be sure that developments like these will continue.

Whatever the power source for traction on the farm, with small scale vegetable production there is always a lot of handwork involved. How much percentage of the work could or should be hand work? Even on small scale operations that use tractors, and on horse-powered farms, hand work is usually a very big percentage when you think of weeding, harvesting and packaging. In terms of making our small-scale produce farms as efficient as possible, the question we should be asking ourselves is; which parts of this (hand) work does it make sense to replace the human labor with a greater power source—whether it be by draft animal or tractor, or some combination of the two? As we have seen in these few examples I have given there are many ways to achieve the same goal. When it comes to growing produce, I want to look at the various means there are to get to the desired end of an efficient and profitable farm in the most resilient and replicable way.

To me working with horses signifies the relationships of working and being together with the living things around us, which I have come to value deeply. Like when one can see the soil, plant and animals not just for their exterior shells, but with a vision that penetrates surface appearances and perceives some aspects of the inner workings of things and how everything that lives is connected. By working with horses and understanding what that takes I have become more aware of seeing inside the horse and the inner connection that exists between me and the horse. In order for it to really work, the relationship between human and horse cannot remain superficial. In a certain similar way one can have a relationship with the soil, plants and other animal life of the farm. Humans focus a lot on humans. I like machinery and am intrigued by how it works, but working with a horse shifts me over to another pace and touches or moves me to be more aware of my surroundings and with what I’m doing and with what I want to be doing. I don’t know how to put it into words any better than that…but it feels like a revelation.

 

Culticycle at the DAP Field Days: Cross-pollination and appropriate technology in farming systems

Horse People and Bike People
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Culticycle enthusiasts and teamsters convened at the Draft Animal Powered Field Days in September, hosted by the Draft Animal Power Network to discuss the intersection of human and draft powered farming systems and tools. What type and amount of power is needed for different tools or tasks on the farm, and how can draft or human-powered systems supplant fossil fuel-powered ones? These questions embody the first design principle of the Farm Hack community, “Biology before steel and diesel.”
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Most equipment manufacturers stopped building tools for horse and oxen farming around the middle of the 1900s. Farmers who wish to continue farming with draft animals innovate and invent tools appropriate for their purposes. It’s the classic narrative that defines the farm hack community: we want tools suited to ecological, human-scale agriculture, not industrial agribusiness. Local manufacture and on-farm research and development allow farmers to equip themselves with tools for their specific working environment and set of circumstances. 
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This design philosophy was brought to bear at the Draft Animal Power Field Days where tools cross-pollinated during guided brainstorming sessions. The new front end for the culticycle is hacked from a lawn tractor front end. The quick hitch system which Tim and Dorn are currently adapting for use on the Culticycle is an idea borrowed from the Pioneer Homsteader, a draft-powered multi-tool.  Old standby tool features can also be improved upon using a new component to perform a familiar function – for example, in recent Culticycle development conversations, the Farm Hack community is looking to handpowered hydraulics and auto trunk struts as alternatives for more ergonomic lifting of heavy, belly-mounted tools.
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Towards an Appropriately-Powered Farming Future
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 In the interest of minimizing our reliance on fossil fuels and developing more flexible and efficient farming systems, identifying what the actual appropriate power need for a job is allows us to develop and use the right power source – i.e. a human, a bicycle, a horse.
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Culticycle inventor, Tim Cooke, often makes the point that we just don’t know how much horsepower cultivating takes because we default to using the smallest tractor on the farm, which still might be vastly overpowered for the task. This insight connects to a broader principle galvanizing Farm Hackers; that innovation often stems from looking critically at the way things are and the way they are always done, and synthesizing from a rich repetoire of knowledge new and old to figure out how to do things better. 
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More documentation updates to come soon on the Culticycle tool page.
More Farm Hack events on the Events Calendar
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New York: It’s time to speak out for your right to repair

This content was originally published by the Digital Right to Repair at www.digitalrighttorepair.org

 

The Fair Repair Bill

Right now, New York has a chance to pass the first Fair Repair bill in the nation. We have a chance to guarantee our right to repair electronics—like smartphones, computers, and even farm equipment. We have a chance to help the environment and stand up for local repair jobs—the corner mom-and-pop repair shops that keep getting squeezed out by manufacturers.

We’ve been working with local repair companies to come up with a solution. The Fair Repair Bill, known as S3998 in the State Senate and A6068 in the State Assembly, requires manufacturers to provide owners and independent repair businesses with fair access to service information, security updates, and replacement parts.

If you agree with us, find out who represents you in New York’s legislatures. Tell them you support the bipartisan Fair Repair bill, S3998 in the State Senate and A6068 in the State Assembly. Tell them that you believe repair should be fair, affordable, and accessible. Stand up for the right to repair in New York.

Note: you must be a resident of New York to submit a comment about this bill.

Electronics are making farm equipment harder to repair.

Kerry Adams, a family farmer in Santa Maria, California, found that out the hard way when he bought two transplanter machines for north of $100,000 apiece. They broke down soon afterward, and he had to fly a factory technician out to fix them.

TOOLS, MANUALS, AND PARTS ARE DIFFICULT TO COME BY.

Because manufacturers have copyrighted the service manuals, local mechanics can’t fix modern farming equipment. And today’s equipment—packed with sensors and electronics—is too complex to repair without them. That’s a problem for farmers, who can’t afford to pay the dealer’s high maintenance fees for fickle equipment.

Adams gave up on getting his transplanters fixed; it was just too expensive to keep flying technicians out to his farm. Now, the two transplanters sit idle, and he can’t use them to support his farm and his family.

GOD MAY HAVE MADE A FARMER, BUT COPYRIGHT LAW DOESN’T LET HIM MAKE A LIVING.

Photos courtesy Stawarz

Photos courtesy Stawarz

The National Grange agrees: “On behalf of over 200,000 members of the National Grange, we fully support the Right to Repair Act because we believe in an owner’s right to maintain, service, repair and rebuild their vehicle or farming equipment on their own accord or by the repair shop of their choice. Our members, most of them located in rural areas, value their ability and freedom to fix and repair their own vehicles, tractors and other farm equipment. Should they seek assistance elsewhere, local repair shops should have access to all necessary computer codes and service information in order to properly and efficiently make repairs.

“In addition, we believe that in the absence of the Right to Repair Act, many individuals, both rural and urban, would likely put off important vehicle repairs and maintenance, jeopardizing their safety and the safety of others on the road. It is also important to note that our members often farm and ranch in remote locations where repair shops are just not available. Days waiting on parts from dealers can mean missing crop target pricing, costing our members in agriculture a great deal of revenue.”

Oh, the good old days. With electronics these days you're lucky if you get a dipstick!

Oh, the good old days. With electronics these days you’re lucky if you get a dipstick!

Farmers are Fighting Back

More and more, farmers are turning to the internet to learn how to repair their complex equipment. They are turning to websites like iFixit to share techniques for maintaining equipment.

But it’s not enough.

WE NEED TO REQUIRE MANUFACTURERS MAKE EQUIPMENT FIELD-SERVICEABLE.

JOIN THE FIGHT

For more about how the right to repair is fundamental to the DIY and small farmer community, revisit Kyle Wein’s article on Ifixit.org a few months ago: New High-Tech Farm Equipment is a Nightmare for Small Farmers.

 

Farm Hack @ Draft Animal-Power Field Days, Sept 24-27 in Cummington, MA

Join Farm Hack at the 2015 Draft Animal-Power Field Days!

September 24-27 in Cummington, MA.

Farm Hack will host a workshop session on Saturday from 1:30-3:00 as well as a weekend-long build project focused on integrating draft and human power into standard vegetable production systems. Event page here.

Project #1:

The Homesteader is a new draft-powered multi-tool by Amish equipment manufacturer, Pioneer. One unique feature of the Homesteader is a unique quick hitch which makes switching the belly-mounted tools a snap. Our goal is to adapt this quick hitch mechanism for use with the Culticycle, a pedal-powered cultivating tractor. Culticycle inventor Tim Cook will bring a Culticycle and several of the hand built tillage tools he’s been working on.  See here for documentation of the Homesteader quick attach on Farm Hack.

Project #2:

Tractor-powered vegetable farms typically grow on a bed system that utilizes beds between 48″ and 60″ wide, growing most crops in multiple rows within the bed. Most horse-powered vegetable growers use a single-row system at 32-36″ spacing. This is because most horse-powered equipment available was designed for growing row crops such as corn. At the DAP Field Day, we will explore the possibility of adapting a single-row riding cultivator  to fit the wider bed-system spacing, with the goal of improving space efficiencies in horse-powered operations, and allowing the easier integration of tractor and draft power within a single farming system.

There are three crucial components to adapt a single-row cultivator for wider beds. First, the cultivator wheel-base must be widened. The wheel base on most cultivators is already adjustable, typically from 34-42″ but the adjustable axle will have to be extended as well as a linkage at the front of the cultivator. Second, a wider evener and neck yoke will have to be built to spread the horses apart. Third, team lines will have to be configured to spread the horses apart. See the recent conversation about this topic on the Draft Animal Power Network forums.

Slow Farming Tools

This post was originally published by No Tech Magazine. The original article can be found here.

slow tools 1

As a result of the industrial revolution and the subsequent development of “big agriculture,” small-scale farming tools have become almost obsolete. In order to fulfill the demand created by a burgeoning community of small-scale farmers, Stone Barns Center has partnered with Barry Griffin, a design engineer, to develop farming equipment and tools. Called the Slow Tools Project, this partnership brings together leading engineers and farmers to design and build appropriately scaled tools that are lightweight, affordable and open-source.

They have identified 34 tools in need of development, beginning with a small electric tractor that will serve as the “motherboard” frame to which other tools can be attached. Other inventions to follow will be the solar-powered “Horse Tractor,” which could have a significant impact among cultures dependent on draft animals and where drought limits water availability, and a compressed-air grain harvester and processor.

slowtools2In the summer of 2015, The Slow Tools Project will focus on the development of a Bed-Former/Shaper powered by a BCS walking tractor; a hug-wheel driven, walken behind electric tool carrier; a two-layer clear plastic blanket for field-scale soil solarizing; and a 30-inch wide stripper/header to harvest grain for poultry.

Slow Tools, Fast Change, Stone Barns Center for Food & Agriculture. Read more at the Farm Hack Blog.

cultivator

Light-weight farm equipment is already available from the Amish in the USA. For example, I & J Manufacturing,  Pioneer Farm Equipment, and Heavy Horse Equipment manufacture farm equipment that can be drawn by horses, mules or garden tractors. For an overview of modern horse drawn equipment, check out this website.

heavy horse equipment

More low-tech farming.

Hacking it Out at the Farm

by Holly Black

The original version of the post was published by the Sustainable Food Trust, and can be found here.

New entrants to farming in Britain are often faced with a long list of challenges before they even put their wellies on. Defra’s 2013 report, Future of Farming Review, details a vast array of barriers faced by new entrants to farming, and highlights the shocking figure that only 8% of British farmers are first generation.

Across the pond in the United States, a different phenomenon is occurring: the arrival of the Greenhorns. In farming terms, a greenhorn is a novice or new entrant into agriculture, and this grass-roots group aims to help them. The Greenhorns have been making waves with their 2014 documentary on young farmers, and they are helping to change the landscape of field-to-fork farming by using technology to organise and up-skill new farmers. Recently, the Greenhorns have developed a specific tool to help connect the diaspora of new farmers spread across the United States – it’s called the ‘Farm Hack’, and it has now arrived in the UK.

What’s a ‘Farm Hack’?

‘Farm Hack’ is a concept coined by the Greenhorns. Think ‘i-fixit’ combined with Wikipedia. Lots of problems – and lots of solutions – all on an open-source, easily accessible platform that allows members to interact, debate and build on each other’s ideas. Although the term ‘hack’ evokes images of computers with Matrix-style numbers flashing across the screen and a virus eating your computer from the inside out, it actually has myriad meanings. These range from the ability to cope successfully with something to breaking up the surface of soil. In recent years hack has also come to mean a congregation of people (either online or offline) aiming to take action or work together to solve a problem.

Taking action and problem solving is exactly what occurred on a sunny spring day last month at Ruskin Mill in Gloucestershire at an event organised by the Landworkers’ Alliance. A group of farmers – some new entrants, some old hands – gathered together to find solutions to their shared problems. From Fife to Devon and Norwich to Pembrokeshire, farmers and those with technical expertise travelled from far and wide to share their knowledge and see how they could help one another address a wide range of issues faced on the farm.

UK Farm Hack #1

The Farm Hack was launched by Severine von Tscharner Flemming, the founder of the Greenhorns, with guests of honour L’Atelier Paysan, an innovative group of French farmers, that are reclaiming farming knowledge. The Farm Hack got off to a flying start, with the attentive attendees ready to soak in the energetic atmosphere. The highlight of the morning’s demonstrations was a bicycle-powered mill from Fergus Walker and the Fife Diet. Coined the ‘People Powered Flour Mill’,  it was an ingenious box that looked like a red rocket, and it ground wheat into flour at the turn of a pedal. The afternoon saw a host of inspiring workshops, covering compost tea preparation, 3D printing and how to set up food hubs with the Open Food Network. Alongside all this were welding, blacksmithing and green wood-working drop-in sessions.

The second day felt like the crux of the event. It culminated in an extremely productive Open Space session that identified projects for collaboration, with a short period devoted to the development of these projects. The Open Space session allowed attendees to get stuck into what they really came for – exploring their ideas, finding solutions and offering help to others. Suggestions were made for regional working groups to skill share and to create training and barter systems, as well as tapping into expertise outside of farming from engineers, CAD experts, coders, academics and architects. These other networks provided an alternative perspective on solving farming problems by framing the issues differently. For example, a blacksmith may have the expertise to fix a broken tool, but an engineer may suggest a different tool with a new shape or a different attachment to do the job better. It was a team effort – and if you didn’t know the answer, there was almost always someone in the room who did! 

Is technology the solution?

Technology is often seen as the golden ticket to problem solving. But driverless tractors, drones and robots are not necessarily the answer (despite what the Daily Mail may want you to think). Instead, we need problem-solving tools that can make a real difference in the hour you have at the end of the day when you choose either to sit at the computer or water the tomatoes. The introduction of organisational tools such as Farm at HandTrello and the Farmhack wiki could potentially change the face of farming. Farmbrite is designed for record keeping and is mobile enabled so it is accessible out in the field. The Open Food Network and Farmdrop support small-scale farmers by connecting customers directly with producers in their local area. And there is Buckybox, an organisational platform designed specifically for community-supported agriculture (CSA) projects – my local grower at CSA Sims Hill Shared Harvest was raving about it over the seed beds a few mornings ago. These are tools that allow CSAs to manage their members without ever seeing each other face to face.

One of the best ideas of the day was to invite older and more established farmers to share their expertise to help find better working systems. Meeting in real life rather than by email meant ideas could flow more freely, connections could be made and interests shared. Farmers need support through shared best practice as well as from new developments in the field. The wisdom imparted from established farmers who have seen it all before is incredibly valuable. Once this group of farmers got going, the ideas were flowing faster than Severine could note them down – a sign that a network of farmers, old and new, focused on solutions and assisted by technological tools is just what the future of farming might look like.

Photograph: Steph French

How to Make Everything Ourselves: Open Modular Hardware

This post was written by Kris de Decker of Low Tech Magazine. The original article can be found here.

Open source consumer goods

Reverting to traditional handicrafts is one way to sabotage the throwaway society. In this article, we discuss another possibility: the design of modular consumer products, whose parts and components could be re-used for the design of other products.

Initiatives like OpenStructures, Grid Beam, and Contraptor combine the modularity of systems like LEGO, Meccano and Erector with the collaborative power of digital success stories like Wikipedia, Linux or WordPress.

An economy based on the concept of re-use would not only bring important advantages in terms of sustainability, but would also save consumers money, speed up innovation, and take manufacturing out of the hands of multinationals.

A modular system unites the advantages of standardisation (as parts can be produced cheaply in large amounts) with the advantages of customisation (since a large diversity of unique objects can be made with relatively few parts). Modularity can be found to a greater or lesser extent in many products (like bicycles and computers) and systems (like trains and logistics), but the best examples of modular systems are toys: LEGOMeccano, and Erector (which is now the brand name of Meccano in the US).

LEGO, Meccano and Erector are composed of relatively few elementary building blocks, which can be used to build various objects. The parts can then be disassembled and re-used to build something completely different. Apart from the elementary buildings blocks, these manufacturers have produced many more specific building blocks, which are less versatile, but further increase customisation possibilities.

Afmetingen lego bouwstenen

All the building blocks in a set of LEGO, Meccano or Erector fit together because they are designed according to a set of specific rules. The holes (Meccano and Erector) or studs (LEGO) have a precise diameter and are spaced apart at specific distances. In addition, the dimensions of the building blocks are precisely matched to each other. The long lasting success of LEGO, Meccano and Erector (which appeared on the market in 1947, 1902 and 1911 respectively) is based on the fact that those rules have never changed. All new buildings blocks that were added in the course of the years are compatible with the existing ones. Today, kids can expand their collection of these toys with that of their parents or grandparents, and they are worth as much on the second hand market as they are worth new.

Grid Beam, Bit Beam, Open Beam, Maker Beam and Contraptor

The same principle could be applied to everyday objects, from coffeemakers to furniture, gadgets, cars and renewable energy systems. All you need is a standardisation in design. The design rules can be very simple, as is the case with Grid Beam. This modular construction system, which was developed in 1976, is based on beams with a simple geometry and a repetitive hole-pattern. The beams can be made of wood, aluminium, steel, or any other material.

Grid beam high sleeper

In spite of the simplicity of the design, a great variety of objects can be constructed. Grid Beam has been used to make all kinds of furniture, greenhouses, constructions for workshops and industrial processes, windmills, wheelbarrows, agricultural machinery, vehicles, sheds and buildings (a book about the system was published in 2009, and can be found online). Grid Beam was inspired by a system envisioned by Ken Isaacs in the 1950s, Living Structures, which used similar beams but contained only a few holes.

Grid beam wheelbarrow
In recent years, several systems have appeared that use a very similar set of rules, based on a repetitive hole pattern. Bit Beam is basically a scaled-down version of Grid Beam, aimed at building smaller structures in balsa-wood, like a laptop stand or a prototype device. Contraptor uses a similar approach, but is aimed at providing structural metal frames for DIY 3D-printers, milling machines, or robotics. OpenBeam and MakerBeam are also modular construction systems based on very simple rules. These are not based on a hole-pattern, but use T-slot aluminium profiles. Makeblock combines both approaches and includes electronic modules.

Bitbeam
Most of these construction systems are limited to the design of frameworks. There is one system, however, that offers much more possibilities, because it is based on a more sophisticated set of rules: OpenStructures. The project was kicked off in Brussels in 2007. Unlike all the projects above, OpenStructures is still in an experimental phase. However, it is interesting enough to look at in more detail, because it best shows where modular construction systems may be headed in the future.

OpenStructures

The first basic rule of OpenStructures is shared with Grid Beam and similar systems: all parts are connected to each other in such a way that they can be easily disassembled, using bolts and screws rather than nails or glue. However, the OpenStructures design “language” is different: it is based on the OS Grid, which is built around a square of 4×4 cm and is scalable. The squares can be further subdivided or put together to form larger squares, without losing inter-compatibility. The illustration below shows nine complete squares of each 4×4 cm put together.

OS grid
The borders of the squares mark the cutting lines (which define the dimensions of square parts),  the diagonals determine the assembly points, and the circles define the common diameters. As is the case with LEGO, any modular part has to comply with at least one of these conditions in order to be compatible with other parts. Either the dimensions have to correspond with the horizontal and vertical lines, or the assembly points should be spaced according to the grid, or the diameters should be similar. Below is a part that fulfills two of three conditions.

Compatibel onderdeel
While this set of rules is more sophisticated than that of the Grid Beam system, complicated it is not. Nevertheless, it allows for the design of a much larger variety of objects, not just square or rectangular frames. Over the course of five years, OpenStructures has yielded objects ranging from household devices to cargo bicycles, suitcases and furniture.

Open versus Closed Modular Systems

In spite of the similarities, there is one fundamental difference between modular construction systems such as OpenStructures, Grid Beam and Contraptor, and modular toys such as LEGO, Meccano and Erector. The first group consists of “open” modular systems, where everyone is free to design and produce parts, while the second consists of “closed” modular systems, where all parts are designed and produced by one manufacturer. Closed modular systems produce uniform parts. For instance, all LEGO building blocks are made of plastic. LEGO does not produce building blocks made of wood, aluminium, glass or ceramics. There is a limited range of colours. And because LEGO is a closed system, nobody else is allowed to produce LEGO pieces.

Closed modular systemOpen modular system

There exist modular construction systems that operate according to the same principles, like the T-profiles made by 80/20 inc. However, in the modular construction systems that we have introduced above, everyone is allowed to design and produce parts, as long as these parts are compatible with the basic set of rules. We find the same approach with open software, like Linux (an operating system), OpenOffice (office software) or WordPress (a blogging platform). The computer code for these systems is being written by a large amount of people, who all build a part of something larger. Because all participants stick to a basic set of rules, a great amount of people can, independently of one another,  add parts that are inter-compatible.

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Consumer products based on an open modular system can foster rapid innovation, without the drawback of wasting energy and materials

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An open modular system has many advantages over a closed modular system. Since anyone can design parts in an open system, it generates a much larger diversity of parts: they can be made in different colours and materials, and none of the producers can set a fixed price for all consumers. And because many designers constantly review, adapt and improve each others’ work, innovation is accelerated. All open software systems described above are arguably better than their closed counterparts, and some of them have become more successful. A closed modular system only has one advantage: the one who holds the copyright makes a lot of money.

Sustainable Consumer Goods

Modular construction systems encourage the re-use of physical parts, and thus form a sustainable alternative to our present-day system of producing consumer items. Most products that we buy end up in landfills or incinerators within a couple of years, at most. This is because the majority of manufacturers encourages consumers to replace their products as quickly as possible, either by designing objects that break down easily, or by introducing new generations of products which make the former generation of products obsolete. This approach not only generates a massive pile of waste, it squanders an equally massive amount of energy and raw materials.

Part of OS grid

Consumer products based on an open modular system can foster rapid innovation, without the drawback of wasting energy and materials. The parts of an obsolete generation of products can be used to design the next generation, or something completely different. Furthermore, modular objects have built-in repairability.

Open modular construction systems could greatly speed up the diffusion of low-technologies, such as pedal-powered machinessolar thermal collectorsvelomobiles or cargo cycles. Building a windmill or a cargo bike goes much faster when using modular parts than when using carpentry or welding, and there is no need for expensive tools or special skills. Mistakes can be easily corrected — just unscrew the bolts and start again. It would also be interesting to see modular parts combined with an open hardware project such as the Global Village Construction Set, which generates many interesting designs but makes limited use of modularity.

Circulation of Parts

“While eBay provides a circulation of objects, and cradle-to-cradle provides a circulation of materials, modular construction systems provide a circulation of parts and components”, says Thomas Lommée, the creator of OpenStructures. “Our ambition is to create puzzles instead of static objects. The system should generate objects of which it is not entirely clear anymore who designed them. An object evolves as it is taken in hands by more designers.”

Kitchen appliances openstructures

The kitchen appliances that were designed in the context of the project are good examples. A couple of parts were initially made for a coffee grinder, were then used, together with new parts, by another designer to build a coffeemaker. This appliance was then further developed into a water purification device by a third designer. The plastic bottle that served as a water container was replaced by a cut through glass bottle containing a clay filter. Thomas Lommée: “By adding or removing components, or by using them in a different manner, what you get is a family of objects”.

Cargo Cycle

Another prototype that originated from the project, is a cargo cycle. The rear is a sawed through frame of a standard bicycle, the end of which is compatible with the OS Grid. This means that the front of the cycle can be built up in a modular way. Designer Jo Van Bostraeten used this opportunity to design both a cargo bicycle and a cargo tricycle (the latter is carrying a 3D-printer), and it doesn’t end there. Together with Lommée, he also constructed a modular motor block. The unit consists of an electric motor and wheels, on top of which a similar unit can be placed that holds a battery. Since the units are compatible with the OS Grid, they can be coupled to the front of the cargo cycle, resulting in a completely modular motorised cargo vehicle.

Openstructures cargo vehicles

The latest “family” of objects to come out of the project is aimed at children. It is noteworthy that this collection arose from one component of the cargo cycle — the container.  It is built up from modular parts that can be bolted together, and can thus be combined in different ways. A couple of designers got started with those parts, resulting in (among other things) a sled, a seat, a toy excavator, and a swing. When the child becomes an adolescent, the parts can be used to make a suitcase or a tool box, or become part of a cargo cycle that could make him or her some pocket money.

Open source objects

More interesting than the objects themselves, is their user support system. Grid Beam is obviously a product from the pre-internet age. Those who want to copy a design are encouraged to look at a picture of someone else’s creation and “count the holes”. OpenStructures, on the other hand, leans heavily on online user support. The re-use of parts is being facilitated by an online database that can be used in three ways.

A Modular Database

First, you can request an overview of all objects that were designed based on the OS grid. The webpage for each object then shows you the parts and components from which it is made. Second, you can request an overview of all parts that were designed based on the OS grid. The webpage for each of these shows you which components and objects they could serve. Third, you can request an overview of all components. The webpage for each component shows you their parts and the objects they can be used for.

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Open modular construction does not mean that everyone should make their own consumer products

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The webpage for each part, component and object also gives additional information: the dimensions, the materials, the designer’s name, the licence and the order information. To add to this, all parts and components receive a serial number. This means that after a modular object is taken apart, the serial number of each part and component can be entered into the database to see what else can be made with it. Missing parts can be obtained via the database: either by ordering them online, by finding the address of a shop where they sell them, or by downloading the digital design and making them.

Not Everyone is a Designer

Open modular construction does not mean that everyone should make their own consumer products. An object like a coffee maker or a workbench could be obtained in at least three ways. Firstly, the consumer can download the digital design and then assemble the object with parts that he or she buys, re-uses, or makes using a 3D-printer or laser cutter, whether at home or at a fab lab or tech shop. It can also happen in a more low-tech fashion, as is the case with Grid Beam: the consumer buys wood or metal beams, and drills the holes himself.

Modular parts water boiler

A second option is that a company buys the license of the design (if it is not free) and converts it into a building kit, comparable to a kit from LEGO, Meccano or Erector. In this case, the consumer would not have to search for the parts himself, but he still assembles the product himself, just like he would assemble a piece of furniture by IKEA. Similarly, a company could offer a more general building kit, which can be used to make whatever one would like, similar to a box of basic LEGO bricks. Bit Beam, Contraptor, Open Beam, Maker Beam and, recently, Grid Beam offer one or both of these options.

The third possibility is that a manufacturer places the object on the market as a finished, assembled product. The coffee maker or the workbench would then be sold and bought just as any other product today, but it can be disassembled after use, and its parts can be re-used for other objects.

Economic Model: who Produces the Parts?

While the design process behind OpenStructures and other open modular construction systems is identical to that of digital products such as Wikipedia, Linux or WordPress, there is also a fundamental difference. Computer code and digital text accumulate without any material costs. This is not the case with objects. This makes open modular hardware less easy, but it also creates  economic opportunities. It’s hard to make money with open software or online writing. However, in the case of an open modular system for objects, someone has to provide the materials.

It is also important that the parts are produced by as many manufacturers as possible, so that they are available worldwide. Otherwhise, the shipping costs can be so high that a modular object becomes too expensive.

Modular toaster

There are many opportunities to make money with an open modular construction model. A manufacturer can choose to produce a part in which they sees economic potential. Another manufacturer can choose to sell a building kit or a finished product of a design they think will sell. A designer can make money by uploading a design that might be free to download for personal use, but not for commercial use. A manufacturer that wants to commercialise this design, can then buy the licence from the designer.

Craftsmen can focus on the design of exclusive, handmade parts in special materials, which are compatible with popular mass produced items. Others can start a fab lab or a tech shop where people can build their own modular objects for a monthly fee. In short, an open modular construction system offers economic opportunities for everybody.

Collaborative Economy

“It is not our ambition to build a gigantic factory that produces all possible parts”, Lommée notes. “OpenStructures should not become a modular IKEA. Our ambition is the creation of a collective economic system, where one producer benefits from the production of another producer. Because parts which are made by one, can be used by another. What we would like to see, are streets full of little shops where everybody generates their own little part of a larger system, a collaborative economy where small, self-employed producers have their place. Not one big player that makes everything. The social dimension is very important.”

Contraptor parts

“If IKEA wants to sell a product that is compatible with our system, then that’s fine with me. But the system can only work if it remains open. The larger it becomes, the easier it is for a small company or a craftsman to be a part of it. The ambition is to start a universal, collaborative puzzle that allows the widest possible range of people — from craftsmen to multinationals — to design, build and exchange the widest possible range of modular parts and components.”

Organising Re-use

Apart from a design language (the OS grid) and an online database, OpenStructures also has set up a prototype of a warehouse in Brussels. This kind of place should become the hub for the organisation of the re-use of parts and components. Think a fab lab or tech shop, but then combined with the storage of modular parts. If a modular product is no longer needed, and the owner does not feel like using the parts to build something new, he or she brings it to one of these places, where it is taken apart, and its parts are stored.

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An open modular construction system offers economic opportunities for everybody

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Other people could come to this place to buy parts or to use them on site to build something new. As Lommée says: “Not everyone has to make their own products, but after its useful life, a modular product always comes into the hands of a group of people who like to make things.”

Compatibility between Open Modular Systems

While it is still in an experimental phase, OpenStructures is by far the most ambitious and complete open modular system designed to date. However, being a European project, it follows the international metric system, while the much older Grid Beam follows the imperial system. The systems are not compatible. With more and more open modular systems appearing, would it not be important to provide inter-compatibility between them?

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Lommée doesn’t think so: “Most of these systems are designed for different applications. For instance, Contraptor aims at precision, because the parts are used to build robots and other sophisticated machines. Esthetics are clearly not important. I am a designer, so what interests me especially is whether or not a modular system can generate beautiful objects, things you would want to put in your interior. There is also Wikispeed, for instance, which concentrates on the development of a modular car. Arduino is aimed at electronics. I don’t think that all of these modular systems have to be compatible with each other because the applications are very different.”

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He goes on to explain why he chose the metric system. “I have been doubting a lot about this. But in the end I decided that the metric system is easier to work with. And I think the world is big enough for two systems — just look at the variety of energy standards which are in use. Somebody has developed a European version of Contraptor, based on the metric system and compatible with the OS grid. And it is always possible to design a coupling between two systems, so that they can be used together. On the other hand, we live in a networked world where everything is connected and copied. This often means that when standards compete, only one survives. And this is not necessarily the best one. I’ll keep my fingers crossed.”

Kris De Decker (edited by Deva Lee). This article is also available in Spanish.

Food List #46: APPROPRIATE TECHNOLOGY

This post was compiled by the Lexicon Sustainability for their Food List, a weekly bulletin of talking points to fix the food system. Farm Hack was a contributor to this edition of the List. Original post can be found here.

#46: APPROPRIATE TECHNOLOGY

INTRODUCTION BY FARM HACK

Ever since Nixon’s Secretary of Agriculture, Earl Butz, proclaimed “get big or get out,” farms and farmers in the United States have followed the logic of corporate capitalism – bigger farms, bigger tractors, and more complex and expensive technology. A new corn harvester bought today costs about $400,000 and comes decked out with proprietary computer systems and GPS monitoring – the tractors can literally drive themselves, collecting scads of production data that happen to go right back to the large corporations manufacturing these machines. This technology makes combining a thousand acre field much easier, but it often puts farmers deep into debt and rests control of their own farming systems and production information from their hands.

For smaller scale sustainable producers, the modern form of mainstream agricultural technology does not fit our function. The appropriate tools for our agriculture put biology before steel and diesel, are modular, adaptable, and designed for disassembly. We engineer systems instead of software, finding local solutions to local problems. Appropriate tools should not make a farmer obsolete – they empower the user to modify and improve upon age-old tools and ideas, or build something new using whatever resources they have available.

Appropriate technology for sustainable farming is economically appropriate because it means retrofitting and using what you already have close at hand or getting it from your neighbor or local fabricator, rather than putting profit into the pockets of global corporations. It is environmentally appropriate because it harnesses the utility of our ecological systems while preserving and enriching them. It is intellectually appropriate because it reduces barriers to knowledge exchange, putting the best solutions in the hands of farmers. In this new paradigm, every farm is a research and development node in a distributed network of farmers, engineers, and technologists building a new economy from the ground up enabling independence through interdependence .

Instead of homogenizing, privatizing and commodifying our farm technologies, we must support the time-tested tradition of on-farm innovation, and promote economically, ecologically, and socially resilient solutions. We must leverage technology appropriately as a tool to reduce barriers to information transfer and foster collaboration. On the outskirts of our conventional system of top-down manufacturing and proprietary tools is emerging a new community and a new paradigm – farmers, fabricators, engineers, and designers working together to build resilient, regionalized manufacturing economies. This is the movement we all must continue building together, for strong communities, healthy ecological systems, and good food. The future is open-source!

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Farm Hack is an open-source community for resilient agriculture; it is a community to support user generated content and knowledge exchange. The community builds tools that supports sustainable farming and sustainable farmers, creates a culture of collaboration, and strives to identify shared values and engage in open exchange. Farm Hack exists to support the users, and as an organization, Farm Hack seeks to discern from users web-development and organizational objectives, making Farm Hack a content-driven and community powered platform. Read more about the Community Principles of Farm Hack

IN THIS WEEK’S FOOD LIST:

In the age of technology, one with a very deep history in agriculture, there are many models and methods to apply and experiment with. In this week’s Food List, we explore the different ways in which small-scale farms are adapting technology to fit their modes.

Most research and development in agriculture focuses on mass crop production, often forcing small farmers to “make it work.” They use technologies new and old. Farmers are collaborating with engineers across the country, like at Stone Barn Center, to develop slow tools for smaller operations. This is a solution for many food producers . As one small producer, Doug Mosel says, “the closer we get to using the last remaining “ancient sunlight,” the smaller and simpler technology will become.” By filling these technology gaps, smaller farmers have a better opportunity to focus on various other challenges.

The beauty of this appropriate technology movement is the open source knowledge driving it. And so, when the latest sustainable design, such as the culticycle, becomes available, the technology can be found for free on sources like Farm Hack.

Appropriate technology is not only about developing new technological adaptations for small farms. It’s also about using what you have around you as well. Draft animal power is still a widely used practice on farms. In fact, horse power is the symbolic standard for measurements of labor, especially on farms.

Appropriate technology is about recycling the resources that you have around you. One story from Cleveland tells us of how appropriate technology extended the growing season into the winter. Fresh produce all year round in the four season states? And if you think that’s extreme, Low-Tech Magazine shares with us a dirty secretof the past that could be the “key” to sustainable farming.

In this week’s Food List, we learn that farm technology is a greater quest for whatever works. It’s a matter of applying what makes sense, in the past, present, and future. How can you make appropriate technology work for you?

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THIS WEEK’S TERMS

APPROPRIATE TECHNOLOGY

“A holistic approach to human problem solving. It involves working with nature–of which we are a part–to develop and sustain systems beneficial to the health of the whole.” — Ian Snider, Yates Family Farm

HORSE POWER

“Also known as ‘draft animal power,’ this is the use of horses, mules, or oxen to do productive work in farms, forests, and other settings. Traditionally, horses, mules, and oxen did all the work that tractors do today.” – Donn Hewes, Draft Animal Power Network

S.P.I.N.

“Small Plot Intensive. A low-cost, easy-to-learn system that produces ample high value produce on less than one acre, making it possible for first-generation farms to get started without a lot of land or capital investment” – Kevin Grove, Quarter Branch Farm

NIGHT SOIL

Human excrement, most prominently used as fertilizer in earlier cultures, is reappearing as a soil amendment.

SEASON EXTENSION

The use of greenhouses to prolong the growing season. Seeds are planted earlier and the last harvest of the year comes later, allowing consumers to continue eating local foods longer than would otherwise be possible.

 

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SLOW TOOLS, FAST CHANGE

7990As a result of the industrial revolution and the subsequent development of “big agriculture,” small-scale farming tools have become almost obsolete. In order to fulfill the demand created by a burgeoning community of small-scale farmers, Stone Barns Center has partnered with Barry Griffin, a design engineer, to develop farming equipment and tools. Called the Slow Tools Project, this partnership brings together leading engineers and farmers to design and build appropriately scaled tools that are lightweight, affordable and open-source. Jill Isenbarger, executive director of Stone Barns Center, points out that this will greatly help small scale farmers: “The challenges [farmers] deal with are significant: high land prices and connection to markets, for instance. Tools shouldn’t be one of them.”

8006Small farms need tools scaled to the size of their operations and specific to the tasks to be accomplished. The availability of ideal tools, priced affordably, would greatly aid the efficiency and competitiveness of local food production. Our group, Slow Tools, is focused on improving tool access for a rapidly growing group of small farmers — commercial intensive organic vegetable growers on 5 acres and less. This is a scale of production that has been ignored by tool manufacturers despite its impressive performance in yield and quality. The many successful Slow Tool type implements that have been developed to date are presently available from the Johnny’s Selected Seeds catalog. These include the Tilther, numerous Broadfork designs, a complete Soil Block system, a Roller/hole-maker for transplants, the Six Row Seeder, the Quick Cut Harvester, and the Quick Hoops Bender. More are needed.

In the summer of 2015, The Slow Tools Project will focus on the development of A Bed-Former/Shaper powered by a BCS walking tractor; a hug-wheel driven, walken behind electric tool carrier; a two-layer clear plastic blanket for field-scale soil solarizing; and a 30-inch wide stripper/header to harvest grain for poultry.

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Local Book CoverTitle: Appropriate Technology
Location: Peter + Mimi Buckley’s Front Porch Farm, Healdsburg, CA
Featuring: Doug Mosel
Found on Page 146 in Local: The New Face of Food and Farming in AmericaAs farmers reintroduce wheat to strengthen their local food systems, they discover an alarming face: it’s hard to find equipment suited to small farms. Doug Morsel says that with wheat primarily farmed on an industrial scale, the local infrastructure to support the production of wheat has largely disappeared. The resulting scarcity of affordable, appropriately-sized equipment is the greatest challenge facing local grain production. This technology gap also applies to used cleaning and separating equipment as well as access to facilities that clean small quantities of grain. Doug and his combine lend a hand on his friends’ farm.Appropriate technology is environmentally sound technology designed to meet the social and economic conditions of a specific geographic area while ideally promoting greater self-sufficiency. Front Porch Farm’s “Tamalpais” barley; “Our idea is to harvest and malt it, then either distill it ourselves into whiskey or sell it to local breweries as a locally grown malted barley.” The HEDE 140 Combine is a “small plot” combine and is expensive, highly specialized, and manufactures in relatively small numbers. It’s usually used by universities or seed developers to harvest very small test plots that are not intended for production use.

Doug Mosel says, “The closer we get to using the last remaining “ancient sunlight” (petroleum), the smaller and simpler technology will become”

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ONE SIZE FITS ALL? A WEBINAR FOR TOOLS FOR SMALL SCALE CROP PRODUCTION

Don’t know where to start when it comes to finding the right tools for cultivating your small garden plot? Dig into this webinar, produced by National Center for Appropriate Technology’s ATTRA project and delivered NCAT’s Andy Pressmen, to find a comprehensive guide of tools for small scale crop production.

Screen Shot 2015-04-10 at 21.07.26Andy Pressman is a Sustainable Agriculture Specialist with the National Center for Appropriate Technology (NCAT), a non-profit organization that promotes and demonstrates small-scale, local, and sustainable solutions to energy and agriculture.  Andy received a MS degree from Slippery Rock University in Sustainable Systems Design and has a passion for tools and equipment for small-scale agriculture.  Through NCAT’s ATTRA Project – the National Sustainable Agriculture Information Service – Andy provides technical assistance and education to farmers and ranchers in the fields of organic crop production, season extension, urban agriculture, and farm energy.  He and his family also operate Foggy Hill Farm, a small diversified family farm located in Jaffrey, New Hampshire.

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PEDAL POWER IN THE FIELDS

[Two weeks ago], 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.

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HORSE POWER: ECONOMICS OF DRAFT ANIMALS

Farming with draft animals has been Donn Hewes life passion for the last 16 years. As Donn explains, time measurement is a major element to consider when using draft animals; “the first technologies came from labor saving.” However, one of the many reason why Donn looked to using draft animals was in reflection of the continual use of nonrenewable resources in farm machinery. In this video, Donn provides a comprehensive outline of how to integrate horses into your farming practices. From their wide variety of farm application to their ability to give back to the land in the form of manure, Donn emphasizes how farmers have the potential to maintain ecological integrity of their lands and create mutually respectful relationships with their draft animals.
“Horses were not replaced by tractors on our farms because of how much they eat or how many acres is required to keep them. Every farm has a few acres lesser pasture where you keep your horses. They never eat the hay reserved for the milking cows or pregnant animals. Horses and mules were replaced by tractors to reduce human labor, just exactly like machines were added to factories. Human labor is what cost the most and that is what was cut. We need to consider returning to more human labor on our farms not less.” – Donn Hewes

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Donn Hewes and Maryrose Livingston own the Northland Sheep Dairy in Marathon, NY, where they milk 100% grass fed ewes and make farmstead cheese.  Donn does all the farm work with horses and mules, and also teaches teamster skills to aspiring horse farmers.   Donn is an active member of the Draft Animal Power Network, a not for profit organization promoting the use of horses, mules, and oxen in today’s farms and forests.  DAPNet will host the 2015 Draft Animal Power Field Days in Cummington, Mass.  Sept 24th to 27th.

INFORMATION ARTWORK: HORSE POWERED

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Local Book CoverTitle: Horse Powered
Location: Yates Family Farm, Fleetwood, NC
Featuring: Ian and Kelly Snider, and Frank the horse
Found on Page 148 in Local: The New Face of Food and Farming in AmericaSustainability for Ian means the ability to meet current needs without compromising those of future generations. Think about the Rio Declaration of 1992. Working with horses is one way Ian and Kelly try to keep that promise. They feel trends and benefit from the greater society like everyone else, but aren’t enslaved by the gas pump. Having horses insulate Ian from the inevitable fluctuations in the global economy.Horse powered means working with equines in a symbiotic agricultural relationship. They complete tasks which require great effort while sustaining themselves and us from the land.

The Suffolk is one of the few popular draft breeds in North America that was developed by farmers for farming. Originally from England’s Suffolk county, these draft animals have especially short cannon bones (the bones just below the knees), meaning only minimal anatomical effort is required for them to take a step. This makes them efficient walkers capable of greater stamina. Plus, their level-headed attitude is founded on a sincere willingness to please. Aside from these exceptional qualities, they are the only draft breed which is always chestnut red in color. As a redhead himself, Ian finds them a wonderful choice functionally and aesthetically. Horses are solar-fueled, self-renewing, and somewhat self-repairing.

I ask Ian, “Why horses?” He says, “This choice is not a nostalgic one, or one motivated by obstinate anti-establishment sentiments. For us, personally, it is not a requirement of our religion. It is however a fiercely spiritual decision, one motivated by deep obligation and a sense of responsibility for those who will come after us. By utilizing the culture of the past, we can find the most hopeful path for the future. Despite centuries of mechanical innovation, horsepower is still the symbolic standard against which all labors are measured.”

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HOOP HOUSES TURN EMPTY LOTS INTO YEAR ROUND FARMS

Screen Shot 2015-04-10 at 21.36.42“Meet the urban cousin of a traditional barn raising” says Yes! Magazine. Here is a story of a marginalized community in Cleveland taking urban farming to the next level. By incorporating a greenhouse design in their neighborhood, growing season can be dramatically extended. In collaboration with Fair Food Network, residents of the Cleveland neighborhood team up to build hoop houses, simple greenhouse designs that protect plants from the seasons and maintain a temperature at least 10 degrees warmer than outside temperatures. Here is an example of how growing in all four seasons is possible! Even in a city!

Learn more from these Cleveland farmers!

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RECYCLING ANIMAL AND HUMAN DUNG IS THE KEY TO SUSTAINABLE FARMING

Screen Shot 2015-04-10 at 16.57.43Low-Tech Magazine, an appropriate technology publication, proposes that the “key” to sustainable farming is recycling animal and human manure. Decker explains how the use of water closets, while convenient, breaks a cycle that could be returning essential nutrients to the soil, and instead pollutes our waterways, consumes large amounts of fresh water, and leaves an agricultural system that is dependent on synthetic fertilizer application, all while consuming large amounts of energy.

Human excrement has not been ubiquitously regarded as “waste” — for thousands of years, China, Korea, and Japan treated it as a valuable trade product and fertilizer. Meanwhile, animal manure or food waste — even absent the taboo associated with humanure — is still wasted, often polluting our environment rather than healing our soil. To reintegrate food scraps and animal and human manure back into our agricultural system presents a huge logistical challenge. However, it is a challenge that can be overcome, but only if we begin to seriously address the issue.

There are a variety of appropriate technologies that have been developed to compost human waste, from the DIY home scale to industrial scale technologies. Perhaps the most well known is Joe Jenkin’s open source Humanure Handbook. SOIL (Sustainable Organic Integrated Livelihoods) works in Haiti to provide access to low-cost ecological sanitation systems while simultaneously transforming human waste into compost that can help repair degraded soils. The Dutch company Orgaworld, meanwhile, creates compost from diapers and other organic waste on an industrial scale.

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Local Book CoverTitle: Egg Mobile
Location: Polyface Farm, Swoope, VA
Featuring: Joel Salatin
Found on Page 176 in Local: The New Face of Food and Farming in AmericaPastures don’t just happen. They are like all biological systems, always in a state of flux between either degeneration or regeneration. Chickens are extremely hard on forage and dump hot manure with a carbon:nitrogen ratio of 7 to 1. As a result, stationary hen houses soon develop bare spots where the forage is tilled out and killed. The soil is overloaded with nitrogen toxicity which leaches into the groundwater and over stimulates grass clumps with bitter forage repugnant to the chickens. If you want a regenerating pasture, you have to manage it for that improvement or it will deteriorate.Egg mobiles are portable hen houses moved every one or two days, preferably behind herbivores, with chickens having access to unimpeded pasturage. Chickens are biological pasture sanitizers. They scratch through cow patties and spread them out, reducing the overload of nutrients in one spot and destroying the incubation environment conducive to parasite development; they eat fly larvae out of cow patties, thus reducing the irritation to the herd, increasing their comfort, health, and performance; chickens eat the newly exposed grasshoppers, crickets, and other herbivorous critters that compete that compete with the cows for the available forage; and chicken scratching pulls up duff and moldy leaves, aerating the soil and freshening the plant structure.

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FARM TECH ISN’T A WAR BETWEEN GOOD AND EVIL — IT’S A QUEST FOR WHATEVER WORKS

Screen Shot 2015-04-10 at 21.40.21Farms come in all shapes and sizes, and apply a variety of different principles and philosophies. As Nathanael Johnson writes, “there are farms that use all sorts of high technology to stay in sync with natural cycles, and even the best low-tech organic farmers find themselves fighting nature every year.”  There is no such thing as one size fits all when it comes to farming strategies. Instead, it’s a matter of what makes sense — As Johnson points out, “[farmers] want the tools and techniques that will give them the best chance of success”.

3 THINGS YOU CAN DO

Have you been known as someone who “tinkers”? Do you like to “do it yourself”? Often times, we don’t even realize we’re participating in appropriate technology. It’s all about making the tools fit and work for you.

  1. Build your sustainable life! Sometimes it’s just easier to build it yourself. Take the project into your own hands! It’s all within arms reach with open source platforms, like Appropedia.
  2. Support another form of economic development. Support resourceful practices.
  3. Find a space to create. More and more “fab labs” are popping up to facilitate space for the inquisitive and investive to collaborate and share resources and knowledge.