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?

Makeblock

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.”

Open beam

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!

FarmHack logo

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.

 

StoneBarns

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.

 

Three Proposed Governance Hacks for Making Peer Production into a Real Economic and Social System

This post was written by Michel Bauwens of the P2P Foundation. The original post can be found here.

Capitalism wasn’t always an organic and dominant system. Before it achieved its status as a full mode of production, i.e. as a coherent way to create and diffuse value, as a form of society and civilization, it needed to hack the old society to mold it to its image. Karl Polanyi, in The Great Transformation, explains how early merchants were still dependent on artisans and guild labor for example (the so-called ‘putting out’ system), and could not rely at first on making labor a commodity itself. The situation is not different for the emergent ‘proto’ system of production that is today ‘commons-oriented peer production’, in which communities of contributors, paid or unpaid, create ‘commons’ (shared resources governed by their users) and not commodities. How can this emergent post-capitalist logic, that is already beyond the labor and commodity logic, come into its own ? How do we make peer production into an organic system. With this priority in mind, the P2P Foundation and other similar networks of P2P activists and scholars have put forward a number of hacks.

The key issue is: how do we keep ‘value’ within the sphere of the commons, so that the commons can grow and ‘reproduce’ itself. Or in other words: how can we actually make a living through our contributions ?

A first proposal is the copyfair license, i.e. a reciprocity-based license. Why is this necessary ? Technically, according to the traditional definition of ‘communism’ in the 19th century, the General Public License is a communist license: from each according to their contributions, to each according to their needs’. But the issue in our current political economy is that such a dynamic invariably leads to the domination of the ‘free and shared’-resources based economy by large private players, and additionally, leads to a usage of these shared resources without contributions. While this ‘liberal communism’ (communism at the service of capital and the liberal value of the abstract ‘right toshare’), may not be a problem for non-rival and anti-rival resources such as knowledge and code, it may be seen as more problematic in the world of design, seeds, and other forms of sharing that are more directly linked to physical production. Indeed, once we need to invest in building, machines, raw material and salaries, the private domination of the open economy may be seen as problematic. Thus, a license that would require some form of reciprocity, would have a number of advantages. The requirement that firms that do not contribute, pay a license fee, would create a stream of capital to the sphere of the commons and its communities and ‘Foundations’. Second, and more important, the requirement to define reciprocity, would recreate a ‘moral economy’ that would re-integrate positive social externalities in the market sphere itself.

Our second hack would also involve governance and property dynamics. We propose the creation by commoners of truly ‘open cooperatives’, i.e. coops that do not just work for their own members, but structurally and ‘statutarily’ co-create commons along with livelihoods for the cooperative workers. In this model, the coop would be ‘for-benefit’ in legal orientation, not for-profit (profits would be used for its social goal), multi-stakeholder, but also co-create commons, in the form of both immaterial commons (shared knowledge) but also eventually common material resources (the Allianza Solidaria housing coop in South Quito requires 100 hours of labor of its members that is used to create common parks). These new coops would not end up behaving selfishly on the capital markets just on behalf of their own members, but would create the common good as a natural part of their activities. A similar proposal is the ‘fairshares’ ownership models which divides property in four equal pieces, for founders, funders, workers, and user communities.

Here then is our final and third proposed ‘hack’ of the day: open supply chains and open accounting. Once a ‘ethical enterpreneurial coalition’ is constituted around the copyfair license and/or a social charter establishing common values and a commons orientation, then it becomes more natural to move from competition to coopetition, i.e. the share production and accounting information throughout the network. An example is the Enspiral network of social enterpreneurs in New Zealand, who function transparently within the network. Through this hack, the mutual and ‘stigmergic’ coordination of productive activities, which already has been achieved in the immaterial production of knowledge, code and design, would also start to create post-capitalist ‘mutual coordination’ dynamics in the sphere of actual physical production.

If these three steps were taken concurrently by various actors then ‘peer production’ would substantially move to function as a ‘organic’ system that is able to self-reproduce itself, as the commons contributors would be able to create cooperative livelihoods. We would have moved from a ‘communism of capital’ to a ‘capital for the commons’.

Farm Hack and UVM receive SARE grant to improve farmhack.org documentation platform

Farm Hack and Chris Callahan, Agricultural Engineer at University of Vermont, have partnered up for a SARE (Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education) project that will leverage the Farm Hack documentation platform to better document and disseminate SARE-funded innovations, while concurrently improving the platform for all Farm Hack users.

No-weld root washer, designed and built by Grant Schultz with 2014 SARE grant

Hundreds of really interesting SARE tool innovation projects are funded each year and documented on the SARE website – for example, a no-weld root washermobile hops harvester or a waste vegetable oil powered flame weeder. However, the format of this documentation in a very lengthy pdf database does not facilitate  easy dissemination of these valuable ideas to other farmers.  The grant we have received will allow us to engage the SARE grantee community to discover how the Farm Hack platform can be improved to better fit their needs as a documentation platform, and fund development to make these changes.

With over 200,000 unique visitors since 2012, 2,000 registered contributors and 159 documented projects, Farm Hack already offers a visible documentation platform that additionally permits continued collaborative improvement of tools through open-source, wiki-style documentation and discussion forums. By adding improved functionality on FarmHack.org such as metrics on tool views and downloads, discussion forums, and impact story capture, this project will provide a platform for enhanced SARE project distribution, collective innovation and iterative enhancement, and evaluation of impact over a longer period than the traditional project life. We hope to provide a perpetual home for SARE project outputs that will allow them to live, grow and improve in alignment with the open source philosophy shared by farmers, Farm Hack, SARE and other funding programs.

This will be a two-year project culminating in late 2016, and we are currently in the stakeholder engagement and needs assessment stage. Stay tuned for future updates on the project, and work being done to improve the platform.

From Indie Farmer: Farm Hack at Ruskin Mill

original post at Indie Farmer

FARM HACK AT RUSKIN MILL – DAY 1

The Landworkers Alliance held the first ever Farm Hack event outside of north America at Ruskin Mill Farm, Gloucestershire. The event brought together over 100 farmers, growers, fabricators, engineers and IT programmers to demonstrate and share tools, skills and ideas.

With most people camping the Friday night, everyone was up early Saturday morning for registration between before the official start a 9am. Congregating in the main communal building horse-powered farmer Ed Hamer gave the opening address, setting out the agenda for the two days after which everyone in the room had the opportunity to introduce themselves. This was followed by a talk by Severine vt Fleming representing the Greenhorns and Farm Hack.

The first day’s activities then began with a demonstration of pedal powered mill and a field demonstration of horse-powered technology. I spent my time running between the various demonstrations, workshops and seminars trying to capture a few of the highlights to share with everyone who couldn’t be there in person.

To be continued…

 

Repair Cafe: a free meeting place for repairing things

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

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

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source: LA times

 

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

Infragram: A cheap infrared camera for monitoring plant health

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

 

from infragram.org
from infragram.org

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

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

Farm Innovation Talk with Ben Flanner of Brooklyn Grange

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

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