As you might remember, Farm Hack in partnership with Chris Callahan, Agricultural Engineer at University of Vermont, received a SARE grant in summer of 2015 to improve the Farm Hack platform for all users, and specifically for the documentation of SARE-funded tool ideas. Hundreds of really interesting design ideas are funded and documented on the SARE (Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education) website each year, but the lengthy and somewhat hard to navigate pdf database does not facilitate sharing of designs very easily. That’s where the Farm Hack platform came in!
To upgrade the Farm Hack website, we surveyed SARE principal investigators as well as Farm Hack users to glean insight into what features we should improve to add on. In partnership with our software engineer partners we focused on making our growing tool database more easily searchable, and put a lot of work into the tool documentation page to make the process easier and more accessible, and make the resulting tool page more searchable and useful to community members. We also added an “ask an admin” pop up feature to encourage questions and feedback.
We are very excited about this next iteration of the Farm Hack platform, and hope it helps move our community towards further sharing and collaboration of useful, well-designed open source farm technology and tools.
We want your two cents on the site updates! Feel free to leave a comment on this blog post to start the conversation.
What practices and places can we rely on and strengthen in the years to come?
What might be called an “alternative” economy in the United States is known globally as the solidarity economy. The solidarity economy identifies and unites grassroots practices like lending circles, credit unions, worker cooperatives, community safety initiatives, community media stations, and community land trusts to form a powerful base of political power. The concept emerged in the global South (as economia solidária*) and is now gaining support in the United States under many names, including the community economy, the peace economy, the workers’ economy, the social economy, the new economy, the circular economy, the regenerative economy, the local economy, and the cooperative economy.
As many people finally wake up to the reality that white supremacy threatens public health on a daily basis, a wide range of people are educating themselves, assertively dismantling structures of oppression in organizations, and learning to follow the lead of black and brown artists and organizers who have been under siege for centuries and who have always been leaders in the solidarity economy. For more information about the solidarity economy, please visit: http://www.communityeconomies.org/Home and http://solidaritynyc.org
Marco Arruda of the Brazilian Solidarity Economy Network stated at the World Social Forum in 2004: “A solidarity economy does not arise from thinkers or ideas; it is the outcome of the concrete historical struggle of the human being to live and to develop him/herself as an individual and a collective… innovative practices at the micro level can only be viable and structurally effective for social change if they interweave with one another to form always-broader collaborative networks and solidarity chains of production-finance-distribution-consumption-education-communication.”
A few years ago, while Chattanooga, Tenn., made headlines for revitalizing its downtown, residents, mostly African-Americans, living just a few miles away in the Glass Farms neighborhood, were struggling to cope with years of disinvestment and decline. Storefronts were empty, buildings abandoned. Crime was through the roof.
A tiny, local nonprofit, Glass House Collective, then formed, enlisting neighbors and designers. Public workshops were held. Low-cost plans were devised for new sidewalks, bus shelters, streetlights and green spaces along the neighborhood’s main drag, Glass Street. A vacant lot became a pop-up community center. Artisans moved in to train young residents to make furniture and other things. The steps were small, tactical, targeted. Crime fell.
“By the People: Designing a Better America,” opening on Friday at the Smithsonian’s Cooper Hewitt, taps into a rich vein of entrepreneurial beneficence. It is about the intersection of poverty, prosperity, innovation and design, and it couldn’t be timelier. If stories like the one from Chattanooga unavoidably turn out to be more complicated than any museum display can make clear, the spotlight is at least pointed in the right direction.
Reynoldstown Senior Housing, a project under construction near the Atlanta BeltLine, features 70 units of affordable housing.CreditAtlanta BeltLine Inc.
As the show’s title implies, design is not just the task of designers. The exhibition celebrates a few outstanding architects, like David Baker andMichael Maltzan, who have conceived subsidized housing in California, and also Jeanne Gang, the Chicago star, who wants to improve relations between the community and law enforcement by reimagining police stations as neighborhood hubs, with gardens and gyms, meeting rooms and free Wi-Fi.
Mostly, though, the show is about ideas collectively developed or bubbling up from the bottom. What results can take numerous forms: a plan to shrink Detroit; a pedal-powered tractor; an ironic board game explaining the housing market; a jewelry business employing formerly homeless women to make items using chipped-off graffiti; an online tool for mapping commute times; labels on baby products with child-rearing tips.
In other words, “By the People” is about just what it says, everyday citizens cooking up solutions to what ails their communities. That tractor evolved from crowd-sourced tinkering on an open platform called Farm Hack, a grass-roots website developed by family-farming Davids competing with industrial agriculture’s Goliaths, sharing strategies about how to grow healthy food and build tools and machinery, economically. The system is imperfect, but then, so is democracy.
Cynthia E. Smith is the Cooper Hewitt’s curator of socially responsible design. She spent years traveling the country, logging 50,000 miles, looking for examples of people “designing a better America.” In 2007, Ms. Smith presented “Design for the Other 90 Percent,” a compilation of 34 inexpensive, lifesaving objects, including a filtered drinking straw to stem the spread of cholera; and the Q Drum, a kind of tire, holding up to 13 gallons of water, which could be rolled long distances even by children. Big things grown from small seeds.
That event led four years later to a show focused on cities. Ms. Smith highlighted floating schools in flood-prone Bangladesh; a kind of do-it-yourself irrigation system in Dakar, Senegal; a new management and community-development plan for slums in Bangkok; and the story ofDiadema, an industrial city outside São Paulo, where informal settlement and homicide were the norms. Officials in Diadema enlisted residents to help formalize and design their neighborhoods. Deaths plummeted.
Ms. Smith said back then, “It’s easy to build a house, much harder to build a community.” Good design, she added, “involves bringing not just a fresh eye to problems but, most of all, listening to the people who live in those communities.”
That’s simple to say and not always enough, but it remains a good operating principle and the abiding motif in “By the People,” which offers its own mash-up of do-good projects, 60 in all. One could probably think, offhand, of 60 deserving alternatives for what’s in the end a contestable, albeit noble, sampling. By their nature, these sorts of shows are tonics and provocations, suggestive rather than definitive, shy on eye candy, requiring comfortable shoes and lots of squinting at wall texts.
In return, there’s a gee-whiz quotient — so many people, so many good, simple, can-do ideas. So much hope.
I was struck by a project like Fresh Moves. Across the country, obesity and diabetes have become epidemic in food deserts, meaning low-income neighborhoods without easy access to fresh fruits and vegetables, where fast food is often the cheapest or only option. In Chicago, officials have doubled the number of city-run farmers’ markets and supported efforts like Fresh Moves, which converts disused city buses into brightly decorated mobile farm stands, transporting local organic produce to where people most need it. The project was the brainchild of young architects then nurtured by Growing Power, an agricultural nonprofit in the city, in collaboration with Hammersley Architecture and a graffiti artist. The number of Chicagoans living in food deserts has now dropped 40 percent.
Fresh Moves, a program in Chicago, converts disused city buses into mobile farm stands. Above, Fresh Moves 1.0, by Architecture for Humanity Chicago, Latent Design and EPIC.CreditSmithsonian Institution
It was just reported this week that 2015 was the first year poverty declined and incomes rose across America since the economy collapsed in 2008. Even so, some 43 million Americans, including at least 14 million children, still live below the poverty line. Families are the fastest growing segment of the homeless population. Not everyone can wait for the government to fix things.
That’s what this show is ultimately about. And about the forces that can thwart even the best intentions. There was also news on Monday that two prominent members of the Atlanta BeltLine Partnership board resigned. The BeltLine project is included in the exhibition. It was dreamed up more than a dozen years ago by a former urban planning student at Georgia Tech, Ryan Gravel. The idea: Turn four of the city’s abandoned rail beds into a green loop around downtown, producing parks and paths, art centers and housing; promoting bikes and walking over automobiles; linking rich and poor neighborhoods, black and white; generating billions of dollars in investments.
The rails-to-trails concept took off. Mr. Gravel became a hero. The city and private developers showered the project with money. Housing prices skyrocketed along the route. But so did fears of displacement in low-income areas. Only one-tenth of the promised 5,600 new units of subsidized housing have been built. The BeltLine recently announced plans to raise money for more affordable housing, but the board members who resigned didn’t consider that enough.
One of them is Mr. Gravel.
The other, Nathaniel Smith, said that if the BeltLine “is about community engagement and community voice and about equity, we have to live by those values.” He added, “We can’t say that and do something else.”
So, as I said, some stories turn out to be more complicated. But nobody said progress was easy.
This time tomorrow I’ll be sitting on a high speed train hurtling through the countryside from Amsterdam to Paris. It’s about three hours from there to my current home in the French capital, which itself is a further 16,547km away from my place of birth in Brisbane, Australia. A thin pane of glass will separate my body, travelling through space at 300km/hr, from those of the cattle standing still in the fields adjacent to the tracks of the Thalys TGV. But that is tomorrow, and today it is I who am in the field, standing still in the breeze beside a row of potatoes as the rest of the earth takes its turn to move.
The technology-rich world of high-speed rail seems miles apart from the seemingly stationary world of fields and crops, and yet today it is the train that feels out-dated, for flying just a few metres above me is a drone gracefully turning laps above the potatoes like an olympic athlete turns laps in a swimming pool. In a few short moments the drone will land all by itself, and a stream of data will flow from its belly and into my computer, and it is then that my work will begin.
…we share a common passion for [technology], agriculture and the environment, and we’d like to see how we can use our skills to have a positive impact.
I am here in the Onstwedde region of the Netherlands on the farm of Nanne Sterenborg, taking part in the second weekend of FarmHackNL. There are about 30 of us all together – farmers, business persons, geo-hydraulogists, geo-spacial scientists, programmers, engineers and more; all sitting in one of the more unconventional hacker spaces I’ve experienced to date. There are tools and drums of farm chemicals against one wall, a truck parked in the corner, and a dust-encrusted wash station by the door. Amidst all this, our inflatable couches, robots and glowing computer screens look a little out of place. We’ve come here from all manner of towns and backgrounds because we share a common passion for agriculture and the environment, and we’d like to see how we can use our skills to have a positive impact. Each person tells a different story – for my part I’m an electronic/software engineer-turned-medical designer-turned-drone research project manager-turned-French MBA graduate (phew!) with a love for the land that I inherited from my parents and the many aunts, uncles and cousins who have hosted my awkward city-dwelling self over the years on their farms around the Australian outback. My reasons for being here are twofold – (i) the first being to escape the dirty streets of Paris for the cleaner air and dirt of the countryside again; and (ii), to see if I can humbly offer my skills in exchange for the further enrichment of my understanding of agriculture, food security, and the role of technology in the environment.
The weekend began with a brief presentation of the farm itself by Nanne Sterenborg, followed by an overview of the two days ahead from the FarmHackNL team. The idea is simply to come together over the proceeding 36 hours to try to solve as many problems on the farm as we can. This weekend’s theme centres on data, and in advance we have been provided with a mixture of satellite and drone imagery to play with in addition to the live data collected on the day. The group broke into several different teams – one looks at trying to automatically identify pests on the crops from digital images; another looks to improve the communication between analysis and farm equipment; whilst others are improving the way farmers can use the multitude of data to better manage their fields. Nanne bounces between the teams, smiling the whole time, answering our questions and listening to our views on where the various technologies are headed in the future. This continues through the night and early into the morning, with the FarmHackNL team in the background providing us with a steady flow of coffee, support and encouragement.
By early this morning, great progress has been made. One team has already demonstrated a new improvement for crop spraying by way of a late night tractor-test, and others have built early prototypes of their own ideas. It is now late afternoon on the second day, and our ideas have all been formerly presented to the whole group, with awards going to the two teams with the best results, and the “open source” award for contribution of code and ideas to the farm hack community. The weekend is drawing to a close, and as we begin to pack up we are laughing and exchanging contact details in order to continue the conversations and work down the line.
There’s a common misconception held about farmers that suggests they are part of a backwards industry that drags at the heels of technological advancement. In my experience this couldn’t be further from the truth. On any given day a farmer is a meteorologist, chemist, mechanic, scientist, businessperson and so much more; and to this polymathic existence will soon be added roboticist and programmer. Gert, the son of Nanne, is the very embodiment of the next-wave agriculturalist (who, by the way, can also add “pilot” to the skills list). Part farmer, part programmer, he has drifted from team to team throughout the weekend, offering his unique perspective whilst at the same time listening to the expertise of the seasoned technologists amongst us. With the mounting need to feed 9 billion people by 2050 whilst at the same time reducing the impact on the environment, the role of robotics and artificial intelligence in the agriculture and environmental industries is only going to intensify. As my good friend Jaymis always says, I love living in the future, and it is great to meet someone like Gert who is leading the charge.
For too long the vast majority of the tech industry has operated on a “push” principle
At the same time, there is still a long way to go to bridge the current gap between the soil and the circuit. I firmly believe that no one person can be a master of all domains, and that each is capable of contributing their part to the whole. For too long the vast majority of the tech industry has operated on a “push” principle where they have forced the extolled virtues of their products onto the customer, rather than employing a “pull” principle where the customer extracts the solution they need out of the opportunities the industry can provide. In the past this has lead to death-by-features, over promising, and disappointment. As a technology provider and an advocate for my industries, I firmly believe that it’s a great thing to understand the customer, but it’s a beautiful dance when you understand each other. Hack events like this provide a great opportunity for this interaction, and that’s why you’ll continue to find me “in the field”; be it an actual field of potatoes, a rainforest, a construction site, or even a train station; rather than just behind a desk thinking I know what’s best.
There’s one thing I haven’t mentioned yet – as the only foreigner in the room this weekend I find myself swimming in a pool of Dutch speakers who graciously tic-tac between languages in order to make sure I am included and kept up to speed as the weekend progresses. I am extremely grateful for their kindness and patience. Despite getting lost from time to time, one thing has quickly become clear to me – you don’t need to speak the same language to understand passion, and that, at the end of the day, is what FarmHackNL has been all about.
The author would like to particularly thank Anne Bruinsma, Linda Haartsen & Simeon Nedkov of FarmHackNL; and the entire Sterenborg Family. Dank u wel!
One of these tools is the Triangle Quick Hitch, which was the focus of a Farm Hack event in 2012 and is also documented on the Farm Hack site. This is a system several farms in the US have already implemented as a cheaper, open-source alternative to proprietary quick hitch systems, and one that is already more widespread in Europe.
Another precious nugget that Atelier Paysan has developed is the self-build guide:
With tutorials and technical drawings to build 16 tools adapted to organic vegetable production, this book is an instruction manual for becoming self-sufficient in terms of farming machinery. Included are principles of self-building, methods and techniques, regulatory considerations, and most importantly, examples of tools tested by vegetable growers presented in the form of building tutorials, allowing you to develop your skills and expertise around the tools you work with.
The guide is spiral bound and 246 pages long with a folding cover, designed to be easy to use and long lasting. It will accompany you in your farming project and throughout your career. It’s a source of inspiration which you can use and enrich with your own adaptations.
Unfortunately translating this guide book into English is a big project, so it has not yet been done. If you have several thousand dollars or an inclination to translate this technical manual, get in touch.
The work of Atelier Paysan in the field of training farmers and organizing collaborative development and building of tools for biological agriculture is truly inspiring to us, and we look forward to continue learning from and collaborating with them!
Building on the experience of POC21 and the OuiShare Awards, we are launching a 3-day accelerator for collaborative, open source projects with high social impact. The goal is to overcome challenges in areas such as product design, business models or scalability.
Two initiatives will be selected directly by a jury of experts, the third nominee will be chosen through an online community vote. OuiShare Fest Forward is open for projects of various legal status and stages of development. The only two application requirements are that the project be Open Source and aims to create a Positive Impact. The projects will be evaluated according to their potential social impact, their synergy with the OuiShare values and the key topics of the OuiShare Fest 2016.
The members of the selected projects have free access to the Fest. Online Applications are open until February 29th. If you have a great open source project and a challenge you want to solve, apply here!
Welcome to Installment 2 of Community as Process. Last week we introduced three new wikis to the Farm Hack site: a new culture page, a farm hack methodology of documentation, and the recently updated getting started guide. Like everything documented on Farm Hack, these wikis are openly editable by the community–our intention is that they will be functional, usable documents, and that they will spark conversation and input by a broader swath of community members.
Each of these pages has an associated forum which will host relevant conversation: Culture, Method, and Getting Started. As a facilitation team, we want to create a public space where these significant conversations can happen. The forums are a great place to share feedback and conversations so that the entire community can benefit.
Values and Vision Survey
Last Fall, a group of Farm Hack community members circulated a survey to help us create a foundation for our collaborative work. The purpose of this survey was to organize ourselves around our commonalities and to discuss them. The result has been an understanding among ourselves of the kind of community we want to take part in and help to facilitate–a philosophical banner to rally behind.
We extracted a working document from the survey responses and posted it as a wiki; it’s called Vision, Values, Strategy, and Goals. We invite you to offer your thoughts, and reach out to us to participate. Feel free to comment offering general feedback about this document as well as to address the specific questions.
In the next few weeks, we’ll revisit the topics and documents covered in the first installment of the Community as Process series. As we post this content, we are working to refine it, make it appropriate and useful, and frame it in ways that will best serve our community and ourselves as a facilitation team.
We plan to incorporate additional methods of user participation into the Farm Hack platform itself. We will be collaborating with Public Labs to develop rich user profiles for our site, enabling each user to tell their story and display their involvement in the Farm Hack community.
We will host and publish recorded video conversations with community members. Keep an eye out for these Farm Hack open hour convos as well. If you would like to participate in an open hour to talk about your experience with Farm Hack, tool development, etc., please contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org
Welcome to our newly launched weekly series! Our goal is to share the conversations and philosophies which we (the Farm Hack facilitators) use to move this community forward. Transparency is foundational to the philosophy of our community; and dialogue throughout the community cannot happen if information (whether it be tool documentation or organizational and strategic planning) is siloed. To learn more about where we think we’re headed and how you can engage, read on.
Part 1: Thoughts on transparency, association and Farm Hack Culture
On recent Farm Hack organizing calls, we (the Farm Hack facilitators) have been talking a lot about how to make Farm Hack’s organizing processes more collaborative and transparent. Farm Hack is first and foremost a community of peer production and open-source exchange, better conceived of as an association of collaborators than a traditional non-profit organization. The human and technical infrastructure that supports the community—in-person events, the sharing of documentation, discussion in the online forums, and the platform itself—were created by people motivated by a shared belief in the Farm Hack mission and the desire to create something useful. Many, if not most, of these people have been volunteers; paid work and the exchange of money have not been the drivers behind Farm Hack’s growth. And we think that makes for a richer, more diverse, and more resilient community that can build and sustain itself according to the vision, skills and efforts of many people.
Cooperation, association, and mutual aid are foundational to how we think and talk about who we are. But talk has its limits. It’s vital that our practice demonstrates our thinking. As Farm Hack matures and gets bigger, we need to update our processes accordingly. Based on lots of conversation in organizing calls and elsewhere, we think it’s important to put more practices and structures in place to allow everyone, both those newly discovering Farm Hack and the old hats, to: see what is happening across the community; feel warmly invited, and encouraged, to participate; and understand how to go about participating. It’s natural that there will continue to be a diverse mix of interests and capacities for participation within the community. But we hope that many will continue to participate actively however suits them best. Our community’s commitment to our values has brought Farm Hack to the place it is today, with thousands of registered Farm Hack users and hundreds of tools documented. There’s so much more we’re still excited to accomplish.
Truly collaborative work can also feel (or be) slow. I am sure many of you have encountered a broken link or a disappointingly incomplete tool page on the Farm Hack site and perhaps wondered whose job it was to fix that. It’s not really anyone’s, and its also everyone’s – possibly yours. You, other platform users, casual visitors to the site, and contributors to in-person activities are all community members. The organizers and moderators of the community will work hard to make sure you’re empowered to contribute effectively. If you’re moved to do so, read the planning wikis; join the weekly organizers call; jump into Culture conversations in the forum (more are coming!); submit some blog content; or, make that Farm Hack build event happen that you’ve been thinking about for the past year. Because that’s truly how this whole thing has been built so far.
To this end, we (again, the Farm Hack facilitators) are going to start posting various strategic and planning documents in wiki format with associated Forum discussions. Because we want your feedback, and we want to spark more thought and conversation about what our community is, what it means and where it’s headed.
Here is a mockup of the coming soon Farm Hack homepage, with a Culture and Getting Started section:
Introducing the Farm Hack Culture Page
This week we are also launching a Culture page to better discuss our thoughts on the “why” of Farm Hack–we aren’t just posting some cool tools in a vacuum, we are doing it for specific reasons and it means things. Important things. A lively and engaging discussion of those things is the purpose of starting a Culture page – so check out the working wiki, make some comments.
A working guide: the Farm Hack Method for Documentation
Documentation is our bedrock. Without it, Farm Hack wouldn’t exist. Knowledge sharing begins with the creation and dissemination of documentation. That’s why it’s so important to develop educational resources that empower our community members and help them produce high-quality documentation. That’s the main objective of this resource: to offer a how-to guide by illustrating the documentation process in the context of different sorts of tools and environments, including farms, events, and formal education.
To start things off, we’ve put some work into the Getting Started Page, which discusses entry points into the Farm Hack community and how to navigate it. Go there to learn how to join organizer calls, contribute to the blog, or put on a Farm Hack event. More to come there.
Follow us to the Forum
We are hoping to use the Farm Hack Forum to continue these conversations. We’ve started a couple, so jump on or create a new thread.
Follow up on the SARE-funded redesign process we have been undergoing in partnership with UVM.
Working on universal logins and rich profile development with Public Labs.