Community as Process: A weekly series on organizing Farm Hack

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.

Also living on the Culture Page is the Farm Hack Design Principles wiki.

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.

Check out the Farm Hack Method Version .01

How to Jump In

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.

Up Next:

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.

 

In solidarity,

Farm Hack facilitators:

Kristen Loria, Nathaniel Levy, Dorn Cox, Daniel Grover

 

 

 

 

Video: a proof of concept for a open source circular economy

This post was originally posted on the P2P Foundation blog.

photo of Michel Bauwens

Michel Bauwens

19th December 2015

 

“POC21 was an international innovation community, that started as an innovation camp. The camp brought together 100+ makers, designers, engineers, scientists and geeks. In late summer 2015, we joined forces in a stunning French castle to prototype a fossil free, zero waste society. Our ultimate goal was to overcome the destructive consumer culture and make open-source, sustainable products the new normal. Over the course of 5 weeks we developed 12 sustainable lifestyle technologies and built an international community of innovators and supporters, that continues to grow.”

This is short documentary on that amazing project, which I had the chance to visit myself for three days.

Watch the video here:

Stay in touch! sign up for the POC21 newsletter (poc21.cc), follow us on Twitter (twitter.com/POC21cc) or like our Facebook page (facebook.com/POC21/). Thanks to Sam Muirhead of cameralibre.cc

Source: Video: a proof of concept for a open source circular economy

Extracts from Platform Cooperativism Conference

platform cooperativism logo. all lowercase with the second and third letters of the second word—both the letter O—intertwined, forming a shape similar to the symbol of initity. Last month The New School in New York City hosted a conference that billed itself as a “coming-out party for the cooperative Internet,” called platform cooperativism. The conference’s central themes emerge from critical reflection on the rise of the so-called sharing economy and its implications for the economy (e.g., the wellbeing of workers) as well as the Internet (e.g., how Net-enabled services are designed and owned). At first this conceit may not seem germane to Farm Hack and its concerns with innovation and exchange in agriculture, perhaps because the services many “sharing economy” companies provide—micro-tasks; car rides; etc.—don’t seem relevant. Although the ethical and regulatory questions such companies elicit may not be relevant to agriculture, apposite research about alternatives to the new status quo—peer-based production and cooperation—is. J. Nathan Matias and Katie Arthur of the MIT Center for Civic Media liveblogged much of the conference, including discussion about research into these topics. What follows are some interesting extracts from their posts.

Arthur covered a session on “Conditions of Possibility,” in which activist and academic Mayo Fuster Morell cited new data [1] on the evolution of commons-based peer production and its extension from “classic cases including Wikipedia and FLOSS (Free/Libre and Open Sourced [sic] Software” into areas such as citizen media, gaming, and sensor networks.

Matias covered a session on “Threats and Challenges to Cooperative Economies,” which featured Harvard Law School professor Yochai Benkler, a theorist and commentator on the digital commons and networked economy, as a panelist. The following points Benkler hit on caught my attention:

  • platform cooperativism doesn’t necessarily address the issue that our economy is entering—or in—a new era of transition in which we’re not only automating work, but assigning more of it to machines. IMO—not Benkler’s—this underscores the importance of leveraging the commons to facilitate the spread and exchange of knowledge—Farm Hack’s raison d’être—so that technology remains a source of empowerment.
  • Benkler encouraged thinking about “co-op alliances” and urged “people to commit to an open commons. The only thing that will make platform cooperativism work, he argues, will be a shift in ideologies, beliefs about what is right and wrong. It means thinking about an open commons for service models, material goods, data portability, and open access.”

How will a commitment to the commons inflect the design of organizational formats for agriculture that are both collaborative and commercial in nature? Thoughts welcome.

[1] From the P2P Value Directory: http://directory.p2pvalue.eu/.

 

 

 

Integrating Open Source: the Open Agriculture Learning Series

by Dan Kane

High tech tools are increasingly being integrated into our agricultural systems every year. New combines often come standard with geo-located yield monitoring technology, while start-ups and researchers are exploring how drones might be used to monitor fields. New record-keeping tools with mobile platforms make it easy for farmers to track their activity, analyze their data, and get feedback and recommendations. These tools are powerful, potentially enabling farmers to see, understand, and manage their land in ways previously less possible.

But many of these tools are costly, proprietary, and crop-specific, often coming with high subscription costs on a platform that makes data inaccessible or less versatile. Their current format can create barriers for farmers that don’t match their target clientele. But are they only tools available?

faster_research-729fdfdee2741cd749f70ea3743a7802
Photosynq

Open source agricultural tools may be an answer to the emergence of new proprietary, high-tech tools. Drawing on the development principles of the open-source movement, university researchers, farmers, developers, and hackers are building their own tools that often have open-source licensing or are freely available to the public. For example, farmOS is a completely open-source records management system that can be integrated with aerial maps to make management fast and east, and Photosynq is a project that integrates a Bluetooth-enabled photosynthesis meter with an online data management platform.

Individually, these tools are powerful, capable of providing farmers with new ways of collecting, analyzing, and modeling data on their farms. But so many of these tools go unnoticed now or aren’t currently capable of integrating with each other. For busy farmers who don’t have the time to manage and learn multiple tools, paying a premium for a more complete service often seems like the more attractive option.

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The Open Agriculture Learning Series (OALS) is a group that formed with all these issues in mind. In an effort to catalog all the tools available and generate conversations about how we can integrate them, we host periodic webinars where developers can present their projects, talk about their needs, and look for ways to collaborate. OALS has drawn in groups like farmOS, Photosynq, Open Pipe Kit, Comet-Farm, and many more.

Through the series we’ve learned about the huge variety of useful tools that are already out there, but we’ve also about how hard it is to get these tools to speak to each other. Simply hosting a space where folks who are interested can have conversations is the first step in the process. OALS has led to fruitful conversations between groups like farmOS and Photosynq, who are now thinking of ways to make it easier to push data from one to the other.

As we continue to map the landscape of great work out there, we keep learning and finding points of collaboration. High-tech tools will most likely be an important part of the knowledge systems farmers use to help them make decisions. Ensuring that they’re inclusive and available to all producers will be essential to building a food system that’s just and sustainable.

Access past Open Agriculture Learning Series presentations in the Archive.

Reversing the Mississipi: documentary about the Open Source Ecology project

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

photo of Michel Bauwens

Michel Bauwens

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

Watch the trailer here, commentary from Shareable below:

 

Anna Bergren Miller writes:

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

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

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

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

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

Feminism and the Commons

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

 

by Alison Hugill

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

ABOUT

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

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