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…

 

Apitronics Kickstarter is Live! Check it out.

Apitronics is an exciting start-up of Farm Hacker Louis Thiery, originally birthed from a Farm Hack NH greenhouse monitoring project. The Apitronics Kickstarter is live, and it’s great! You can pre-order Apitronics monitoring “bees” and help Louis get off the ground at the same time. He’s already a quarter of the way to his funding goal – help out a fellow Farm Hacker and get a useful new farm gadget!

from apitronics.com
from apitronics.com

About the Platform

Apitronics is a wireless platform designed for the outdoors. It includes a base station, or “Hive”, that coordinates a swarm of field-ready “Bees” which collect data and control switches.

What a Bee does depends on what sensors or switches you attach to its waterproof plug. Apitronics will be releasing more plugs as the platform matures. At one site, they are already doing some chicken coop monitoring, with a door sensor and a water level sensor. The system can send alerts if you forget to close the door or to bring water to the chickens!

Through the Kickstarter, Apitronics is offering user-ready systems with Bees connected to weather stations or soil humidity sensors. Louis also hopes that other developers will build off the platform and that a diverse ecology of products and other solutions will be built around the open architecture. By bringing open-source to farm electronics, Apitronics hopes to see more innovative solutions that are more farmer-driven.

More about the project at the Apitronics website

Visit the Kickstarter here

 

Farm Hack Davis Meetup! Sept 15th

Farm Hack Davis – Come meet up for beers and conversation with fellow farmers and tinkerers at Plainfield Station outside of Davis!

Sunday, September 15th, 4–7 P.M., Plainfield Station

Hi folks! The Farm Hack Davis meet-ups are back for a bit as we continue to gear up for our big event in November. This coming Sunday, we’re going to talk about what nifty innovations have come out of other Farm Hacks around the country, including tools, gadgets, and relationships that they have fostered. Come hang out with your farmer neighbors and tinkerer friends that have an interest farming and food!

We are looking for folks who have problems to solve, inventions on the back burner, or tools to tweak, who want to share ideas with each other and other skilled craftspeople to see what comes out of it.

We’re getting ready to send out a call for proposals for farm-related design projects for the upcoming Farm Hack, so keep your eyes peeled! Come to the meet-up, look for the RFP or email us with your ideas.

Farm Hack Davis event will be November 16-17, 2013. Remember to save the date!

Hope to see y’all at Plainfield Station this coming Sunday, Sept 15thRoad Construction Note: (Rd. 29 is open, use CR 99 as 98 is still closed!)

Info on Plainfield Station

Vote to help Farm Hack get to Maker Faire NYC!

Dear Farm Hack posse, help your fellow farm hackers get their hacks to Maker Faire NYC this fall!

Farm Hack is in an online voting competition for $2,500 so that we have a truck to take us to Maker Faire. Maker Faire is an expo of all things DIY.  The truck will take a route from Cambridge, MA up to Burlington, VT hitting places in the Pioneer Valley and NH. Then towards NYC through the Hudson Valley, picking up all the Farm Hacks we can and to make it easier and more stress free for others to attend.

We attended Maker Faire last year with all sorts of great hacks, including a converted washing machine greens spinner, pedal powered compost chipper and flame weeder.  It’s a great way for us to educate the general public about what we are doing, and to connect with the techie crowd that can help us create future farm hacks!

So vote for us here! And if you are interested in sharing your hack at Maker Faire too, respond in the forum thread.  We hope you can join us, and help us get our hacks to the Faire!

 

– the Farm Hack team

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.

The Quadractor: an all-purpose work vehicle

homeshopmachinist.net
homeshopmachinist.net

The Quadractor, manufactured in the 1970s and 1980s by Traction, Inc. in Vermont. The quadractor has a vertical shaft gear train originally developed by William Spence for using in aircraft landing gear, who designer of the Quadractor and founder of Traction, Inc. The tractor operates through four identical vertical drives to the wheels, and is therefore continuously in four wheel drive.  This drive design allows for the lightweight Quadractor (around 500 lbs) to pull loads up to two tons.

Spence wanted to create a tractor that was lower cost and that used less fuel than conventional tractors with comparable workloads, and be highly dynamic (also that had really good traction, hence the company name he came up with). Though the tractor been used most extensively for logging, it can be used with cultivating, rototilling and plowing implements that are attached underneath the tractor rather than behind, the weight of which are distributed to all four wheels.

Though the quadractor is no longer being manufactured, there is a community of users restoring, retrofitting and using the quadractor for their small farming operations, homestead and woodlots. These users can exchange and dialogue on the tractor, modifications and implements through a user Forum. Specs and more information at www.quadractor.com.

Read a more detailed account of the quadractor and its manufacture in this 1979 Mother Earth News article by Bill Rowan.

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.”

 

 

 

Kiva Zip: Crowd-fund your farm innovation

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You likely have heard of Kiva.org, a micro-lending site that lends to the entrepreneurial projects of individuals in developing countries through crowdsourced financing.

A year-old project of Kiva is Kiva Zip, which flips the tables.  Through Kiva Zip, individuals in the United States (and Kenya) can apply for an interest-free loan up to $5,000 for their project. This tool could be great for farmer-entrepreneurs with a well-developed innovation idea that want to market their innovation to others, and that need startup capital to bring this project online.

One Farm Hacker has already used Kiva Zip to do this – Louis Thiery, co-developer of the FIDO greenhouse monitor, applied for and received a $5000 loan through the service to produce 100 initial units of the Fido monitor.  This loan allowed him to build the original FIDO unit, and also develop a second improved iteration, now called the Sentinel Bee, through his new business Apitronics.

To receive a Kiva zip loan, you must apply through a Kiva Zip Trustee, whom you can locate on the site.  You also need to prove your business plan is viable, and be vouched for.

If you are applying for a loan, let us know at info [at] farm hack [dot] net, and we can vouch for your project!  Once you are approved, your project is then posted to the site, where users (hopefully) crowd fund your project.  The great thing about the Farm Hack community is that we can use our network to get out the word about projects, and ensure they get fully funded.  Use that farm hack community capital!

Find more info about Kiva Zip on their website.

Tool Development Diary: Wireless greenhouse monitor

I have run my own farm for eight years, but because I have always farmed rented land, I have never lived within two miles of any of my greenhouses.  That means that I have had a lot of restless nights, wondering if my seedlings were alright.  Fortunately, a few collaborators and I recently received a grant that will help us to develop to new tool to solve this problem.

Over the next few months, I will use the Farm Hack blog to document our progress as we brainstorm, prototype, test and tweak the tool that we have come up with.

The problem

CSA vegetable farmers like me have a lot at stake in our seedling greenhouses–  tens of thousands of plants, which we depend on for a productive season.  If it gets too hot, or too cold, a die-off in the greenhouse can have a devastating impact on the farm’s bottom line.  I can’t count the number of times that I have driven several miles from my home to my greenhouse just to check the temperature,  sometimes at 1am on a cold night, or at 1pm on a hot afternoon.  95 percent of the time, everything is fine:  the heater is fired up and keeping things warm;  or the fans on thermostats are working properly and venting out the heat.  A waste of a trip, except that without going to check on the seedlings, I probably wouldn’t have been able to fall back asleep.

There are alarms that farmers can buy and install in their greenhouses to monitor temperature.  Some of them just sound a siren if things get too hot or cold.  Others hook into a land line, or an internet connection, to call a farmer with a temperature alert.  None of those were going to work for me, since  my greenhouses aren’t near a land line or an internet connection,  and they are miles away from earshot.  This situation is common to a lot of young farmers who are growing on leased land.

An idea for a solution

At Farm Hack New Hampshire last fall, we had a working group on “smart farm” tools.  We were lucky to have both farmers in the group, as well as some allies with skills in open source software and hardware development.  I joined the group to discuss how farmers might use sensors, open-source circuit boards, and computer code to create DIY tools that could make our farms more efficient and more sustainable.  We threw around lots of ideas, some crazier than others.  One project that seemed straightforward and useful was creating a farm-built greenhouse monitor that could deal with any problems that might come up.  We knew that the possibilities for this were wide open:  it could monitor soil moisture and turn on sprinklers, or temperature and send turn on fans, all while collecting data that could allow the user to monitor the temperature trends in the greenhouse over the day.

We wanted to make the first attempt at this tool simple and useful, so we decided to tackle the problem outlined above.  We wanted a greenhouse monitor, built from easily accessible parts by a farmer without major electronics skills, that would send a SMS text message to a farmer if there was an “alert” situation in the greenhouse, or that would just send regular status messages about the state of the greenhouse.  We decided we’d also like to make the communication two-way, so that the farmer could text the greenhouse and get a response with the current temperature.  We knew that many farmers didn’t have a landline or internet access at their greenhouses, so we wanted our tool to operate using cellular networks to communicate.  And it would have to be cheap enough to appeal to cheapskate farmers!

Applying for a grant

 

A subset of our team set out to apply for a grant to fund the development of this tool so we could build it, document it, and share it with the farmer community at large.  RJ and Louis (open-source computer programmers and hardware developers) joined up with me (Ben, vegetable farmer) to apply for a USDA Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education (“SARE”) Farmer grant, which funds farmers to carry out research and share it with other farmers.

We just learned this week that we got the grant!  So we are excited to spend a chunk of time this spring putting together a prototype of this tool, getting some other farmers to test it, and documenting the whole process to share with the world.  This is the first step, and you can keep tabs on the project as we go forward right here at Farm Hack.