New York: It’s time to speak out for your right to repair

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

 

The Fair Repair Bill

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

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

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

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

Electronics are making farm equipment harder to repair.

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

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

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

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

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

Photos courtesy Stawarz

Photos courtesy Stawarz

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

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

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

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

Farmers are Fighting Back

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

But it’s not enough.

WE NEED TO REQUIRE MANUFACTURERS MAKE EQUIPMENT FIELD-SERVICEABLE.

JOIN THE FIGHT

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

 

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.

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’.

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

 

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.

Homemade Biochar

photo  courtesy of David Yarrow
photo courtesy of David Yarrow

David Yarrow and the folks at Four Oaks Community Farm in Topeka, Kansas, are making some exciting strides towards an efficient small-scale TLUD (Top-Lit Updraft) biochar stove. They’ve done 6 experimental test-burns thus far, and are learning more with each one.

Biochar is produced through a controlled process of heating up biomass in a lo/no oxygen system. In the absence of combustion, the result of the burn process is mostly biochar, and sometimes syngas. The process, when done correctly, produces no carbon dioxide, and is in fact a way to sequester carbon from the environment into a stable form that can be stored in the soil. This stored biochar can be used to make a “microbial reef” in our soil. Biochar holds much promise for the mitigation of climate change, and also provides a useful soil amendment for crops that need high potash and pH.

At 4 Oaks Community Farm, David and his colleagues are ready to find equipment and insulation to build a better, more efficient, permanent TLUD. They will be holding four biochar workshops in April, and are also preparing to build a smaller, 30-gallon TLUD that is portable. They’ll take this smaller stove to events and fairs around the region to spread the word about biochar and teach people how to make it.

They are innovators and changemakers worth checking out!

 

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.

 

Farm Hack Comes to SUNY College of Environmental Science and Forestry

By Leanna Mulvihill

 

My name is Leanna Mulvihill and on September 17th, I’m bringing Farm Hack to my school — the State University of New York College of Environmental Science and Forestry (SUNY ESF) in Syracuse, NY. ESF is unique in that every course of study has an environmental focus. There are a lot of different flavors of science majors and other majors including: environmental studies, landscape architecture, construction management, bioprocess engineering and environmental resources engineering. As such, it is pretty easy to get students from a variety of programs excited about sustainable farming. This fall I will be a senior in environmental resources engineering and am
currently interning at Tantré Farm in Chelsea, MI.

 

Farm Hack @SUNY ESF will be a one-day event for farmers and designers of all varieties with the goal of creating relatively low-cost, easy to implement solutions for small scale farmers.

IMG_1387

We need farmers with design ideas/farm tech challenges to pitch and people to help solve them . If you’ve got an idea burning a hole in your pocket, please let me know! The ideas will be presented in the morning and teams will be formed based on the interests/expertise of the participants. Each team will have the rest of the day to flesh out their designs with research, sketches and
rough prototypes. This will be from 10am until roughly 5pm and snacks will be provided. Some materials will be available and bring your laptops, we’ve got wireless.

Presentations of these designs will happen that evening from 6-8pm. If you can’t participate in the full day event or would just like to drop by and see what it is all about, please come to the evening presentations!

A similar event was held last spring at MIT. They came up with a triketor and a self-flushing irrigation valves.

Details:

Farmhack@ESF – Saturday September 17th 2011 Nifkin Lounge, 1 Forestry Drive Syracuse, NY
13210, 10am-5pm

RSVP to lpmulvih@syr.edu

Post your design ideas on our Facebook event page (Farmhack@ESF) or email them.

Hope to see you there!