This post was compiled by the Lexicon Sustainability for their Food List, a weekly bulletin of talking points to fix the food system. Farm Hack was a contributor to this edition of the List. Original post can be found here.
#46: APPROPRIATE TECHNOLOGY
INTRODUCTION BY FARM HACK
Ever since Nixon’s Secretary of Agriculture, Earl Butz, proclaimed “get big or get out,” farms and farmers in the United States have followed the logic of corporate capitalism – bigger farms, bigger tractors, and more complex and expensive technology. A new corn harvester bought today costs about $400,000 and comes decked out with proprietary computer systems and GPS monitoring – the tractors can literally drive themselves, collecting scads of production data that happen to go right back to the large corporations manufacturing these machines. This technology makes combining a thousand acre field much easier, but it often puts farmers deep into debt and rests control of their own farming systems and production information from their hands.
For smaller scale sustainable producers, the modern form of mainstream agricultural technology does not fit our function. The appropriate tools for our agriculture put biology before steel and diesel, are modular, adaptable, and designed for disassembly. We engineer systems instead of software, finding local solutions to local problems. Appropriate tools should not make a farmer obsolete – they empower the user to modify and improve upon age-old tools and ideas, or build something new using whatever resources they have available.
Appropriate technology for sustainable farming is economically appropriate because it means retrofitting and using what you already have close at hand or getting it from your neighbor or local fabricator, rather than putting profit into the pockets of global corporations. It is environmentally appropriate because it harnesses the utility of our ecological systems while preserving and enriching them. It is intellectually appropriate because it reduces barriers to knowledge exchange, putting the best solutions in the hands of farmers. In this new paradigm, every farm is a research and development node in a distributed network of farmers, engineers, and technologists building a new economy from the ground up enabling independence through interdependence .
Instead of homogenizing, privatizing and commodifying our farm technologies, we must support the time-tested tradition of on-farm innovation, and promote economically, ecologically, and socially resilient solutions. We must leverage technology appropriately as a tool to reduce barriers to information transfer and foster collaboration. On the outskirts of our conventional system of top-down manufacturing and proprietary tools is emerging a new community and a new paradigm – farmers, fabricators, engineers, and designers working together to build resilient, regionalized manufacturing economies. This is the movement we all must continue building together, for strong communities, healthy ecological systems, and good food. The future is open-source!
Farm Hack is an open-source community for resilient agriculture; it is a community to support user generated content and knowledge exchange. The community builds tools that supports sustainable farming and sustainable farmers, creates a culture of collaboration, and strives to identify shared values and engage in open exchange. Farm Hack exists to support the users, and as an organization, Farm Hack seeks to discern from users web-development and organizational objectives, making Farm Hack a content-driven and community powered platform. Read more about the Community Principles of Farm Hack
IN THIS WEEK’S FOOD LIST:
In the age of technology, one with a very deep history in agriculture, there are many models and methods to apply and experiment with. In this week’s Food List, we explore the different ways in which small-scale farms are adapting technology to fit their modes.
Most research and development in agriculture focuses on mass crop production, often forcing small farmers to “make it work.” They use technologies new and old. Farmers are collaborating with engineers across the country, like at Stone Barn Center, to develop slow tools for smaller operations. This is a solution for many food producers . As one small producer, Doug Mosel says, “the closer we get to using the last remaining “ancient sunlight,” the smaller and simpler technology will become.” By filling these technology gaps, smaller farmers have a better opportunity to focus on various other challenges.
The beauty of this appropriate technology movement is the open source knowledge driving it. And so, when the latest sustainable design, such as the culticycle, becomes available, the technology can be found for free on sources like Farm Hack.
Appropriate technology is not only about developing new technological adaptations for small farms. It’s also about using what you have around you as well. Draft animal power is still a widely used practice on farms. In fact, horse power is the symbolic standard for measurements of labor, especially on farms.
Appropriate technology is about recycling the resources that you have around you. One story from Cleveland tells us of how appropriate technology extended the growing season into the winter. Fresh produce all year round in the four season states? And if you think that’s extreme, Low-Tech Magazine shares with us a dirty secretof the past that could be the “key” to sustainable farming.
In this week’s Food List, we learn that farm technology is a greater quest for whatever works. It’s a matter of applying what makes sense, in the past, present, and future. How can you make appropriate technology work for you?
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THIS WEEK’S TERMS
“A holistic approach to human problem solving. It involves working with nature–of which we are a part–to develop and sustain systems beneficial to the health of the whole.” — Ian Snider, Yates Family Farm
“Also known as ‘draft animal power,’ this is the use of horses, mules, or oxen to do productive work in farms, forests, and other settings. Traditionally, horses, mules, and oxen did all the work that tractors do today.” – Donn Hewes, Draft Animal Power Network
“Small Plot Intensive. A low-cost, easy-to-learn system that produces ample high value produce on less than one acre, making it possible for first-generation farms to get started without a lot of land or capital investment” – Kevin Grove, Quarter Branch Farm
Human excrement, most prominently used as fertilizer in earlier cultures, is reappearing as a soil amendment.
The use of greenhouses to prolong the growing season. Seeds are planted earlier and the last harvest of the year comes later, allowing consumers to continue eating local foods longer than would otherwise be possible.
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. Jill Isenbarger, executive director of Stone Barns Center, points out that this will greatly help small scale farmers: “The challenges [farmers] deal with are significant: high land prices and connection to markets, for instance. Tools shouldn’t be one of them.”
Small farms need tools scaled to the size of their operations and specific to the tasks to be accomplished. The availability of ideal tools, priced affordably, would greatly aid the efficiency and competitiveness of local food production. Our group, Slow Tools, is focused on improving tool access for a rapidly growing group of small farmers — commercial intensive organic vegetable growers on 5 acres and less. This is a scale of production that has been ignored by tool manufacturers despite its impressive performance in yield and quality. The many successful Slow Tool type implements that have been developed to date are presently available from the Johnny’s Selected Seeds catalog. These include the Tilther, numerous Broadfork designs, a complete Soil Block system, a Roller/hole-maker for transplants, the Six Row Seeder, the Quick Cut Harvester, and the Quick Hoops Bender. More are needed.
In the summer of 2015, The Slow Tools Project will focus on the development of A Bed-Former/Shaper powered by a BCS walking tractor; a hug-wheel driven, walken behind electric tool carrier; a two-layer clear plastic blanket for field-scale soil solarizing; and a 30-inch wide stripper/header to harvest grain for poultry.
Location: Peter + Mimi Buckley’s Front Porch Farm, Healdsburg, CA
Featuring: Doug Mosel
Found on Page 146 in Local: The New Face of Food and Farming in AmericaAs farmers reintroduce wheat to strengthen their local food systems, they discover an alarming face: it’s hard to find equipment suited to small farms. Doug Morsel says that with wheat primarily farmed on an industrial scale, the local infrastructure to support the production of wheat has largely disappeared. The resulting scarcity of affordable, appropriately-sized equipment is the greatest challenge facing local grain production. This technology gap also applies to used cleaning and separating equipment as well as access to facilities that clean small quantities of grain. Doug and his combine lend a hand on his friends’ farm.Appropriate technology is environmentally sound technology designed to meet the social and economic conditions of a specific geographic area while ideally promoting greater self-sufficiency. Front Porch Farm’s “Tamalpais” barley; “Our idea is to harvest and malt it, then either distill it ourselves into whiskey or sell it to local breweries as a locally grown malted barley.” The HEDE 140 Combine is a “small plot” combine and is expensive, highly specialized, and manufactures in relatively small numbers. It’s usually used by universities or seed developers to harvest very small test plots that are not intended for production use.
Don’t know where to start when it comes to finding the right tools for cultivating your small garden plot? Dig into this webinar, produced by National Center for Appropriate Technology’s ATTRA project and delivered NCAT’s Andy Pressmen, to find a comprehensive guide of tools for small scale crop production.
Andy Pressman is a Sustainable Agriculture Specialist with the National Center for Appropriate Technology (NCAT), a non-profit organization that promotes and demonstrates small-scale, local, and sustainable solutions to energy and agriculture. Andy received a MS degree from Slippery Rock University in Sustainable Systems Design and has a passion for tools and equipment for small-scale agriculture. Through NCAT’s ATTRA Project – the National Sustainable Agriculture Information Service – Andy provides technical assistance and education to farmers and ranchers in the fields of organic crop production, season extension, urban agriculture, and farm energy. He and his family also operate Foggy Hill Farm, a small diversified family farm located in Jaffrey, New Hampshire.
[Two weeks ago], an ace team of farmers, fabricators, engineers, and pedal-powered truckers gathered at Metro Pedal Power in Somerville, MA for a weekend build event. What project would bring such an intriguing group of individuals together? Only the culticycle, a pedal-powered cultivating tractor designed by Tim Cooke, that uses human brawn and bicycle brains to replace fossil fuel powered tractors for lightweight field cultivation.
Farming with draft animals has been Donn Hewes life passion for the last 16 years. As Donn explains, time measurement is a major element to consider when using draft animals; “the first technologies came from labor saving.” However, one of the many reason why Donn looked to using draft animals was in reflection of the continual use of nonrenewable resources in farm machinery. In this video, Donn provides a comprehensive outline of how to integrate horses into your farming practices. From their wide variety of farm application to their ability to give back to the land in the form of manure, Donn emphasizes how farmers have the potential to maintain ecological integrity of their lands and create mutually respectful relationships with their draft animals.
“Horses were not replaced by tractors on our farms because of how much they eat or how many acres is required to keep them. Every farm has a few acres lesser pasture where you keep your horses. They never eat the hay reserved for the milking cows or pregnant animals. Horses and mules were replaced by tractors to reduce human labor, just exactly like machines were added to factories. Human labor is what cost the most and that is what was cut. We need to consider returning to more human labor on our farms not less.” – Donn Hewes
Donn Hewes and Maryrose Livingston own the Northland Sheep Dairy in Marathon, NY, where they milk 100% grass fed ewes and make farmstead cheese. Donn does all the farm work with horses and mules, and also teaches teamster skills to aspiring horse farmers. Donn is an active member of the Draft Animal Power Network, a not for profit organization promoting the use of horses, mules, and oxen in today’s farms and forests. DAPNet will host the 2015 Draft Animal Power Field Days in Cummington, Mass. Sept 24th to 27th.
INFORMATION ARTWORK: HORSE POWERED
Location: Yates Family Farm, Fleetwood, NC
Featuring: Ian and Kelly Snider, and Frank the horse
Found on Page 148 in Local: The New Face of Food and Farming in AmericaSustainability for Ian means the ability to meet current needs without compromising those of future generations. Think about the Rio Declaration of 1992. Working with horses is one way Ian and Kelly try to keep that promise. They feel trends and benefit from the greater society like everyone else, but aren’t enslaved by the gas pump. Having horses insulate Ian from the inevitable fluctuations in the global economy.Horse powered means working with equines in a symbiotic agricultural relationship. They complete tasks which require great effort while sustaining themselves and us from the land.
The Suffolk is one of the few popular draft breeds in North America that was developed by farmers for farming. Originally from England’s Suffolk county, these draft animals have especially short cannon bones (the bones just below the knees), meaning only minimal anatomical effort is required for them to take a step. This makes them efficient walkers capable of greater stamina. Plus, their level-headed attitude is founded on a sincere willingness to please. Aside from these exceptional qualities, they are the only draft breed which is always chestnut red in color. As a redhead himself, Ian finds them a wonderful choice functionally and aesthetically. Horses are solar-fueled, self-renewing, and somewhat self-repairing.
I ask Ian, “Why horses?” He says, “This choice is not a nostalgic one, or one motivated by obstinate anti-establishment sentiments. For us, personally, it is not a requirement of our religion. It is however a fiercely spiritual decision, one motivated by deep obligation and a sense of responsibility for those who will come after us. By utilizing the culture of the past, we can find the most hopeful path for the future. Despite centuries of mechanical innovation, horsepower is still the symbolic standard against which all labors are measured.”
“Meet the urban cousin of a traditional barn raising” says Yes! Magazine. Here is a story of a marginalized community in Cleveland taking urban farming to the next level. By incorporating a greenhouse design in their neighborhood, growing season can be dramatically extended. In collaboration with Fair Food Network, residents of the Cleveland neighborhood team up to build hoop houses, simple greenhouse designs that protect plants from the seasons and maintain a temperature at least 10 degrees warmer than outside temperatures. Here is an example of how growing in all four seasons is possible! Even in a city!
Low-Tech Magazine, an appropriate technology publication, proposes that the “key” to sustainable farming is recycling animal and human manure. Decker explains how the use of water closets, while convenient, breaks a cycle that could be returning essential nutrients to the soil, and instead pollutes our waterways, consumes large amounts of fresh water, and leaves an agricultural system that is dependent on synthetic fertilizer application, all while consuming large amounts of energy.
Human excrement has not been ubiquitously regarded as “waste” — for thousands of years, China, Korea, and Japan treated it as a valuable trade product and fertilizer. Meanwhile, animal manure or food waste — even absent the taboo associated with humanure — is still wasted, often polluting our environment rather than healing our soil. To reintegrate food scraps and animal and human manure back into our agricultural system presents a huge logistical challenge. However, it is a challenge that can be overcome, but only if we begin to seriously address the issue.
There are a variety of appropriate technologies that have been developed to compost human waste, from the DIY home scale to industrial scale technologies. Perhaps the most well known is Joe Jenkin’s open source Humanure Handbook. SOIL (Sustainable Organic Integrated Livelihoods) works in Haiti to provide access to low-cost ecological sanitation systems while simultaneously transforming human waste into compost that can help repair degraded soils. The Dutch company Orgaworld, meanwhile, creates compost from diapers and other organic waste on an industrial scale.
Location: Polyface Farm, Swoope, VA
Featuring: Joel Salatin
Found on Page 176 in Local: The New Face of Food and Farming in AmericaPastures don’t just happen. They are like all biological systems, always in a state of flux between either degeneration or regeneration. Chickens are extremely hard on forage and dump hot manure with a carbon:nitrogen ratio of 7 to 1. As a result, stationary hen houses soon develop bare spots where the forage is tilled out and killed. The soil is overloaded with nitrogen toxicity which leaches into the groundwater and over stimulates grass clumps with bitter forage repugnant to the chickens. If you want a regenerating pasture, you have to manage it for that improvement or it will deteriorate.Egg mobiles are portable hen houses moved every one or two days, preferably behind herbivores, with chickens having access to unimpeded pasturage. Chickens are biological pasture sanitizers. They scratch through cow patties and spread them out, reducing the overload of nutrients in one spot and destroying the incubation environment conducive to parasite development; they eat fly larvae out of cow patties, thus reducing the irritation to the herd, increasing their comfort, health, and performance; chickens eat the newly exposed grasshoppers, crickets, and other herbivorous critters that compete that compete with the cows for the available forage; and chicken scratching pulls up duff and moldy leaves, aerating the soil and freshening the plant structure.
Farms come in all shapes and sizes, and apply a variety of different principles and philosophies. As Nathanael Johnson writes, “there are farms that use all sorts of high technology to stay in sync with natural cycles, and even the best low-tech organic farmers find themselves fighting nature every year.” There is no such thing as one size fits all when it comes to farming strategies. Instead, it’s a matter of what makes sense — As Johnson points out, “[farmers] want the tools and techniques that will give them the best chance of success”.
3 THINGS YOU CAN DO
Have you been known as someone who “tinkers”? Do you like to “do it yourself”? Often times, we don’t even realize we’re participating in appropriate technology. It’s all about making the tools fit and work for you.
- Build your sustainable life! Sometimes it’s just easier to build it yourself. Take the project into your own hands! It’s all within arms reach with open source platforms, like Appropedia.
- Support another form of economic development. Support resourceful practices.
- Find a space to create. More and more “fab labs” are popping up to facilitate space for the inquisitive and investive to collaborate and share resources and knowledge.