Free the Seed: An Open Source Approach to Food Crop Seed

This article was originally posted on foodtank on September 25th, 2017

The Open Source Seed Initiative board members discuss providing an alternative to proprietary control of seed.

To Find Alternatives to Capitalism, Think Small

Why co-ops, regional currencies, and hackerspaces are pointing the way toward a new economic vision.

Julien Reynier and Fabrice Clerc from L’Atelier Paysan on Self-Build Communities in Farming

The P2P Foundation’s Michel Bauwens interviews Julien Reynier and Fabrice Clerc from L’Atelier Paysan

L’Atelier Paysan is a French cooperative that works with farmers to design machines and buildings adapted to the specific practices of small farm agroecology. In addition to distributing free plans on its website, L’Atelier Paysan organizes winter self-help training sessions, during which farmers train in metalworking and build tools which they can then use on their own farms. L’Atelier Paysan works to develop the technological sovereignty of farmers by helping them to become more autonomous through learning and regain knowledge and skills.

In market gardening, crops are grown on beds formed from long strips of land. Generally, little or no attention is paid to ground compaction by tractor wheels. In subsequent years, farmers will then try to grow on these tracks. The idea of permanent, “ridged” beds is to form perennial growing beds so the tractor wheels always run in the same place. Tools are needed to form these ridged beds, which allow crops to have superior moisture retention and drainage, and to warm up better in the sun. 

Michel Bauwens: What was the origin of L’Atelier Paysan project?

Julien and Fabrice: The project was born in 2009 after a meeting between Joseph Templier, an organic market gardener from GAEC “Les Jardins du Temple” in Isère (south-eastern France, near the Alps), and Fabrice Clerc, then a technician with ADABio, the local organic agriculture development association. ADABio was created in 1984 to help improve practices, find resources, and share knowledge, among other things.

Joseph and his colleagues used tools on the farm that are very relevant to the soil, especially adapted to an innovative cultural technique called “permanent beds”. Many young farmers came to train in the techniques, the system and the organization of the “Jardins du Temple” and then to practice them on their own farms and projects. At the same time, Fabrice went to many farms in the Rhone Alps to collect and disseminate knowledge and agrarian know-how. Fabrice and Joseph’s idea was to widely publicise the innovative tools used on this farm, which were crafted and assembled from recovered materials and refurbished old tools. Some standardization was necessary first, in order to be able to publish plans for building the tools from parts and accessories that can be found at any hardware store.

Your approach seems very pragmatic. Yet when I read through your website, it is also a very thoughtful approach (philosophical and political). How did you move from one approach to another?

We have just put into words what is happening. A number of farmers in the Alps independently designed and built their own machines, adapted to their own needs. We have gathered and compiled all this into a guide. In the process of constructing this guide, it seemed useful to formalise our approach: first, to take an inventory of innovations on the ground, then to answer the question “what is the meaning of all this?” Why all these bottom-up innovations, which were traditionally outsourced to the equipment manufacturing industry. So, why was the farming world excluded from the design process? Whereas the farmer and the artisan of the village once built the machines needed, now farmers have disappeared from the chain of innovation.

It is not only in the agricultural sector that this has happened: it’s possible to build bridges with changes in other areas such as shared self-build community workshops, and to think about Do It Yourself from the viewpoint of human/social (re)construction. For example, in Grenoble, there are about ten woodworking workshops with available machines and tools, and self-renovation housing initiatives. They are important factors for emancipation, inclusion and social reintegration. For the last 6 or 7 years, we have been thinking a lot about these issues. We don’t want to just make machines. It is a total experience that consists of thinking about daily life and of the political approach it requires.

Current political debate reflects a very strong social demand on the ground. The guide to self-construction is the first book we published in 2012. This is the sum of the first field census of sixteen machines adapted to organic market gardening. These machines, which are low tech (in construction and design) call for a lot of craft know-how. They do not suffer in comparison with high-tech machines. Our machines are three to four times cheaper for an efficiency equal or superior to those of the trade. Why is this search for autonomy not more valued? This is a question of the technological sovereignty of farmers. It is something that is coming back into fashion, taken up by a militant farming community.

The word “farmer” was, until the 1980s, a word used to denigrate. Today, on the contrary, it means someone who is not only a cultivator of agricultural produce but part of a terroir, connected to an ecosystem and a social life. The word “farmer” relates to the invention of a specialized, segmented profession. Today they are even called “producer”, “operator”, or “Chief Operating Officer”. The logic of industrialists and economists invades agriculture.

What are the current project developments?

The approach is open to the whole field of small and organic farming on a human scale. It started around organic market gardening, but now it is open to all sectors: arboriculture, breeding, viticulture… For example, we can include the re-design of livestock buildings and storage. For market gardeners who want to add some poultry farming to their production, we are also working on the issue of mobile buildings.

Depending on the demands of the farmers’ groups on the ground, our resource platform will respond to co-design the tools required for the specific practices of small and organic farmers. We want these tools to be used by conventional farmers to help them adopt a more autonomous and economical approach. It is becoming increasingly credible because it is intended to be a resource available to all farmers. Most of our users are already going through this process, but the technical principles developed, aim to ensure that conventional farmers are no longer frightened by the demanding, know-how-based, techniques of small farm agroecology.

The project started in 2009 at ADABio, a local association of organic producers, but very quickly grew to such a large scale that in 2011 a transitional association was created and then converted into a cooperative in 2014: L’Atelier Paysan. In this human adventure, meetings played a very important part. At each meeting, we took sideways steps, then small jumps and then big jumps. Today we are 11 permanent staff, quite a lot of seasonal staff as well as those who volunteer as a civic service. Everyone comes as who they are and our approach is closely linked to what each person brings. We are very attentive to the requests that come to us, and we have more and more!

What is your business model?

We operate 65% through self-financing and 35% from public funding. In our view, these are normal contributions to our effort to produce and disseminate common goods. We believe that we are in the public interest and that communities need to be involved. Unfortunately, with the reactionary right-wing coming to power in many places, this sort of support has been drastically reduced.

However, we are relatively more secure than other structures, sometimes subsidized at 80%. The 65% self-financing comes from our self-build training activity. In France there are joint vocational training funds that can cover the cost of training. We also profit from a margin on group orders for internships.

We will raise funds more and more from the public: if we want to change the agriculture / food model, the whole of society is involved. That’s why we have set up a partnership with a Citoyens Solidaire endowment fund to collect donations and the associated tax [1]. It is a mechanism that allows people to choose where their taxes are going. We want to make citizens aware of our work so that they can contribute to the economic independence of L’Atelier Paysan.

What is your relationship with other farmer or social movements?

L’Atelier Paysan is positioned as one of the actors in the alternative food project, an additional tool in the social and solidarity-based agricultural economy. As actors of this arena, we naturally wanted to associate ourselves with those that represent the agricultural environment, to connect, so that they might disseminate our information, our technical material and to bring together our different users. Moreover, the question of agricultural machinery was very seldom dealt with by the existing organisations.

Also, we have had an awareness-raising activity for a year now, through the InPACTassociation, which brings together about ten associations at the national level. We have been the standard-bearers for the technological sovereignty of farmers in this context, in particular to document and expose, on the one hand, the over-sizing of farming equipment production tool and, on the other hand, the publicly funded introduction of robotics and digital technology supported by the techno-scientific community.

At the international level, we are in the Via Campesina network. We participated in the 2nd Nyéléni forum on food sovereignty (in October 2016 in Romania) where we talked about agricultural equipment, saying that there can be no food independence without farmers’ technological sovereignty.

At the forum we met with Spaniards, Romanians, Austrians, Czechs and Hungarians, who were very interested in questions around farming equipment. We staged an exhibition of drawings and fact sheets that really appealed to people. It was not especially a field of exploration for these activists, and there, something happened. No one in Europe has yet set up a platform such as L’Atelier Paysan, which provides ways to document and disseminate knowledge (data sheets, self-construction training …).

We went to Quebec in January 2014 to organize the first self-build training in North America, with the CAPÉ (Coopérative d’Agriculteurs de Proximlité Écologique) and l’EPSH (École professionnelle de Saint-Hyacinthe ), around the vibroplanche (for cultivating permanent “ridged” beds). And now, they independently create self-build courses from the shared tools on our website.

In the United States, we are connected with Farm Hack, incubated and launched by Greenhorns, which itself came from a young-farmer’s coalition, the NYFC (National Young Farmers Coalition). They share tips on adapting machinery via hackathons and open-hacking camps. Though they have not yet organized any training.

We also have discussions with the Land Workers Alliance (a member of Via Campesina) in England. Two years ago they organized the first Farmhack event which we attended to present our work.

Here, a farmer can come for training and can build their own tools: it doesn’t cost much thanks to our famous training funds and group-buying of materials and accessories. Working with metal, tool use (a kind of after-sales service), sharing (using the machine and adapting it to their context in the form of versioning); this is the whole methodology that one wants to share. There is a very specific context in France, which means that a structure like ours can still rely on a large amount of public aid and shared professional funds to pay for the internships (this is not the case in the USA, for example, which has to rely on private funds).

In general, our approach is total, that is what is exciting in this adventure. We are giving ourselves the means to advance this process, between ourselves and with other actors. From a practical point of view, to reach one person is good, but to reach many takes us much further. We also consider political and economic issues, and what are the factors for acceleration and efficiency. The question of agricultural machinery is a question of political and scientific thought. On the whole, on a whole bunch of questions, there is no science-based production. On April 5th we are organizing a seminar on technological sovereignty: we have struggled to find people who have admitted incompetence. These are questions they have never faced.

What do you think of the “Commons” as a political concept?

We would like to be further advanced on this issue of the Commons. We assume that the issue of food, like drinking water, the air we breathe and biodiversity, are essential to protect. In turn, the means to achieve it (know-how, agricultural land, communal areas, techniques…) must by definition be common, since this is the survival of our species. All the know-how and the knowledge of farmers did not come ex nihilo [from nothing. Ed]: they come from sharing, putting into a common pot, shared innovation and openness. We see as a scandal any attempt to expropriate technological solutions so that they can be part of another feed-source for personal profit. This is an issue that we are exploring and trying to pay attention to.

We are alert to the legal regimes related to this issue of the Commons, to open licenses and to what could best reflect this willingness to share knowledge through which we enrich our community of users. If we use Creative Commons, we are always looking for the right license that best expresses this willingness to share.

The starting material of our work are the tools developed by Joseph: he participated very much in the emergence of these communities. But he didn’t only tinker with machines, he also thought of them with regard to a working group of farmers who wanted to adopt the innovative cultural techniques of permanent beds. His machines are designed in a collective. It is therefore the result of a whole lot of visits and picking up of knowledge and know-how from his peers. He had the talent and the energy to imagine and manufacture these machines. It is his way of contributing, like other activists.

How do you see social change? The political atmosphere is not very positive for the change we want. Do you imagine that you work in a “hostile environment”? Is there a political side to your work?

There is the question of public education. The first step of the document on the technological sovereignty of farmers will be to amalgamate the ideas of the users, the political partners, etc. Some participants in our training events do not take long to take the ideas and techniques and disseminate them.

We are also starting to have quite a lot of feedback from researchers / thinkers, who congratulate us for imagining this new way of thinking. This is our goal because we are not going to be able to produce everything: scientific studies, political thinking … What partnerships can be set up to make common the commonalities of these subjects? Additional advocates can be found at meetings. We do not have a strategy. There is nothing stronger than a groundswell to spread our way of doing things. The tidal wave will be less important, there will be no media buzz, no pretty teaser with a background of country music, but this is much more powerful. When people have experienced their ability for self-determination, there is a kind of arriving without the possibility of backtracking.

Are there projects similar to yours but which you criticize and if so, why?

We are quite distinct from the sort of ideas promoted by the likes of Open Source Ecology in the US with a beautiful trailer, to us that does not seem grounded in reality. None of the machines actually work. It is a process of innovation that comes from not involving real users. They are engineers who imagine things a bit on their own.

We are also distancing ourselves from Fablabs, which seem to be an incubator for start-ups rather than for public education. For us, a Fablab must be a place of public education and not of low-cost technological experimentation for the industry.

We are in Grenoble, the cradle of nanotechnology. Here, a Fablab is funded by industry and advanced technology. So there is Fablab after Fablab (woodworking, pedal-powered machines…), and they are generally talking about something other than the quality of what is produced. It takes funding to run a Fablab. In 2013, those who won the call for projects from the Ministry of the Digital Economy are not those who provide public education. How do we finance a general interest?

More broadly, if by Fablab we mean laboratories of open innovation and shared human resources, there are tens of thousands in France. There are ecocentres, Third-Places, associations related to self-build, others that repair bicycles, social innovation, human and economic. They are not necessarily in the high-tech field and are less publicized, but they are working on the necessary questions.

Where do you see yourself in 10 years? How do you think the world will be in which you will evolve? Do you project yourself into the “global arena” and if yes / no, why and how?

The observation is that today, in January, we do not know much about where we will be at the end of December. This has been true since the beginning of the adventure. We are in an exploratory phase, and it is very difficult to know where we will be in 3 years. After 5 years we have already exceeded our dreams of 3 or 4 years ago! Our collective dynamics explode, economically we will have to find more avenues because humanly we will not be able to go much further. We refuse work every day! One of the interesting tracks in a time-scale of 3 or 4 years is to set up our own training centre on a farm with a workshop training centre suited to our needs, a logistics platform, a classroom, offices, garages, and accommodation. Why a farm? To have our feet on the ground, a real support for our experimentation and a working tool to match our needs. Today we operate within our means, but we have ways to improve our work.

In the years to come, beyond the concerts at Rock à la Meuleuse (rock on the grinder) which we organized during our Rencontres in June 2016, we have plans to explore an illustration of our work through contemporary art.

Among the perspectives, we imagine a European network centred on technological sovereignty. In the world of development and international cooperation associations, this idea has been around since the 1970s, based on appropriate technologies: reclaiming ourselves, being more sociable, connecting and building links throughout Europe so that there are more exchanges between our different countries.

Our adventure is not without effort. Part of what helps us keep going is that we don’t miss out on poetry, pleasure and being as we are. We thoroughly, and I mean thoroughly, explore the paths and horizons that are available to us.

One of the objectives for which we believe we are on the right track is the following: while in France local development has always been specialized, today things are actually de-compartmentalized. If we think about things more “globally”, we will participate in developing something richer, more powerful and sustainable. What makes us strong is that we control the whole chain: self-building at the political and collective level.

We are full of energy: our desire is to testify that the fields we are exploring with the methodologies we use, can be applied to a whole bunch of other things.

All images by L’Atelier Paysan. Check out the full photo essay here.

Interview translated by William Charlton and edited by Ann Marie Utratel. The original French interview was published in the P2P Foundation France blog.

Gathering for Open Science Hardware 2017

Without hardware, there is no science. Instruments, reagents, computers, and lab equipment are the platforms for producing systematic knowledge. Innovations from lenses to atomic force microscopes to DNA sequencers to particle accelerators have opened up new fields of knowledge with huge potential impacts for science and society. However, participants in the Gathering for Open Science Hardware, currently taking place at the Innovation Centre, Pontificia Universidad Católica de Chile, argue that limited access to scientific tools impedes the progress and reach of science. Black-box scientific tools block creativity and customization through high mark-ups and proprietary designs, compounded by intellectual property restrictions. Open Science Hardware addresses part of this problem by sharing designs, instructions for building, and protocols openly, for anyone to reuse.

The Gathering for Open Science Hardware (GOSH) would like to thank the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation for its ongoing support.
The open science hardware movement and examples

There is a growing movement for open science hardware with successful projects, communities and companies setting up across the world that increase access to many groups of people and GOSH 2017 aimed to represent as many points as possible across the multidimensional open science hardware space. Sensors for environmental monitoring developed by Public Lab combine DIY sensing and citizen science within a broader theme of environmental justice, engineers at the European Organization for Nuclear Research (CERN) in Geneva want to share open designs to increase the reach of their technology and its benefits to society, but also pragmatically to avoid vendor lock-in, the deep sea exploration vehicle OpenROV arose from a drive to make research equipment cheaper but led to a range of projects making oceanography available for everyone: from communities in Papua New Guinea to US high school students.

Working with communities is a key feature of many open science hardware initiatives: grassroots networks and collectives like Hackteria publish open designs for microscopes and lab equipment and runs workshops around the world from Tokyo to Yogyakarta to Nairobi combining bio-art, traditional biotechnologies such as fermentation and DIYbio. from Mexico are an art collective who experiment in the intersection of art and science, for example in the  use of sound to understand the bioelectrical activity of different bacterial consortiums, plants, slime molds and humans using DIY and custom-made sets of hardware.

Working with communities requires a strong and intentional approach to equity and ethics. Max Liboiron directs the Civic Laboratory for Environmental Action Research (CLEAR), a feminist marine science and technology laboratory that specializes in citizen science and grassroots environmental monitoring of plastic pollution. Her talk at GOSH 2017 emphasised the need to consider equity in working with communities and the failure of ‘universal’ scientific protocols to consider local factors, from the fact that cost and language are significant barriers to engagement of local and indigenous people through to methods of sifting sand to count plastic microparticles being impractical in frozen northern Canada.

Open science hardware also has huge potential for education, another key theme for GOSH 2017. Participants such as Backyard Brains aim to use open hardware to teach neuroscience while Karkhana is designing learning experiences for future innovators in Nepal and many other initiatives across the world are harnessing kits and manufacturing. The Latin American network TECNOx is seeking to bring interdisciplinary groups of students together to tackle Latin American problems using open technologies and the 2017 round includes over forty teams from across the region.

From a manifesto to a roadmap

GOSH 2016 was held at CERN in Geneva and brought together community convenors for the first international and interdisciplinary conference focused on Open Science Hardware. The shared values and passion for change of the diverse group of participants was articulated in the GOSH Manifesto, which has since been signed by over 240 signatories and translated into six languages. Online tools like the GOSH Forum or the Journal of Open Hardware arose after the conference to help connect this international movement.

GOSH 2017 moved to Chile with strong encouragement from the community to hold the meeting outside of the US and Europe in an area which has a clear need for increased access to tools and many local initiatives that may be under-recognised outside of the region. We drew over a third of our 90 participants from Latin America and arranged visits to local projects and maker spaces, with 30 countries represented in total and attendees ranging from physicists, biologists, artists, community organisers, engineers, social scientists, musicians, IP lawyers, educators to curators.

The goal of GOSH 2017 is to bring the spirit of the GOSH Manifesto to life. Discussions included different topics such as: scaling up open hardware production, standards for safety and quality, the impact of open science hardware in developing countries, inclusivity and diversity, the embedded politics of scientific tools, and interactions between art and science. GOSH 2017 will culminate in drawing together outcomes of discussion to collaboratively author a roadmap outlining actions required for open science hardware to become ubiquitous by 2025.

Using the roadmap, the GOSH community intends to: change the norms within established, institutional science so researchers openly share knowledge and technology; so research can happen in or out of the academy, in or out of the lab, in or out of commercial spaces; and so enable science to take place where it would not usually happen.


Launching Live // SARE+Farm Hack Webinars – 3/27 and 3/29

Farm Hack, in partnership with Chris Callahan from UVM and with funding from USDA NE-SARE have recently completed an overhaul of their tool pages.  This work was part of a project aimed at delivering an improved collective innovation, distribution & education, and impact assessment platform for sustainable farm and food innovations such as those accomplished in SARE projects.Shiny New Tool Library at
As we approach the completion of our SARE project implementation, we have conducted surveys of past SARE PI’s and have just launched a re-designed Tools section of the website. The new version is intended to make both documenting tools and finding the tool you are looking for easier and more effective.

New Tool Section Features:

  • New look!
  • Smartphone and tablet friendly
  • Improved Tool Search functionalities
  • Easier documentation process
  • New “like” and “I have built this” buttons on tool pages
  • New help feature for user troubleshooting

We’ll be hosting a community webinar on two dates to provide a live walk-through of the new Tools Section to help familiarize users with the new features and get your feedback.  We hope you can join us for one of them.  These webinars are free.  No registration is required.  There will be time for Q&A.  The sessions will be recorded and posted on Farm Hack.

Farm Hack Tools Section Webinars

Monday, March 27 11 AM – 12 PM Eastern (DST)
Phone: Dial +1 (571) 317-3122, Access Code: 894-400-997

WednesdayMarch 2912 – 1 PM Eastern (DST)
Phone: Dial +1 (408) 650-3123, Access Code: 978-999-525

Happy Hacking,

Chris Callahan
UVM Extension Ag Engineering & SARE Project Leader

Take a virtual tour of new Farm Hack platform features, courtesy of our SARE grant

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.


commons based technology: a glimpse inside l`atelier paysan

Original post from the irresistible fleet of bicycles 

Farmer, tool hacker, organizer, and self styled agricultural anthropologist (and, we’re proud to say, a GH blog editor) Samuel Oslund takes us on a journey into les Rencontres de l’Atelier Paysan. Les Rencontres is a yearly gathering of farmers from across France, hosted by our French farm hacking heroes  l’Atelier Paysan (roughly The Peasant’s/agrarian Workshop).  The event is a hands on skill sharing celebration, filled with food, good wine, and some fairly strange music.

Beyond throwing memorable shin digs, the farmer-run organization works with agrarians across France designing and developing user based, co-designed tools and implements.  All of their open-source plans are available online and in a beautifully produced manual. Among other things, L’Atelier Paysan is creating a unique business model that fosters collaboration and skill sharing.

It’s cold outside!

Click here for the photo essay.

Illustrating the Solidarity Economy

Original post from the P2P Foundation Blog

We’re very happy to share this fantastic poster, with text by Caroline Woolard and an illustration by Jeff Warren. The poster is also available in Spanish and Mandarin. The following text is extracted from

Screen Shot 2017-01-26 at 10.00.33 AM

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: and

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.”

Text by Caroline Woolard

Support the Patriot Weeder Project: Designing a versatile, effective and affordable open-source cultivation system

Contribute funds to get this important, open-source design collaboration off the ground!

The Patriot Weeder Project aims to meet the demand from small organic farms for affordable, precise, and reliable weeding equipment. Funds from this campaign will be used to build and test prototypes, and produce open source plans for the Patriot Weeder:   An effective, versatile, and cheap weeding system adaptable to a wide range of farm sizes, soil types, and crops.  Most current farming technology is geared toward industrial scale production, leaving small-scale farms to equip their operations with a mix of obsolete, repurposed and invented tools. The ultimate goal is to make open source plans for the Patriot Weeder freely available for farmers and local fabricators on, a hub for open source solutions to support small farmers and the local food movement.  At you can already  find plans for our bicycle-powered thresher ,  fanning mill, and Dehuller/Flour Mill  (made possible by a SARE Grant) .
We embark on the Patriot Weeder Project in the spirit of Farmhack, namely in an attempt to simultaneously support both our emerging local farming sector and a revitalized local manufacturing movement. We can do this by getting the right tools into the hands of farmers at the right price, while at the same time developing a viable, decentralized, open-source, small scale model of local artisanship.

When my brother, an organic farmer, first asked me to build a weeding tool, I imagined he meant improving on the many available designs already in production.  I soon learned there are few to no available designs in the US.  There are old machines, like the Allis Chalmers G (ended in 1955) and the Farmall (built until 1980), but there are fewer of these antiques each year.  There are companies making either replica parts for the old machines or specialized weeding machines for certain applications (eg, tine weeders).  But it is nigh on impossible to find a US-made mechanical weeding system that is adaptable to many crops, farms of different sizes, and different soil conditions.  In Europe such systems exist.  However, they are expensive ($4K-50K) and they use proprietary shapes and sizes that make tool changing, universality, maintenance, and technical support a hassle.

Why was the mechanical weeder discontinued in the US?

Herbicides replaced machines for weeding.  Now public awareness of the problems with herbicides creates an opportunity for small farms to perfect mechanical cultivation (weeding) and lead the way back to a regional food system based on locally produced food and tools, and ecologically sound methods.

What features will a weeder for everyone have?

First, the design and plans will be open source so everyone can use and improve the plans.  Second, the design will be based on regular steel stock sizes, so any shop or farm can build the weeder with simple metal fabrication tools.  Third, the design will scale up for use with large tractors and scale down for use with small tractors, bike powered tractors, and pushed wheel hoes.  Additionally, the tool bar for the weeder will have an option for mounting on the three point hitch of a tractor and being pulled behind, allowing some farms to use one tractor for both plowing and cultivation.

The Patriot Weeder Project can do all this, but can’t do it unless you help.  If we nurture these seedlings of  sustainable agriculture, they will grow into a healthy network from which we’ll harvest the fruits of local food security, nutrition, and community empowerment. Please donate if you can, or share with your friends!

Support the Patriot Weeder Project on GoFundMe
Also seeking farmer input! Contact Lu through the GoFundMe page. 

Three Parts to the Project:

Part 1: A parallelogram row unit (pictured above) which clips on to a horizontal tool bar and carries a gauge wheel and a shank-mounted cultivating shoe or other type of weeder. The parallelogram row unit can be built light for use on a manually pushed cart or culticyle, or it can be built heavy for a large tractor. Many row units can ride on a single tool bar for cultivating more rows at once. Everything is adjustable with a single bolt sliding arrangement, so the row units can be tuned for crop height, cultivation depth, row spacing, etc.

Part 2: Homemade cultivating shoes and spring shanks. ​So that l​ocal shops can make cultivating tools to farmer’s specifications.

Part 3: The tool bar on to which the parallelogram row units mount can be belly mounted (such as a G, Cub, 140), but many farms do not have a tractor with a belly mounted tool bar. In order to make the parallel row units suitable for pulling behind a regular tractor, there needs to be a three point hitch tool bar that steers from behind the tractor. This requires a second person seated behind the cultivator in a “sulky” seat. For many small farms, the cost of a second person is worth it to save the hassle of owning a second tractor (especially an antique).

How will the money be spent?

For the first phase of this project, $1000 dollars will be devoted to materials: $300 for the parallelogram row units, $100 for the cultivating shoes and shanks, and $600 for the three point hitch steering tool bar.  Each of these three tasks will also get $1000 of labor (One week of shop time).   The goal of this half of the first phase is to get several prototypes in to the fields of two or three different farms by the start of the 2017 weed season.  The remaining funds will go toward field testing (with video camera) ($2000), repairs and changes ($1000 shop time), and materials for repairs and changes ($500)
In Fall of 2017 I plan to seek additional funding to complete the documentation of the project and produce open source plans and videos to upload to Farmhack.

Thank you for taking the time to consider this project!

Please help spread the word through friends and networks.

Culticycle rolls through the New York Times

In ‘By the People,’ Designing for the Underserved and Overlooked

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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.

A vacant lot transformed by architects, volunteers and residents into a central community space on Glass Street, in Chattanooga, Tenn. It features murals, a bulletin board and a library.CreditOur Ampersand Photography/Glass House Collective

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.”

A plan for Crest Apartments, a supportive housing project for formerly homeless veterans, designed by Michael Maltzan in the Van Nuys neighborhood of Los Angeles. CreditPhilip Greenberg for The New York Times

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.