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

Link to original article

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.

The Cuban Allis-Chalmers G

Clebber LLC has developed a new tractor based on the design of the old Allis-Chalmers G tractor, released in 1940 and discontinued in 1955 as American farm equipment quickly grew in size and complexity. Many of these old G’s are still alive and well on small American farms, and Clebber has designed this tractor, called Oggun after a deity in the Santorian culture, to serve the purposes of small subsistence and production farmers that comprise nearly all of Cuba’s farming population.

The Oggun design makes some improvements on the old G, releasing all designs as open source and using standard, off-the-shelf components rather than proprietary parts to make the tractor easy to maintain and fix.

Clebber is a partnership of two Americans, and is the first company approved to be founded in Cuba after the lifting of the U.S. -Cuba trade embargo.

Video from NPR story First U.S. Factory OK’d For Cuba Aims to Plow a Path Into the 21st Century

Plans for the AGGROZOUK, an electric French culticycle

From our friends at FarmingSoul, an alternative approach to the pedal-powered tractor (similar to the Culticycle). Below we link to the Instructables page, and also have embedded the final AGGROZOUK plans just finished by the FarmingSoul team and L’Atelier Paysan.
With the electrical assistance the tractor can move at 4-5 mph max in the fields without power needed for the tools, perfects for mechanical weeding.  It should be able to tow a little trailer with 300-400 lbs on it in the fields.


What is the AGGROZOUK?

It is a pedal-powered farming tractor with electric assistance, made by farmers for farmers. It is intended for SMALL AND MEDIUM vegetable farms. It allows for different agricultural tasks that require working a maximum soil depth of 5 cm. It can be used for example for sowing, weeding, hoeing, harvesting open lines, carrying loads, …

Compared to a traditional tractor, the AGGROZOUK gives the farmer ease of use by eliminating the nuisance caused by an internal combustion engine such as engine noise, the smell of exhaust fumes, vibration etc…

The AGGROZOUK is a tool that allows farmers with agricultural holdings of medium size to mechanically perform tasks which are difficult to perform manually and can cause physical strain.

In addition to being a tractor that does not release carbon dioxide, because it does not use fossil fuels, it is an open source vehicle. That is to say, these manufacturing plans are available for everyone free of charge and so everyone is able to make, for themselves, an effective non-polluting working tool, which is easy to manufacture at a cost of less than 1500 Euros.

Plans Bicytractor: Updated design plan for the latest Bicitractor model.

BiciTractor B300 Instructables page (not updated for the latest version, but helpful information)

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

This post was originally posted on the P2P Foundation blog.

photo of Michel Bauwens

Michel Bauwens

19th December 2015


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

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

Watch the video here:

Stay in touch! sign up for the POC21 newsletter (, follow us on Twitter ( or like our Facebook page ( Thanks to Sam Muirhead of

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

Reversing the Mississipi: documentary about the Open Source Ecology project

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

photo of Michel Bauwens

Michel Bauwens

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

Watch the trailer here, commentary from Shareable below:


Anna Bergren Miller writes:

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

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

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

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

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

Hand labor, tractor labor and horse labor: a question of power and scale

Peter & Jelmer with the Melotte

By Jelmer Albada

This article appeared in the Spring 2015 issue of the Small Farmer’s Journal (Vol. 39 No. 2). Thank you to Jelmer Albada and Stephen Leslie for providing access to the text in digital form.

When considering the potential utility of draft animal power on the modern 21st century farm, I like to begin from the perspective of examining those farm models where all the work was done by hand. That hand work was done with a lot of care and precision and with great attention to detail towards the soil and the crops (these methods persist in our times in small scale community gardens and among some subsistence farmers). I have heard about, read about, and also have first-hand experience practicing these cultural gardening techniques involving hand labor and find it useful and inspiring to use these methods as a springboard from which to examine where draft animal power can be most useful and where the hand work can readily be improved upon. My conclusion is that there are many areas where a horse can do a better job in replacing the hand work, and that live horse power will usually not be ”over-kill”, as could be the case by introducing a tractor into a relatively small-scale operation. In this light, the horse could be viewed as a four-legged employee of the farm, always ready to take on the big and small jobs.

What I am saying in other words, is that there are different methods to the goal of an efficient system that stewards the soil, harvests healthy crops, and does not over-tax the human labor. Of course in the first instance, everything depends on the goals of the farmer (in the context of his or her farm setup, soil type, climate, etc.) as to which methods are best suited to achieve the goal. What is the best way to get to your goals in terms of how you go about soil preparation, fertilizing, planting, cultivation, harvesting? Does it make sense to do it all by hand, with draft animals, a tractor, or perhaps a combination of all of these? For a produce grower who makes their livelihood farming with horses, the principle reason to pursue the goal of using draft animal methods to grow crops and to make money is because it works better than working only by hand or with a tractor. What can a draft animal do better than can be done with hand work or a tractor? That should be our main criteria as a horse-powered produce grower. Second to that consideration is one’s love of working with horses (or other type of draft animal) which comes with other criteria and reasons.

The origin of agriculture reaches back at least 12,000 years. We humans have been utilizing draft animal power for 8,000 years on this planet we call home. When comparing that history with percentages of how long the tractor has been “engaged” in the sphere of agriculture we see that the presence of tractors comprises a tiny percentage compared to that of the draft animal. For example, in my native land the Netherlands we have used the tractor for about 70 years now. In the Netherlands agriculture is thought to have been introduced around the year 4,000 B.C. Percentage wise the tractor is present just over 1.16% in our long history as farmers. When it is seen in a bigger context it puts our choices for power systems on our farms into a different perspective. As the current generation of new and young farmers face choices for which will be the optimal sources of traction on their farms I think it helps to give a view of the role of draft animal power from this longer deeper perspective.

Modern mechanized agriculture impresses us with its massive scale and it is easy to forget what a recent development this is in the context of our whole human history. We modern people often lack an interest or curiosity about the way things were done in the past and we are prone to over-estimate the effectiveness and efficiency of our present developments. As a case in point, draft animal power is often regarded as something that is only relevant to the “Developing Countries”, in other words, those whom we consider “under-developed”. And when talking about mechanization, which means replacing hand labor with machinery, this was first achieved by using machinery in conjunction with draft animal power, for instance, treadmill horse-powered stationary threshing machines (also some of these machines had hand powered versions). Later those horse-power machines replacing hand labor were adapted to tractor traction.

Almost every generation is overly confident and claims to be better than the generation before. When one goes deeper into the cause or matter it appears that most of the crucial developments in agriculture have an older history than is commonly assumed and the pivotal technologies were introduced earlier than one would think. A fuller knowledge of the past leads us to a greater respect for the generations that have come before us. We begin to marvel at what the older generations were able to achieve under different circumstances. With this in mind and from this perspective we can shine new light on the development of draft animal power. Some would even say that live draft animal power is not a step backwards—-but a step towards the future.

In the Netherlands, beginning in the early 1600’s the population of the cities started to increase and with that came the demand for more food. Vegetable growing, or gardening suddenly took on a more serious character. This surge in raising produce was largely focused on a hand labor gardening culture—it was a significant agricultural movement with a lot of rapid development of new tools and systems. Different regions of the country also tended to develop their own unique customs in regards to soil management, and this led to the specialization of crop varieties, growing methods and tools. Unique words and phrases reflecting these regional developments became particular to certain districts and reflected the level of craft these farmers brought into their work. A one person farm or garden could be as large as 1.5 hectares, all work being hand labor. These small holdings were most often in the periphery of the cities where the gardeners had a ready base of customers. Many of these mini-farms were small enough that the farmer and his family could do all the work by themselves, while some were a little bigger and could justify hiring workers. The soils types were light clay or sand soils. Many fields would have canals on all sides—the quintessential landscape of the Netherlands. The bigger canals were used for transport, where small hand-powered (pole) boats could navigate. The farmers could use the canals to bring manure to the field and to “ship” the harvested crops away. First the gardeners brought their harvest to the markets in the city, later to auctions. The harvest was done in the field, stacked on the boat and the farmer went by boat to the auction. Some areas would have auctions where the farmers “drove” their small boats through with, for example, the fresh harvested white cabbages from the field beautifully stacked so the buyers could see the product on the boat as it floated by.

When bringing manure to the field, the boats were unloaded with wheel barrows. To mitigate compaction, planks were laid on the ground where the wheel barrow was to be driven. These “barrow planks” or “krui planken” (as called in some regions) were put down on the field to prevent compaction, and to make the work lighter than it would be wheel-barrowing through the mud. After the job was done, the farmer would take up the planks and harrow the spots where they had been laid. The harrows they used were wooden frames with wooden or metal teeth and were pulled by one person. Next, the farmer spread the heaps of manure with a fork. After which, it was time for hand spading the field. The dirt from the first furrow was put in the wheel barrow, and later brought over to the last furrow to fill it in and make the soil even again. To avoid compaction, spading was often done by setting planks (“stap-planken” or translated “step planks”) next to the furrow to walk on as one worked. One plank would be next to the furrow and a second plank lying next to first plank but on the yet to be turned soil. While spading you walk on the first plank and after finishing another furrow, you move that plank behind the second plank and continue on that way.

When this job was done, it was time to harrow the field with the same hand-pulled implement described above. As another safeguard against compaction, the farmer would affix planks to the bottoms of their traditional Dutch wooden shoes. Also when they were seeding or performing other jobs for preparing the soil or working in between the young plants, these wooden shoes with planks attached were used. This method also makes the work lighter as one does not “sink” as much in the loose soil, much like walking on snow with snow shoes. These wooden shoes with planks where also used for other purposes, as when hand planting the potatoes, one makes the wholes with a hand tool, then a person follows dropping the potato in the hole, and the third person walks on wooden shoes with planks to compress the soil over the planting holes—effectively closing the holes while stepping. And again, these wooden shoes with planks were used on a freshly spaded soil, which was carefully stepped over while preparing a seedbed.

Something similar was also done with the use of horses in low swampy pastures, where a working horse easily sinks in the sodden ground. In many places in the Netherlands the water table tends to be quite near the surface. For getting hay in or for any other reason to be in a wet field with a horse and wagon, square planks were attached underneath the back hooves of the horse. These “horse boards” (called “hynsteboerd” or “trippen” in the Frisian language), fitted to be a bit wider and longer than the horse’s hoof, were at first made out of wood (oak or ash) and later also of metal. These planks were attached underneath the back hooves since the rear legs are where the driving power of the horse originates. On the wettest fields all four legs would be “boarded” in this fashion. If one observes a horse walking on freshly turned soil in good tilth it becomes clear that even horses can do damage to the soil. Horses don’t have “golden hooves” and can damage the soil structure badly when used at the wrong time.

I had direct experience of these same spading and planting systems where they were used for planting in a green house. In this case, it was an autumn planting of lambs’ lettuce (mache). The wooden planting boards had squares blocks underneath them, leaving a print (of plant holes) to show where to plant after you lift the board. You begin by laying the first step-board in the plant ready soil, and then put the second board behind the first one. Then the first board is placed after the second one and you put your plants in the marked spaces. The trays with plants are placed on the board and one also kneels on it. Some growers have a rail in the greenhouse where the transplant trays can be put on the rails and moved along as you go along planting and moving the boards, other have paths and you can use to bring the trays to the boards which also limits how much you have to step on the ground. This way of planting works best with two people. When lifting the board, each person lifts on one side, carefully at the same moment lifting the board and placing it over the board they are standing on.

For me the Warmonderhof Biodynamic Agricultural School was very important time in my life as it was a transition from the conventional farming I had been raised in to the organic and biodynamic world, and from the dairy culture of my family’s farm into the vegetable growing culture. This school does a good job at preparing young farmers and giving them a foundation from which to start their own small farm or agricultural business. At the Warmonderhof they teach skills in driving the tractor, hand labor, and also they present classes on working with draft animals. The students get hands on experience working with the horses. For the Netherlands, having draft animal power incorporated in one’s educational curriculum is very unique and it is a rare opportunity to get this kind of hands-on experience.


On a Dutch herb farm where I worked, we also hand spaded the smaller plots. After spading it was time to level the field and to get rid of the first germinated weeds. This job could be done with a hand rake or the harrow—which was my implement of choice. A horse would not have enough space to turn on these small plots. So there I chose to “drag” the harrow myself. I could harrow these small plots faster than I could rake them, and also faster than if I had taken the time to hitch and harness a horse to do it. Then making beds and planting by hand would follow. We marked out the rows, 3 or 4 at a time, all by hand. Before using the marker we would set out a straight rope to establish the first line. For every new bed we would use the rope to keep the rows straight. The field we were planting was 3.7 acres (1.5 hectare). Even today, there are still many farms in Holland that do everything by hand. It is not uncommon to use a spade to turn the soil and follow this with a harrow that is also pulled by hand. This is in part made possible by the light nutrient rich clay soils or sandy soils that are free of stones. I would not necessarily recommend these methods, but describe them here to point out that, given how much human labor alone can accomplish, we should then consider just how much potential a single horse has in small scale farming. There are quite a few people that have a horse standing idle on their farms, which could be of great help to them in the garden. On the herb farm all the spading, cultivating and harvesting on these smaller plots was done with handwork, and the bigger fields were worked with a draft horse.

Later on I had the opportunity to visit a farm in Peru, South America. One time we wanted to seed alfalfa in a stony field of 3.5 acres located in the Andes Mountains. There the field had been irrigated (letting water from a canal over flow the whole field) a day before and two ards (a primitive type of scratch plow) and two mules (each hooked singly) were used to loosen the soil. This operation with the mules took two whole days. After that, the remaining weeds were pulled out by hand. Then we hand seeded the alfalfa. We hand raked the seeds in, with 3 people which took us 8 hours, having rakes that were about one foot in width. In that situation I would not have minded having the harrow to rake in the seeds with a mule.


I also visited another Andean mountain farm, this time at Terrasana Organics in Ecuador, where 25 acres were planted in produce. The setup there was quite flexible. Terrasana Organics has 3 sources of draft power. First, a walk behind tractor, secondly, the horse, and third, the tractor. The tractor is used for the heaviest work, like for example; turning the soil with a spader (on a crank shaft to prevent hard pan) and also the disc harrow. The loosely turned soil would be hand planted and later cultivated by the horse. A cultivator is lighter to pull and the tractor has much more power than necessary to do this work. The horse is much better suited for the cultivation work, and for the growing crops there is less soil compaction. Using the horse to cultivate means more soil pores remain open and this preserves and stimulates an active soil life. To be organic means you have to cultivate more than the conventional farmer who can resort to spraying herbicides. If you have less compaction while cultivating this will enhance the growth of your crops. The other draft source at Terrasana was the walk behind tractor which was used with a cart hitched to it to pick up and bring in the year-round weekly harvest. On this farm, having each draft source working at what it does best works well. Having these different draft sources in place allowed the farm to be more flexible because each power source can be operated at the same time. The tractor operator would prepare the soil, while the horse “driver/operator” was cultivating—all of which gets more work done at once in an efficient way (and within the window when the weather and soil circumstances lend themselves to do the work).

When I visited among Amish farmers, I got acquainted with their methods in using draft animal power. The utilization of these draft-power source keeps their farms smaller and sets a certain pace and scale. It also fosters a lively and interactive sense of community among them. It was quite impressive and valuable for me to experience such a strong and tight-knit community. Compared to dairy farming, growing produce is quite a new thing among the Amish. Given my own background in market gardening there were not a lot of new things that I observed in terms of their growing methods. I was surprised by the extensive use of plastic mulch, since I come from a culture that doesn’t use this at all. We focus on weed control principally through the use two different models of hand hoes (on a long handle) to hoe in the row. I do remember the experience of harvesting with nobody holding the lines of the team, which was hitched to a wagon. One person harvested cabbages and threw them to the person stacking them on the wagon as the horses stood patiently waiting. This was also done in Holland, for example when harvesting cauliflower, when it was time for the horse to step up, the farmer would knock with the harvesting knife on the wagon, and then to stop just say; “Whoa”.

In the agricultural methods that the Amish practice, I observed the use of motorized power mounted on horse drawn machinery. The horses or mules pull the machine and the engine drives the PTO (power-take-off system). With a relatively small engine, modern small tractor machinery can be used behind a team of draft horses or mules. This has allowed those groups who permit it to use tractor machinery behind horses and work with a more modern method (all aspects of Amish life are dictated by a list of written or oral codes of behavior, known as Ordnung, which outline the basics practices of the faith and help to define what it means to be a member of the church community—the Ordnung are not uniform among all the Amish, as they are decided upon by local churches—for instance, some communities allow the use of horse-drawn motorized equipment while others stick with ground-driven implements only).

When the first wave of horse drawn machinery industry was at its peak in the early part of the 20th century, just as some of the Amish manufacturers do now, there were engines used on some of the machinery. For instance, in Europe a mower with an engine mount was developed which enabled the farmer to hitch just one horse on the motorized mower, using the same mowing width that was formerly done with a team (and with less or no clogging of the sickle bar). So it is obvious to see that the second wave of the horse machinery industry (happening right now)—which is fueled mainly by Amish machine shops—continues in these footsteps of incorporating motorized components into horse drawn implements. However, at the same time Amish manufacturers are also developing innovative ground-driven machinery with new lines of smart improved “re-inventions” of the older mid-20th century models. One of these re-inventions is on the new two-bottom plow from White Horse Machinery. The lifting system of this plow (without having a 3-point hitch as on a tractor) is made simple for the driver; all one has to do to lift the plow is pull on a rope. This activates a mechanism that can lift and lower the plow in and out of transport position, all of which makes plow very light, easy and safe to operate, similar to the old dump rakes, where you just step on a peddle and the machine goes in and out of engagement. I know I would enjoy having such a mechanism on a riding plow or riding cultivator. We can be sure that developments like these will continue.

Whatever the power source for traction on the farm, with small scale vegetable production there is always a lot of handwork involved. How much percentage of the work could or should be hand work? Even on small scale operations that use tractors, and on horse-powered farms, hand work is usually a very big percentage when you think of weeding, harvesting and packaging. In terms of making our small-scale produce farms as efficient as possible, the question we should be asking ourselves is; which parts of this (hand) work does it make sense to replace the human labor with a greater power source—whether it be by draft animal or tractor, or some combination of the two? As we have seen in these few examples I have given there are many ways to achieve the same goal. When it comes to growing produce, I want to look at the various means there are to get to the desired end of an efficient and profitable farm in the most resilient and replicable way.

To me working with horses signifies the relationships of working and being together with the living things around us, which I have come to value deeply. Like when one can see the soil, plant and animals not just for their exterior shells, but with a vision that penetrates surface appearances and perceives some aspects of the inner workings of things and how everything that lives is connected. By working with horses and understanding what that takes I have become more aware of seeing inside the horse and the inner connection that exists between me and the horse. In order for it to really work, the relationship between human and horse cannot remain superficial. In a certain similar way one can have a relationship with the soil, plants and other animal life of the farm. Humans focus a lot on humans. I like machinery and am intrigued by how it works, but working with a horse shifts me over to another pace and touches or moves me to be more aware of my surroundings and with what I’m doing and with what I want to be doing. I don’t know how to put it into words any better than that…but it feels like a revelation.


Culticycle at the DAP Field Days: Cross-pollination and appropriate technology in farming systems

Horse People and Bike People
Culticycle enthusiasts and teamsters convened at the Draft Animal Powered Field Days in September, hosted by the Draft Animal Power Network to discuss the intersection of human and draft powered farming systems and tools. What type and amount of power is needed for different tools or tasks on the farm, and how can draft or human-powered systems supplant fossil fuel-powered ones? These questions embody the first design principle of the Farm Hack community, “Biology before steel and diesel.”
Most equipment manufacturers stopped building tools for horse and oxen farming around the middle of the 1900s. Farmers who wish to continue farming with draft animals innovate and invent tools appropriate for their purposes. It’s the classic narrative that defines the farm hack community: we want tools suited to ecological, human-scale agriculture, not industrial agribusiness. Local manufacture and on-farm research and development allow farmers to equip themselves with tools for their specific working environment and set of circumstances. 
This design philosophy was brought to bear at the Draft Animal Power Field Days where tools cross-pollinated during guided brainstorming sessions. The new front end for the culticycle is hacked from a lawn tractor front end. The quick hitch system which Tim and Dorn are currently adapting for use on the Culticycle is an idea borrowed from the Pioneer Homsteader, a draft-powered multi-tool.  Old standby tool features can also be improved upon using a new component to perform a familiar function – for example, in recent Culticycle development conversations, the Farm Hack community is looking to handpowered hydraulics and auto trunk struts as alternatives for more ergonomic lifting of heavy, belly-mounted tools.
Towards an Appropriately-Powered Farming Future
 In the interest of minimizing our reliance on fossil fuels and developing more flexible and efficient farming systems, identifying what the actual appropriate power need for a job is allows us to develop and use the right power source – i.e. a human, a bicycle, a horse.
Culticycle inventor, Tim Cooke, often makes the point that we just don’t know how much horsepower cultivating takes because we default to using the smallest tractor on the farm, which still might be vastly overpowered for the task. This insight connects to a broader principle galvanizing Farm Hackers; that innovation often stems from looking critically at the way things are and the way they are always done, and synthesizing from a rich repetoire of knowledge new and old to figure out how to do things better. 
More documentation updates to come soon on the Culticycle tool page.
More Farm Hack events on the Events Calendar