Gathering for Open Ag Technology!

Hello Farm Hack community!

You are invited to apply for GOAT: Gathering for Open Agricultural Technology hosted  at the Omega Institute  in New York state from  May 7th to May 9th, 2018.

They are  looking for people who are actively engaged in open hardware and software for agriculture as developers, users, inventors, tinkerers and thinkers who can contribute to growing the community and movement. This event is for people working in all different forms of ag tech, from farmers/DIYers to academic research and industrial R&D.

They are capped at 50 attendees for this first conference, so we are accepting applications to attend.

Applications are open until March 20th, so if you are interested, please apply!

The website with more information is here:

The application form is here:


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.

Groups gearing up with data help

Farmers will soon have better access and control of their data as well as seamless sharing of information between hardware and software systems. That’s thanks to the work of four groups that are improving farmers’ data control, privacy and interoperability.

That progress has been a long time coming, says Indiana farmer Aaron Ault. In addition to full-time farming, he’s a senior computer research engineer at Purdue University, where he leads the Open Ag Data Alliance.

Compared to other industries, agriculture has lagged in having open-source software that’s freely available – and that’s held back practical uses on the farm, Ault says.

“If you look at the agriculture space, that’s one thing that’s conspicuously absent,” he says. “If you want to do something with data – write a piece of software that interacts with your tractor or with the scale that you weigh your livestock on, or something like that – there is no freely available piece of open-source software, so that you don’t have to start from scratch. That severely limits the innovation potential within agriculture.”

Ault’s group is among the four key organizations with projects geared to help farmers transition to data-driven agriculture:

AgGateway is working on common meanings, processes and formats for farmers’ data across the industry. Several precision ag projects are under way, including the new ADAPT software toolkit that enables interoperability among different software and hardware applications.

American Farm Bureau Federation has developed a way for vendors to be transparent about how they use farmers’ data. AFBF worked with other farm groups to create the Ag Data Transparency Evaluator, which helps farmers understand how their data will be used when they adopt precision ag technologies. Providers answer 10 questions that help farmers wade through detailed privacy and end-user agreements.

Agricultural Data Coalition focuses on how farmers can safely store and share their data. It formed last spring to help farmers control and manage electronic data by using a neutral, centralized repository from which farmers could, over time, push data to multiple sites.

Open Ag Data Alliance is improving how data can be securely moved among different parties. OADA formed in early 2014 to help the industry get data flowing automatically, so farmers can reap the benefits of data-driven decisions and stop wrangling with incompatible systems. OADA is building an open-source framework that will enable hardware and software systems to communicate automatically through cloud solutions.

Here are more details on the groups and their missions:


AgGateway is a nonprofit consortium of more than 200 businesses collaborating to promote,
enable and expand e-business in agriculture.

It has several connectivity projects underway, but AgGateway’s new ADAPT software toolkit is generating the most excitement. Citing many benefits, a dozen U.S. grower organizations are calling on Farm Management Information System firms to integrate the ADAPT framework into their systems.

With that integration into products, farmers will be able to manage data across different precision agriculture systems – regardless of the manufacturer.

“Farmers may never even hear the name ADAPT, but suddenly they’ll realize that their equipment can talk to each other, and that it’s working and that they have gotten over this really significant technological hurdle,” says Susan Ruland, AgGateway communication director.

Companies committed to using ADAPT and releasing plug-ins for many proprietary data formats include Agco, Ag Leader Technology, Claas, CNH Industrial, Deere & Co., Praxidyn, Raven Industries, Topcon Precision Agriculture and Trimble Navigation.

ADAPT stands for agricultural data application programming toolkit.

It’s the result of more than two years of painstaking work by the AgGateway teams and “a really fabulous collaborative effort of companies,” Ruland says. “I think we’re going to start to see a cascading effect of more and more companies using the ADAPT toolkit and making things easier for growers.”

Ensuring seamless transfer of information is one of the most revolutionary areas that agriculture could be working on right now, she says.

For more information, visit

American Farm Bureau Federation

The Ag Data Transparency Evaluator was launched last spring, two years after a coalition of farmer-led industry organizations and numerous agriculture technology providers identified key areas of concern for producers.

About four years ago, farmers had begun calling Farm Bureau with questions about data ownership and privacy. Many were not comfortable with contracts that companies wanted them to sign. The companies wanted the farmers to give them all their data. Farmers wanted to know what would happen to their data.

Nine state Farm Bureaus, mostly in the Midwest, joined AFBF in meeting with about eight major agribusinesses in 2013. That led to the development of 10 questions that a farmer ought to ask whomever he’s giving his data, says Mary Kay Thatcher, senior director of congressional relations for American Farm Bureau.

Further work led to grassroots policy recommendations on data privacy, transparency and portability. A principles document was written.

The result is the Ag Data Transparency Evaluator, a farmer-driven initiative that is not controlled by the agriculture technology providers whose products are reviewed.

“The idea was to drive companies to write policies that are more transparent,” Thatcher says.

The tool helps farmers figure out exactly where to look in a contract for the answers they’re seeking, using hyperlinks to pertinent sections.

“It’s free to farmers,” Thatcher says. “You can get on there and in a short time, read through and figure out what you want to know.”

Companies pay to go through the process, and a questionnaire is sent to them electronically. They answer it and it’s sent back with the payment. A third-party administrator reviews the information and goes back and forth with the companies to ensure clarity and transparency.

So far, eight companies that have gone through the Transparency Evaluator are approved for listing on the website,

Agricultural Data Coalition

The Agricultural Data Coalition is developing a farmer-controlled data repository. It’s a privacy-ensured way for farmers to manage access to their farm data, services and products, as well as the markets.

“Our niche is the storage, the data bucket, the centralization of that data, and storing of that data over time while staying out of the way of the innovation or services tier,” says Matt Bechdol, interim executive director.

He likens the repository to a safe deposit box with assets that farmers control. “It’s a safe, secure, neutral place where the growers are in charge of that access,” he says.

A pilot project to see what farmers need and what a central place would be like is underway with growers, service providers and researchers.

Bechdol says ADC’s strength comes from its diverse membership. Founding members include Agco, Agri-AFCV, CNH Industrial, Crop IMS, Raven Industries, Topcon Precision Agriculture, American Farm Bureau Federation, the Ice Miller law firm, Iowa AgState, University of Nebraska-Lincoln and other land-grant universities: Mississippi State, Ohio State, Auburn and Purdue.

“We’ve got an advisory board that’s made up of growers from all walks of life across the country,” Bechdol says.

Learn more at

Open Ag Data Alliance

At Purdue University, OADA unites members the world over, from tractor manufacturers to crop nutrition companies to farmers. The community includes commercial vendors, academics and developers in the emerging ag data market.

Recently, Valley Irrigation was the first commercial organization in the OADA system whose cloud-based platform was OADA-conformant.

OADA is working closely with many current partners to make advances happen faster for farmers, while also protecting privacy. Main sponsors are CNH, WinField and The Climate Corp. The group is urging that more commercial systems conform to OADA standards, Ault says.

On his crop and beef farm in north-central Indiana, Ault has lived through the frustrations that many farmers experience with incompatible systems.

“Traditionally, we’ve had serious problems with interoperability,” Ault says. “If you talk to farmers on the ground, a lot of them would say that is the thing that they beat their head against the wall over. They have a piece of software that they want to use and then have some new controller they want to use, and it doesn’t work with their machine – or it might cost $5,000 for some conversion kit to make it work with their machine.

“It’s when you want to start using the data that interoperability becomes a problem, because no single manufacturer makes all of the things that work on my farm,” Ault says.

As farmers make data a critical part of their management routine, he says, they need systems that can incorporate data from a multitude of sources.

OADA came about to help speed along a sort of ag-based Internet – a huge global data sharing paradigm where farmers control data they generate, and where they can have software from five different vendors and machines from three, four, five different companies – and it all just happens to work together, Ault says.

“That’s what OADA is trying to build right now.” He says. “It’s essentially paralleling how the Internet was built.”

The Open Ag Data Alliance is about making the farmer’s data available to the software and to the applications on the phone in his pocket, so that he can make decisions in the now, when the questions come up, Ault says.

Learn more at

Groups gearing up with data help.

Source: Groups gearing up with data help

Farm Hack Manchester: Report Back and Film

Farm Hack Manchester from Squirrel Nation on Vimeo.



Source: Farm Hack – Day 1

Farm Hack  They came, they collaborated and they all helped farmers for the day.  In spite of the rain, it was great to see so many folk for Day 1 of FARM HACK on the weekend. Thanks to the incredible collective creativity and wisdom of the crowd, three teams, Team Mulch, The Sniffers and The Family of vegetables, set about designing three solutions to help farmers. Based on the the Farm Hack design principles, we ran four sprints or mini sessions to:

  • identify the farmers’ problems and what success would like like to the farmers
  • map out how the problems are currently solved
  • map out the pain points and come up with ideas to overcome them
  • design and pitch simple solutions

The slides from Day 1, including the schedule, are here. The event was hosted and run by  Erinma, Caroline and Franco from Squirrel Nation with Paulo from Aquaponics Lab and Anne from Manchester Science Partnerships. Farm Hack

Team Mulch – innovate wheel hoes to help lay down black plastic to save time, stop back pain and see off weeds.Farm HackThe Sniffers  – designed an ammonia sensor to help keep the fish healthy and save time for Aquaponics farmers. Farm HackTeam Family of Vegetables – designed an app to coordinate orders and create a community around crop harvesting. Farm Hack Chris & Dave from Team MulchEveryone pitched their solutions at the end of the day before a cold yorkshire beer.

Next steps

Thanks to a small grant from The University of Manchester, we have a shared pot of £200 to allocate across the teams to create help create their prototypes. But of course we are encouraging teams to be resourceful.

Next week, the teams head to FabLab Manchester to fabricate their designs. We’re encouraging the teams to document their tools and their ‘how to’ guides on the Farm Hack website. Check out existing tools here. Plus there will be a film by Franco documenting the two days of Farm Hacking.   Next stop FabLab!

Huge thank you to Anne Dornan at Manchester Science Partnerships, Lauren at CityLabs reception, our two fabulous Manchester Science Festival volunteers, Colin & Karina and to Amy from 4Lunch for the amazing food and cake. Farm Hack


Community as Process Series, Installment 3 – Documentation Research Guide Update

In past posts we’ve introduced our plans to develop a how-to guide to producing documentation of farm tools. Although much discussion in the Farm Hack forums is already about documentation, we don’t often talk as a community about the nitty gritty and lived experience of being a documenter. Talking to community members about their approaches, methods, and challenges is the starting point for articulating the Farm Hack methodology of documentation.

As part of the guide’s iterative development, we’ll be posting summaries of info-gathering conversations in the coming weeks. This post is a summary of conversation with Tim Cooke.

Farm Hack Documentation Guide: Research Conversations- Tim Cooke, 1/20/16                                 

Tim has been a Farm Hack community member for over three years. During that time, and for years before he first got involved with Farm Hack, he has been working on a tool called the Culticycle, “A pedal powered tractor for cultivation and seeding, built from readily available lawn tractor, ATV, and bicycle parts.” I met with Tim in person to discuss his approach to documentation. 

The story of the Culticycle and its evolution spans the course of Tim’s entire life. This shows something important, that I’ll be eager to explore further with other interviewees- just how deeply personal tool design+development can be. Even as documentation methods become standardized, they still have to accommodate and enrich the preferences and idiosyncracies of the tool creator.

Origins of the Culticycle

In 1990 Tim was a crew leader at a farm in Vermont. He experienced the discontents of working with tractors. The 7-year-old son of the owner was wondering what horsepower meant and after some discussion the two agreed that they could probably pull a basket weeder by themselves, since it looked like it didn’t even need a tractor to pull it. The idea stuck with Tim. 18 years later he made the first Culticycle build; in the intervening years Tim kept thinking about the potential of human-powered tools. As shown by the diagram below, which illustrates the evolution of the Culticycle, four foundational “roots” contributed to the tool concept during these years. Tim kept getting injured from heavy tractor use; he tinkered with the human-powered Valley Oak Wheel Hoe, making wider and wider implements for it. Finally, he encountered documentation of a tool, the Flex-tine cultivator, that contributed to Tim’s own designs. Both the Flex-tine cultivator and its documentation were inspirations.

Documentation of v. 1-8 (sketches)
Growing up in an old farmhouse, Tim learned carpentry at an early age. He’d had years of experience sketching build designs by the time he started iterating on the Culticycle. Between 2008 and 2012 he relied mainly on sketches to record and share his thinking, supplementing them with a few photographs. (The sketches still exist in hard copy in Tim’s house.)

Documentation of v. 9 onwards (photo and video)

Someone from MOFGA saw a photo of the Culticycle on Bikes not Bombs’ site and was taken by it. He contacted Tim and suggested that Tim share his work on the Culticycle with Farm Hack.

Tim emphasizes that the quality and specificity of the photo helped account for this connection. The detail in it is revealing: the photographer moved with the machine so that the soil would be captured in motion slipping over the shovels, a much more appealing shot than a still photo.

The most useful resources Tim has drawn on in recent years are documentation produced by Allen Dong, the creator of the Flex-tine cultivator linked to above, and access to the Web, which he uses to search for prices of parts. It’s a fundamental part of Tim’s iterative design process.

The Culticycle’s page on Farm Hack provides a flavor of the sort of documentation Tim now produces, which includes pictures (that Tim takes) and video (that his son shoots). Basic point-and-shoot cameras suffice. He tries to document every part and every step in the build process with photographs.

Tim continues to weigh different options for combining photographs with text. Combining the two makes documentation richer than if it were to consist of either images or text alone. There are two relevant sets of questions:

  1. How, technically, to produce the desired output? i.e., what medium or program best suits Tim’s purpose- and, *just as importantly,* doesn’t present an unduly steep learning curve?
  2. How, conceptually, to produce the right pairings of images and text so as to be most accessible and useful for users?

Tim’s intuition, along with some Web browsing, at first led him to use Microsoft Paint to annotate photographs by inserting text boxes onto them. At a certain point he transitioned to a text-heavier approach that involves creating text documents with embedded photographs.



Farm Hack Newsletter: Welcome to the shiny new Farm Hack tool library!

Shiny New Tool Library at farm!

After receiving a SARE grant in partnership with UVM this past spring to improve functionality of our Tool documentation platform, this summer has been a big web development push for Farm Hack.  We have just launched a re-design of the 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 Library 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

Farm Hack @ Ruskin Mill Video (Gloucestershire, UK)

New Farm Hack Network Calendar

The new Calendar page integrates Farm Hack events as well as other events hosted by other  the Northeast Food Knowledge Ecosystem (NEFKE) coalition.

Event Report: Culticycle @ the Draft Animal Powered Field Days

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…..keep reading on the Farm Hack Blog

Get More Involved with Farm Hack

We are always looking for developers to join in on current and future projects. We meet weekly through Google Hangout on Thursday evenings. Contact if you want to join the call.

There are heaps of useful tools out in the world that don’t exist on farm hack! Know some tools or some inventive farmers? Reach out to help them document! Then follow the steps on the Add a Tool page.

Event Organizers
Do you want to host a Farm Hack in your area? It’s not so hard with some help from local partners, farmers and Farm Hack’s Event Organizing wiki.

On the Blog:

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

Peter & Jelmer with the Melotte

Leave a reply

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…Keep reading on the Farm Hack blog

Report from the field: Pedal Power Farm Hack in Boston

This past weekend, 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.

Culticycle video

First, a quick introduction of our weekend hosts. Metro Pedal Power is a pedal-powered hauling business in the Boston area, replacing box trucks with custom-built freight trikes to haul last-mile inter-city freight such as compost, recycling and CSA shares. They hope to reduce urban congestion and traffic, improve human wellbeing, and encourage others to see the appropriateness of pedal power in the urban environment. Wenzday and Eric from MPP generously hosted the build event at their fully outfitted shop in Somerville, without which the event would have been wholly impossible and a lot less comfortable. Many thanks to them and the rest of their team for hosting, convening and offering their fabrication skills.

The goal of the pedal power hack was several fold. We wanted to showcase an already built culticycle for those who had never laid eyes on it before, and bring minds together to brainstorm improvements as Tim moves forward in his development of the tool. Several attendees also were in the process of building their own culticycle, or had already done so, so we additionally hoped to build some replacement components and share knowledge of the build process that we could take home with us.

Additionally, we wanted to document the tool more thoroughly, specifically in CAD design format to be shared freely on the Farm Hack Tools platform. We also wanted to use this opportunity to shoot video and take photos to capture the Farm Hack collaborative design and build process as it was happening.

With those goals in mind, we set forth Saturday morning by working together to assemble a pre-built culticycle, so that everyone would have a chance to look over the design and get a sense of how the pieces fit together. We then split into several teams. Team 1 started from scratch with steel stock, cutting and grinding the structural pieces of the chassis – using Tim’s documentation to guide their effort but also improving upon the design as they went. Team 2 worked on “Culti 2,” a culticycle which was about halfway completed but still needed steering linkages and the parallel lift which raises and lowers the tools. Team 3 began to rebuild the “belly mount,” or toolbar, which is attached underneath the culticycle and which the weed killing tools are clamped to. This new and improved belly mount will be delivered to Hawthorne Valley Farm and installed on their culticycle, replacing the older, less robust model which was a part of the earlier culticycle design iteration.

For a day and a half, the shop buzzed with activity as folks dropped in to observe the process or get their hands dirty cutting, grinding, and welding. Lu Yoder brought along his pedal powered grain grinder, grinding wheat and making bread on Saturday and grinding corn for his brother Chris’s CSA Sunday. By midday Sunday, we had made significant progress on both the second and third culticycles, finished a pile of DIY, cheaply made star hoes, nearly completed the belly mount, and made many small modifications and improvements to the Culticycle.

Farm Hack supports an approach to tool design and innovation that is built on principles of resilience. Instead of the top-down approach to tool development put forward by corporate agribusiness, the event this weekend prioritized local manufacturing, easily repairable and modifiable tool design, and collaborative and iterative research and development. For the better part of the last decade, Tim Cook has spent countless hours in his basement shop designing, tinkering, and building this machine from scratch. This is a familiar model: an isolated innovator who is the focused, driving force behind a revolutionary tool design. The community of support which showed up this weekend to pitch in, cut, weld, prototype, and offer their design feedback and support are a vital part of this process of resilient design.

As we concluded the weekend-long build sprint, the conversation turned to next steps for the Culticycle and for Farm Hack, both community-driven efforts to re-imagine the landscape of our collective farming future. Keep an eye out for upcoming opportunities to be involved with both, including another eastern Massachusetts culticycle build TBA, a Farm Hack event at the Draft Animal Power Field Days in Cummington, MA this September, and a late Fall event at Lu Yoder’s place. And if you’re inspired by this Massachusetts flurry of activity, keep in mind that Farm Hack is made up of the collective efforts and contributions of all of us. If you would like to organize an event in your community but you’re not quite sure how to do it, check out the helpful event organizing tool on the site. Still have some questions? Shoot us an email at farmhackopen [at] gmail [dot] com

Farm Hack featured on New York Times Dot Earth Blog

Farm Hack attended the Young Farmers Conference at the Stone Barns Center for Food and Agriculture in Tarrytown, NY this past weekend. One of the exciting outcomes of the conference was this piece by Andrew Revkin at the New York Times. It highlights the efforts of Farm Hack and Slow Tools to support the development of open source tools for resilient agriculture.

The Slow Tools Summit is an annual gathering of farmers, engineers, and makers. This year the group came together the day after the Young Farmer’s Conference to brainstorm solutions to problems faced by farmers. The group was led by Adam Lemieux, from Johnny’s Selected Seeds, and Jack Algiere of the Stone Barns Center. Farm Hack is looking forward to developing these partnerships.

Improve by collaboration.
Grow by participation.

Farm Hack Mendocino: Fuel Farming for the 21st Century, this weekend, December 6 and 7

This weekend in Willits, Mendocino County, CA, a group of farmers, fuel alcohol enthusiasts, and organizations is sponsoring Farm Hack Mendocino: Grange, Grassroots, and Greenhorns, Fuel Farming for the 21st Century. The event will bring together stakeholders who envision and are active in building regional, sustainable fuel alcohol production systems in Northern CA. The two day event will include speakers covering a range of topics in regional biofuel production, mechanical demonstrations, tours of the historic Ridgewood Ranch still and the Grange Farm School, panel discussions, and networking opportunities for local businesses, nonprofits, and individuals.

Keynote speakers are Cody Bartholomew, Manager of Golden Rule Ranch, Ruth King, Manager of the Grange Farm School, John Wick, Marin Carbon Project, and Jerome Carman, Redwood Coast Energy Authority. The event will begin on Saturday morning at the Little Lake Grange (291 School St, Willits) and will continue in the afternoon at the Ridgewood Ranch and Grange Farm School (16200 N Hwy 101, Willits). This two day event will highlight the work of the Mendocino Alcohol Fuel Group, a group of home distillers who use their locally produced fuel to power everything from small agricultural tools to cars, trucks, and tractors. Farm Hack Mendocino is an opportunity to gather a diverse group of stakeholders working to explore the possibilities of ethanol production and use in the region.

In a region that produces wine grapes as an export crop, and devotes the majority of farmland to irrigated crops–exploring ‘value added’ uses for the pressed grapes in the post-production waste stream can provide greater regional resiliency and fuel sovereignty. Farm Hack Mendocino will explore the historic precedent, the present climate, and the future possibilities for producing fuel from a wide array of feedstocks in Northern CA.

This event is free and open to the public. Lunches are provided, and donations are gladly accepted. Please RSVP at the Farm Hack Mendocino event page at

A full schedule for the event is available here. Please direct any questions to Daniel Grover, Farm Hack Network Facilitator,, (703)965-7636 or Ruth King, Mendocino Organizer,, (860)670-7146.