FarmHack: DIY Farmer Collaboration

I have a weird fascination with inventions, and often wonder what the beginning of something was. What led to someone coming up with stained glass? Or what about an alarm clock? These are simple creations that pale in comparison with even more complex items that we also use without much thought…dishwashers? Copy machines? This computer? Maybe I should have pursued a career in engineering, but more likely my preoccupation with these inventions is due to the fact that I have little understanding of them. It seems that that disconnect between the things we use and depend on and how they function leads to a pretty common level of frustration. The rise in DIY projects and interest that we are seeing these days surely has to do with that frustration leading to a push for self-reliance.

I think it also has to do with a larger disconnect, one that has moved us away from community minded information sharing and collaboration. We have less and less opportunity in this modern world to wave down a neighbor with a question about chicken husbandry or how to fix a broken well pump. Instead, we jump on the Internet and Google the answer, hoping that the source we choose to trust is reputable and fact-based. The National Young Farmers’ Coalition (NYFC) has launched a project for the today’s sustainable farming community that brings the best of both worlds together. FarmHack taps the same age-old premise of learning directly from others in a similar community while creating innovative open source sharing technologies to reach small farmers around the globe.

The main premise is to learn from each other, specifically about the tools of the trade, done via an online blog, forum, events, and even the new FarmHack Tools Wiki. The reasoning is that, “Mainstream agricultural research and development tries to solve farmers’ problems with top-down, chemical and energy-intensive inventions. FarmHack seeks to solve problems by helping our community of farmers to be better inventors, developing tools that fit the scale and their ethics of our sustainable family farms.”

Co-Founder of FarmHack, Severine von Tscharner Flemming (and Founder of The Greenhorns), says that the idea “grew out of a frustration of using 1940’s tractors that were busted” and then finding that the new technology available to fix or replace them was based on chemical and energy dependent industries, not ecological stewardship. “FarmHack is a core complement to reclaiming a more bio-intensive, resilient, prosperous, locally oriented, appropriate scale to farming,” she says, and it is driven by the needs of farmers but built by reciprocal relationships among people with various applicable skill sets. That means, not only farmers but hackers, makers, engineers, even robot builders; all becoming allies in developing opportunities to monetize ideas, create commerce, and to share blueprints for the future.

This Tools Repository on the newly revamped website features clear descriptions, plans and instruction on creating or fixing a variety of implements. It can be utilized and contributed to by anyone who may have more information about any particular item. Although it is still in Beta mode, this development offers tons of potential in assisting folks trying to fix, make or find certain farm tools and innovations. What started with solar tractors moved into wool and chicken processing equipment, then led to securing a grant that will create technology for text messages to be sent when your greenhouse gets too hot. One of the newest inventions shared a recent FarmHack event was a bike powered root washer.

Mainly, though, the key issue to what NYFC and FarmHack are working towards is that a new generation of farmers step up to the plate. It is essential that we have capable, viable, passionate people growing our food who in turn, encapsulate those very same traits into what we eat. There are so many hurdles in the way, from funding to policy to access, that make these kind of collaborative sharing networks that much more important as we look ahead. In essence, as Severine points out, FarmHack “is also a cultural project of re-evaluating what is valuable…to rebuild our economy.”