Farm Hack

Subscribe to Farm Hack feed
A Community for Open Source Farm Innovation
Updated: 3 days 8 hours ago

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

Tue, 04/04/2017 - 15:27
Original post at Commons Transition On: Mar 17 Categories: , , No Comments

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What are the current project developments?

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

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

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

What is your business model?

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

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

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

What is your relationship with other farmer or social movements?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Gathering for Open Science Hardware 2017

Sun, 03/26/2017 - 16:41

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

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

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

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

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

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

From a manifesto to a roadmap

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

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

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

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

 

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

Wed, 03/22/2017 - 21:46
Farm Hack, in partnership with Chris Callahan from UVM and with funding from USDA NE-SARE have recently completed an overhaul of their tool pages.  This work was part of a project aimed at delivering an improved collective innovation, distribution & education, and impact assessment platform for sustainable farm and food innovations such as those accomplished in SARE projects.Shiny New Tool Library at Farmhack.org
As we approach the completion of our SARE project implementation, we have conducted surveys of past SARE PI’s and have just launched a re-designed Tools section of the website. The new version is intended to make both documenting tools and finding the tool you are looking for easier and more effective.

New Tool Section Features:

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

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

Farm Hack Tools Section Webinars

Monday, March 27 11 AM – 12 PM Eastern (DST)
Web: https://global.gotomeeting.com/join/894400997
Phone: Dial +1 (571) 317-3122, Access Code: 894-400-997

Wednesday, March 29, 12 – 1 PM Eastern (DST)
Web: https://global.gotomeeting.com/join/978999525
Phone: Dial +1 (408) 650-3123, Access Code: 978-999-525

Happy Hacking,

Chris Callahan
UVM Extension Ag Engineering & SARE Project Leader

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

Fri, 03/10/2017 - 01:40

As you might remember, Farm Hack in partnership with Chris Callahan, Agricultural Engineer at University of Vermont, received a SARE grant in summer of 2015 to improve the Farm Hack platform for all users, and specifically for the documentation of SARE-funded tool ideas. Hundreds of really interesting design ideas are funded and documented on the SARE (Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education) website each year, but the lengthy and somewhat hard to navigate pdf database does not facilitate sharing of designs very easily. That’s where the Farm Hack platform came in!

To upgrade the Farm Hack website, we surveyed SARE principal investigators as well as Farm Hack users to glean insight into what features we should improve to add on. In partnership with our software engineer partners we focused on making our growing tool database more easily searchable, and put a lot of work into the tool documentation page to make the process easier and more accessible, and make the resulting tool page more searchable and useful to community members. We also added an “ask an admin” pop up feature to encourage questions and feedback.

We are very excited about this next iteration of the Farm Hack platform, and hope it helps move our community towards further sharing and collaboration of useful, well-designed open source farm technology and tools.

We want your two cents on the site updates! Feel free to leave a comment on this blog post to start the conversation.

 

commons based technology: a glimpse inside l`atelier paysan

Thu, 02/09/2017 - 23:18

Original post from the irresistible fleet of bicycles 

January 6, 2017 by

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

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

It’s cold outside!

Click here for the photo essay.

Illustrating the Solidarity Economy

Thu, 01/26/2017 - 15:02

Original post from the P2P Foundation Blog

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

What practices and places can we rely on and strengthen in the years to come?

What might be called an “alternative” economy in the United States is known globally as the solidarity economy. The solidarity economy identifies and unites grassroots practices like lending circles, credit unions, worker cooperatives, community safety initiatives, community media stations, and community land trusts to form a powerful base of political power. The concept emerged in the global South (as economia solidária*) and is now gaining support in the United States under many names, including the community economy, the peace economy, the workers’ economy, the social economy, the new economy, the circular economy, the regenerative economy, the local economy, and the cooperative economy.

As many people finally wake up to the reality that white supremacy threatens public health on a daily basis, a wide range of people are educating themselves, assertively dismantling structures of oppression in organizations, and learning to follow the lead of black and brown artists and organizers who have been under siege for centuries and who have always been leaders in the solidarity economy. For more information about the solidarity economy, please visit: http://www.communityeconomies.org/Home and http://solidaritynyc.org

Marco Arruda of the Brazilian Solidarity Economy Network stated at the World Social Forum in 2004: “A solidarity economy does not arise from thinkers or ideas; it is the outcome of the concrete historical struggle of the human being to live and to develop him/herself as an individual and a collective… innovative practices at the micro level can only be viable and structurally effective for social change if they interweave with one another to form always-broader collaborative networks and solidarity chains of production-finance-distribution-consumption-education-communication.”

Text by Caroline Woolard

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

Thu, 01/05/2017 - 17:30

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 Farmhack.org, a hub for open source solutions to support small farmers and the local food movement.  At Farmhack.org 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.

Groups gearing up with data help

Thu, 12/08/2016 - 02:32

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

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 adaptframework.org.

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, fb.org/agdatatransparent.

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 agdatacoalition.org.

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 openag.io.

Groups gearing up with data help.

Source: Groups gearing up with data help

Culticycle rolls through the New York Times

Tue, 10/04/2016 - 01:29
In ‘By the People,’ Designing for the Underserved and Overlooked

Link to original article

A pedal-powered tractor that evolved from crowd-sourced tinkering is part of “By the People,” opening Friday at the Cooper Hewitt. CreditPhilip Greenberg for The New York Times

A few years ago, while Chattanooga, Tenn., made headlines for revitalizing its downtown, residents, mostly African-Americans, living just a few miles away in the Glass Farms neighborhood, were struggling to cope with years of disinvestment and decline. Storefronts were empty, buildings abandoned. Crime was through the roof.

A tiny, local nonprofit, Glass House Collective, then formed, enlisting neighbors and designers. Public workshops were held. Low-cost plans were devised for new sidewalks, bus shelters, streetlights and green spaces along the neighborhood’s main drag, Glass Street. A vacant lot became a pop-up community center. Artisans moved in to train young residents to make furniture and other things. The steps were small, tactical, targeted. Crime fell.

“By the People: Designing a Better America,” opening on Friday at the Smithsonian’s Cooper Hewitt, taps into a rich vein of entrepreneurial beneficence. It is about the intersection of poverty, prosperity, innovation and design, and it couldn’t be timelier. If stories like the one from Chattanooga unavoidably turn out to be more complicated than any museum display can make clear, the spotlight is at least pointed in the right direction.

Photo

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.

“By the People” runs through Feb. 26 at the Cooper Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Museum, 2 East 91st Street, Manhattan; 212-849-2950; cooperhewitt.org.

Farm Hack @ the Smithsonian Cooper Hewitt Design Museum

Wed, 09/21/2016 - 03:05

Farm Hack is quite pleased to be a part of a new exhibit opening at the Cooper Hewitt Smithsonian Design Museum this Fall. The exhibit will feature the Culticycle, outfitted with a custom 3D-printed Jang seeder and FarmOS tablet.  

Original post on www.cooperhewit.org:

Cooper Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Museum will present “By the People: Designing a Better America,” the third exhibition in its series on socially responsible design, from Sept. 30 through Feb. 26, 2017.

The first exhibition in the series to focus on conditions in the U.S. and its bordering countries, “By the People” will explore the challenges faced by urban, suburban and rural communities. Organized by Cynthia E. Smith, Cooper Hewitt’s curator of socially responsible design, the exhibition features 60 design projects from every region across the U.S.

Smith conducted more than two years of field research—traveling to shrinking post-industrial cities, sprawling metro regions, struggling rural towns, along border regions, areas impacted by natural and man-made disaster and places of persistent poverty—in search of collaborative designs for more equitable, inclusive and sustainable communities. The exhibition will highlight design solutions that expand access to education, food, health care and affordable housing; increase social and economic inclusion; offer improved alternative transportation options; and provide a balanced approach to land use between the built and natural environment.

“As America’s design museum, Cooper Hewitt empowers visitors to see themselves as designers—not just of objects, but also of ideas, strategies and solutions that improve our daily lives,” said Director Caroline Baumann. “‘By the People’ will showcase the innovative and impactful actions generated through design, and inspire creative  problem-solving at local, regional, national and even international levels.”

On view in the third floor Barbara and Morton Mandel Design Gallery, the exhibition will be divided into six themes: act, save, share, live, learn and make. To orient the visitor, the complexities of poverty, prosperity, innovation and design in the U.S. will be addressed in an introductory section that will feature a captivating video by Cassim Shepard, an interactive data visualization, “Mapping the Measure of America” and graphics that chart social and economic inequalities.

The exhibition will continue in the museum’s groundbreaking Process Lab, which offers immersive experiences for visitors of diverse ages and abilities, from families with small children to design students and professionals. Cooper Hewitt will invite visitors to address challenges in their own communities using design thinking and propose solutions.

The accompanying 256-page book, By the People: Designing a Better America, will be published by Cooper Hewitt and distributed in the U.S. by Artbook | D.A.P. and worldwide by Gestalten. Designed by Other Means, By the People will contain essays and interviews with featured designers and architects, in addition to highly illustrated project profiles. Retail: $29.95.

In fall 2016 and winter 2017, a series of public programs will inspire conversation about innovative and systemic approaches being developed through design. Planned events include a lecture focused on affordable housing and design (Oct. 13), Designing Resilience (Nov. 10) and Defiant Jewelry with Rebel Nell founder Amy Peterson and a participating artisan (Jan. 26).

“By the People: Designing a Better America” is made possible by the generous support of the Ford Foundation and IBM.

Additional support is provided by Elizabeth and Lee Ainslie, Deutsche Bank, Gensler, Lily Auchincloss Foundation, Inc., May and Samuel Rudin Family Foundation, Inc., New York State Council on the Arts with the support of Governor Andrew M. Cuomo and the New York State Legislature, Autodesk, and The Horace W. Goldsmith Foundation.

ACT

Addressing entrenched environmental, economic and social issues, design can act as a catalyst for change. Featured work includes Building Dignity, a dynamic collaboration between domestic violence advocates and architects to improve security for families facing domestic violence in Washington state; Cross-Border Community Station, bi-national Tijuana River watershed, which provides a platform for user-inspired problem-solving research joining science, education, design and community outreach; and the compact OPEN HOUSE, which was designed to unfold and transform a previously blighted property in rural York, Ala., into a public outdoor theater. 

SAVE

By building on existing assets—culture, natural and built environments—design can help save what is authentic and essential for communities to thrive. The projects on view in this section include the Harlem Hospital Pavilion Façade, New York, which celebrates the building’s historically significant Works Progress Administration murals at a civic scale and establishes a strong community connection; Belt Line Atlanta Concept, a grassroots effort to save and transform four old rail lines into a 22-mile green loop that will connect 40 diverse neighborhoods with transit lines, walking trails, bike paths, parks and adjacent permanent affordable housing; and the LaSalle Cultural Corridor, which helps to preserve one of New Orleans’ indigenous cultural art forms through the revitalization of a major street in the historically significant Central City neighborhood.

SHARE

The design of civic spaces helps under-represented communities and new voices share, both in the physical and digital commons. Works on view include Las Abuelitas Kinship Housing, an affordable housing community in Tucson, Ariz., designed for and by low-income grandparents raising grandchildren; Underpass Park, an urban park that activates left-over derelict space underneath Toronto’s elevated roadways, creating a multigenerational community commons that includes public art, recreational and green open spaces; and Farm Hack Tools, designed by an open-source community that nurtures the development, documentation and manufacture of farm tools and skill sharing for more resilient and sustainable agriculture.

LIVE

This section focuses on improving access to healthcare, clean water and food. Among the works on view are Humane Borders Water Stations, a network of emergency water stations placed in known desert migration routes along the U.S. and Mexico border; Fresh Moves Mobile Markets, which transforms former city buses into mobile produce markets bringing fruits and vegetables to “food deserts”—communities with limited access to fresh produce—in underserved Chicago neighborhoods; and Firehouse Clinics in California’s Alameda County that are located on the grounds of fire stations to provide a new accessible model of health care provision for the 65 million Americans who live in primary care shortage areas.

LEARN

Featured works in this section provide wider access to learning and knowledge to help build more resilient individuals, neighborhoods and regions. Projects on view include D.C. Neighborhood Libraries, local branches that have been renovated or rebuilt in Washington to create new civic spaces for numerous historically underserved neighborhoods; Red Hook WIFI, a community-led project to close the digital divide, generate economic opportunity, facilitate access to essential services and improve quality of life for families via the deployment of a wireless Internet mesh network; and Public Access 101: Downtown L.A., an initiative that mixes urban hikes, interactive field exercise and critical cartography and other interpretive tools to spark creative explorations of everyday habitats.

MAKE

Projects on view examine strategies to engage and develop creative and manufacturing industries. The exhibition will feature works such as RAPIDO Rapid Recovery Housing in Brownsville, Texas, which begins with a 400-square-foot core unit erected immediately after a natural disaster and home expansion designed in collaboration with returning families; Raleigh Denim Workshop, which enlisted the aid of master pattern makers, sewers and farmers from the surrounding area to craft classic American jeans with one of the smallest carbon footprints in the world; and Rebel Nell, a design initiative in Detroit that offers job training, life management and financial guidance for women transitioning out of homeless shelters.

ABOUT THE EXHIBITION

A geographically and culturally diverse Advisory Committee helped to hone the scope and exhibition content that Smith compiled over years of research. Moorhead + Moorhead will serve as the exhibition designer. Tsang Seymour will design the exhibition graphics.

ABOUT THE SERIES

Organized by Cooper Hewitt, the exhibition series demonstrates how design can address the world’s most critical issues. “Design with the Other 90%: Cities,” on view at the United Nations in 2011, explored design solutions to the challenges created by rapid urban growth in informal settlements, commonly referred to as slums. The first exhibition in 2007, “Design for the Other 90%,” focused on design solutions that address the most basic needs for 90% of the world’s population not traditionally served by professional designers.

ABOUT COOPER HEWITT, SMITHSONIAN DESIGN MUSEUM

Founded in 1897, Cooper Hewitt is the only museum in the United States devoted exclusively to historic and contemporary design. On Dec. 12, 2014, Cooper Hewitt reopened in the renovated and restored Carnegie Mansion, which offers 60 percent more exhibition space to showcase one of the most diverse and comprehensive collections of design works in existence. The renovation of the Carnegie Mansion and museum campus was recognized with LEED Silver certification. Currently on view are 9 exhibitions and installations featuring hundreds of objects throughout four floors of the mansion, including the fifth installment of the museum’s contemporary design exhibition series, “Beauty―Cooper Hewitt Design Triennial;” “Thom Browne Selects” and “Pixar: The Design of Story.” Visitors can experience a full range of new interactive capabilities, including the opportunity to explore the collection digitally on ultra-high-definition touch-screen tables, draw and project their own wallpaper designs in the Immersion Room and address design problems in the Process Lab.

Cooper Hewitt is located at 2 East 91st Street at Fifth Avenue in New York City. Hours are Sunday through Friday, 10 a.m. to 6 p.m., and Saturday, 10 a.m. to 9 p.m. The Arthur Ross Terrace and Garden and Tarallucci e Vino cafe open at 8 a.m., Monday through Friday, and are accessible without an admissions ticket through the new East 90th Street entrance. The museum is closed on Thanksgiving Day and Christmas Day. Public transit routes include the Lexington Avenue 4, 5 and 6 subways (86th or 96th Street stations) and the Fifth and Madison Avenue buses. Adult admission, $18; seniors, $12; students, $9. Cooper Hewitt members and children younger than age 18 are admitted free. Pay What You Wish every Saturday, 6 to 9 p.m. The museum is fully accessible.

For further information, call (212) 849-8400, visit Cooper Hewitt’s website at www.cooperhewitt.org and follow the museum on www.twitter.com/cooperhewitt, www.facebook.com/cooperhewitt and www.instagram.com/cooperhewitt.

The first exhibition in the series to focus on conditions in the U.S. and its bordering countries, “By the People” will explore the challenges faced by urban, suburban and rural communities. Organized by Cynthia E. Smith, Cooper Hewitt’s curator of socially responsible design, the exhibition features 60 design projects from every region across the U.S.

Smith conducted more than two years of field research—traveling to shrinking post-industrial cities, sprawling metro regions, struggling rural towns, along border regions, areas impacted by natural and man-made disaster and places of persistent poverty—in search of collaborative designs for more equitable, inclusive and sustainable communities. The exhibition will highlight design solutions that expand access to education, food, health care and affordable housing; increase social and economic inclusion; offer improved alternative transportation options; and provide a balanced approach to land use between the built and natural environment.

“As America’s design museum, Cooper Hewitt empowers visitors to see themselves as designers—not just of objects, but also of ideas, strategies and solutions that improve our daily lives,” said Director Caroline Baumann. “‘By the People’ will showcase the innovative and impactful actions generated through design, and inspire creative  problem-solving at local, regional, national and even international levels.”

On view in the third floor Barbara and Morton Mandel Design Gallery, the exhibition will be divided into six themes: act, save, share, live, learn and make. To orient the visitor, the complexities of poverty, prosperity, innovation and design in the U.S. will be addressed in an introductory section that will feature a captivating video by Cassim Shepard, an interactive data visualization, “Mapping the Measure of America” and graphics that chart social and economic inequalities.

The exhibition will continue in the museum’s groundbreaking Process Lab, which offers immersive experiences for visitors of diverse ages and abilities, from families with small children to design students and professionals. Cooper Hewitt will invite visitors to address challenges in their own communities using design thinking and propose solutions.

The accompanying 256-page book, By the People: Designing a Better America, will be published by Cooper Hewitt and distributed in the U.S. by Artbook | D.A.P. and worldwide by Gestalten. Designed by Other Means, By the People will contain essays and interviews with featured designers and architects, in addition to highly illustrated project profiles. Retail: $29.95.

In fall 2016 and winter 2017, a series of public programs will inspire conversation about innovative and systemic approaches being developed through design. Planned events include a lecture focused on affordable housing and design (Oct. 13), Designing Resilience (Nov. 10) and Defiant Jewelry with Rebel Nell founder Amy Peterson and a participating artisan (Jan. 26).

“By the People: Designing a Better America” is made possible by the generous support of the Ford Foundation and IBM.

Additional support is provided by Elizabeth and Lee Ainslie, Deutsche Bank, Gensler, Lily Auchincloss Foundation, Inc., May and Samuel Rudin Family Foundation, Inc., New York State Council on the Arts with the support of Governor Andrew M. Cuomo and the New York State Legislature, Autodesk, and The Horace W. Goldsmith Foundation.

ACT

Addressing entrenched environmental, economic and social issues, design can act as a catalyst for change. Featured work includes Building Dignity, a dynamic collaboration between domestic violence advocates and architects to improve security for families facing domestic violence in Washington state; Cross-Border Community Station, bi-national Tijuana River watershed, which provides a platform for user-inspired problem-solving research joining science, education, design and community outreach; and the compact OPEN HOUSE, which was designed to unfold and transform a previously blighted property in rural York, Ala., into a public outdoor theater. 

SAVE

By building on existing assets—culture, natural and built environments—design can help save what is authentic and essential for communities to thrive. The projects on view in this section include the Harlem Hospital Pavilion Façade, New York, which celebrates the building’s historically significant Works Progress Administration murals at a civic scale and establishes a strong community connection; Belt Line Atlanta Concept, a grassroots effort to save and transform four old rail lines into a 22-mile green loop that will connect 40 diverse neighborhoods with transit lines, walking trails, bike paths, parks and adjacent permanent affordable housing; and the LaSalle Cultural Corridor, which helps to preserve one of New Orleans’ indigenous cultural art forms through the revitalization of a major street in the historically significant Central City neighborhood.

SHARE

The design of civic spaces helps under-represented communities and new voices share, both in the physical and digital commons. Works on view include Las Abuelitas Kinship Housing, an affordable housing community in Tucson, Ariz., designed for and by low-income grandparents raising grandchildren; Underpass Park, an urban park that activates left-over derelict space underneath Toronto’s elevated roadways, creating a multigenerational community commons that includes public art, recreational and green open spaces; and Farm Hack Tools, designed by an open-source community that nurtures the development, documentation and manufacture of farm tools and skill sharing for more resilient and sustainable agriculture.

LIVE

This section focuses on improving access to healthcare, clean water and food. Among the works on view are Humane Borders Water Stations, a network of emergency water stations placed in known desert migration routes along the U.S. and Mexico border; Fresh Moves Mobile Markets, which transforms former city buses into mobile produce markets bringing fruits and vegetables to “food deserts”—communities with limited access to fresh produce—in underserved Chicago neighborhoods; and Firehouse Clinics in California’s Alameda County that are located on the grounds of fire stations to provide a new accessible model of health care provision for the 65 million Americans who live in primary care shortage areas.

LEARN

Featured works in this section provide wider access to learning and knowledge to help build more resilient individuals, neighborhoods and regions. Projects on view include D.C. Neighborhood Libraries, local branches that have been renovated or rebuilt in Washington to create new civic spaces for numerous historically underserved neighborhoods; Red Hook WIFI, a community-led project to close the digital divide, generate economic opportunity, facilitate access to essential services and improve quality of life for families via the deployment of a wireless Internet mesh network; and Public Access 101: Downtown L.A., an initiative that mixes urban hikes, interactive field exercise and critical cartography and other interpretive tools to spark creative explorations of everyday habitats.

MAKE

Projects on view examine strategies to engage and develop creative and manufacturing industries. The exhibition will feature works such as RAPIDO Rapid Recovery Housing in Brownsville, Texas, which begins with a 400-square-foot core unit erected immediately after a natural disaster and home expansion designed in collaboration with returning families; Raleigh Denim Workshop, which enlisted the aid of master pattern makers, sewers and farmers from the surrounding area to craft classic American jeans with one of the smallest carbon footprints in the world; and Rebel Nell, a design initiative in Detroit that offers job training, life management and financial guidance for women transitioning out of homeless shelters.

ABOUT THE EXHIBITION

A geographically and culturally diverse Advisory Committee helped to hone the scope and exhibition content that Smith compiled over years of research. Moorhead + Moorhead will serve as the exhibition designer. Tsang Seymour will design the exhibition graphics.

ABOUT THE SERIES

Organized by Cooper Hewitt, the exhibition series demonstrates how design can address the world’s most critical issues. “Design with the Other 90%: Cities,” on view at the United Nations in 2011, explored design solutions to the challenges created by rapid urban growth in informal settlements, commonly referred to as slums. The first exhibition in 2007, “Design for the Other 90%,” focused on design solutions that address the most basic needs for 90% of the world’s population not traditionally served by professional designers.

ABOUT COOPER HEWITT, SMITHSONIAN DESIGN MUSEUM

Founded in 1897, Cooper Hewitt is the only museum in the United States devoted exclusively to historic and contemporary design. On Dec. 12, 2014, Cooper Hewitt reopened in the renovated and restored Carnegie Mansion, which offers 60 percent more exhibition space to showcase one of the most diverse and comprehensive collections of design works in existence. The renovation of the Carnegie Mansion and museum campus was recognized with LEED Silver certification. Currently on view are 9 exhibitions and installations featuring hundreds of objects throughout four floors of the mansion, including the fifth installment of the museum’s contemporary design exhibition series, “Beauty―Cooper Hewitt Design Triennial;” “Thom Browne Selects” and “Pixar: The Design of Story.” Visitors can experience a full range of new interactive capabilities, including the opportunity to explore the collection digitally on ultra-high-definition touch-screen tables, draw and project their own wallpaper designs in the Immersion Room and address design problems in the Process Lab.

Cooper Hewitt is located at 2 East 91st Street at Fifth Avenue in New York City. Hours are Sunday through Friday, 10 a.m. to 6 p.m., and Saturday, 10 a.m. to 9 p.m. The Arthur Ross Terrace and Garden and Tarallucci e Vino cafe open at 8 a.m., Monday through Friday, and are accessible without an admissions ticket through the new East 90th Street entrance. The museum is closed on Thanksgiving Day and Christmas Day. Public transit routes include the Lexington Avenue 4, 5 and 6 subways (86th or 96th Street stations) and the Fifth and Madison Avenue buses. Adult admission, $18; seniors, $12; students, $9. Cooper Hewitt members and children younger than age 18 are admitted free. Pay What You Wish every Saturday, 6 to 9 p.m. The museum is fully accessible.

For further information, call (212) 849-8400, visit Cooper Hewitt’s website at www.cooperhewitt.org and follow the museum on www.twitter.com/cooperhewitt, www.facebook.com/cooperhewitt and www.instagram.com/cooperhewitt.

 

No Tech Reader #7

Thu, 09/08/2016 - 01:43

Source: No Tech Reader #7

“Are we fixing the right things? Are we breaking the wrong ones? Is it necessary to start from scratch every time?”

Solving all the wrong problems. [NYT]
The Internet of Things has a dirty little secret: it is not really yours. [The Verge]
Farmers demand right to repair their own tractors. [Modern Farmer]
How technology disrupted the truth. [Guardian]
The hand-held’s tale. [Aeon]
Just us. No Phones.

Video: FarmOS @ NOFA summer conference

Tue, 08/30/2016 - 01:36

farmOS is a web-based application for farm management, planning, and record keeping.

It is built on Drupal, which makes it modular, extensible, and secure.

Openlayers is used for mapping and geodata manipulation.

2016 NOFA Summer Conference

Michael Stenta presented a farmOS workshop at the 2016 NOFA Summer Conference. It covers the core features of farmOS, how to get started, where to find help, and how to contribute back to the project.

2016 GODAN Summit: global open data for agriculture and nutrition

Fri, 07/29/2016 - 01:15

GODAN is very pleased to announce the GODAN Summit 2016.

This exciting, high-level public event will take place in New York City, New York, USA on September 15-16, 2016 to advance the agenda for open data in agriculture and nutrition.

Open data is at the centre of innovation in agriculture, food security and nutrition. Data is elemental to identify needs, track progress and make change happen.

This event will offer the unique opportunity to showcase actual impact of open data across the world and underscore the importance of data in achieving Sustainable Development Goal 2 – Zero Hunger.

The Summit will bring together leaders, researchers, farmers, students, and others – public, private and non-profit, united around collaboration on agriculture and nutrition data openness.

The GODAN Summit will be open to the public with existing GODAN partners having first priority to attend.

Registration is now open. Sponsorship opportunities are available for GODAN partners, please contact us for further information.

Further details about sessions and speakers will be announced shortly.

Make plans now to join the biggest event ever planned for open data in agriculture and nutrition!

REGISTER

Register on Eventbrite

SHOWCASE YOUR AGRICULTURE AND NUTRITION DATA

Request for proposals to participate in an exhibit hall that will illustrate the opening of data, the use of open data, and the importance of open data are now being accepted.

Deadline for proposals: Extended to July 22, 2016

LEARN THE LATEST

Stay up to date with the latest 2016 GODAN Summit on our social media pages:

Twitter

Facebook

LinkedIn

From the soil to the circuit: My experiences at FarmHackNL

Tue, 07/05/2016 - 02:00
Jun 27, 2016

– by Rowland Marshall

This time tomorrow I’ll be sitting on a high speed train hurtling through the countryside from Amsterdam to Paris.  It’s about three hours from there to my current home in the French capital, which itself is a further 16,547km away from my place of birth in Brisbane, Australia.  A thin pane of glass will separate my body, travelling through space at 300km/hr, from those of the cattle standing still in the fields adjacent to the tracks of the Thalys TGV.  But that is tomorrow, and today it is I who am in the field, standing still in the breeze beside a row of potatoes as the rest of the earth takes its turn to move.

The technology-rich world of high-speed rail seems miles apart from the seemingly stationary world of fields and crops, and yet today it is the train that feels out-dated, for flying just a few metres above me is a drone gracefully turning laps above the potatoes like an olympic athlete turns laps in a swimming pool.  In a few short moments the drone will land all by itself, and a stream of data will flow from its belly and into my computer, and it is then that my work will begin.

…we share a common passion for [technology], agriculture and the environment, and we’d like to see how we can use our skills to have a positive impact.

I am here in the Onstwedde region of the Netherlands on the farm of Nanne Sterenborg, taking part in the second weekend of FarmHackNL.  There are about 30 of us all together – farmers, business persons, geo-hydraulogists, geo-spacial scientists, programmers, engineers and more; all sitting in one of the more unconventional hacker spaces I’ve experienced to date.  There are tools and drums of farm chemicals against one wall, a truck parked in the corner, and a dust-encrusted wash station by the door.  Amidst all this, our inflatable couches, robots and glowing computer screens look a little out of place.  We’ve come here from all manner of towns and backgrounds because we share a common passion for agriculture and the environment, and we’d like to see how we can use our skills to have a positive impact.  Each person tells a different story – for my part I’m an electronic/software engineer-turned-medical designer-turned-drone research project manager-turned-French MBA graduate (phew!) with a love for the land that I inherited from my parents and the many aunts, uncles and cousins who have hosted my awkward city-dwelling self over the years on their farms around the Australian outback.  My reasons for being here are twofold – (i) the first being to escape the dirty streets of Paris for the cleaner air and dirt of the countryside again; and (ii), to see if I can humbly offer my skills in exchange for the further enrichment of my understanding of agriculture, food security, and the role of technology in the environment.

The weekend began with a brief presentation of the farm itself by Nanne Sterenborg, followed by an overview of the two days ahead from the FarmHackNL team.  The idea is simply to come together over the proceeding 36 hours to try to solve as many problems on the farm as we can.  This weekend’s theme centres on data, and in advance we have been provided with a mixture of satellite and drone imagery to play with in addition to the live data collected on the day.  The group broke into several different teams – one looks at trying to automatically identify pests on the crops from digital images; another looks to improve the communication between analysis and farm equipment; whilst others are improving the way farmers can use the multitude of data to better manage their fields.  Nanne bounces between the teams, smiling the whole time, answering our questions and listening to our views on where the various technologies are headed in the future.  This continues through the night and early into the morning, with the FarmHackNL team in the background providing us with a steady flow of coffee, support and encouragement.

By early this morning, great progress has been made.  One team has already demonstrated a new improvement for crop spraying by way of a late night tractor-test, and others have built early prototypes of their own ideas.   It is now late afternoon on the second day, and our ideas have all been formerly presented to the whole group, with awards going to the two teams with the best results, and the “open source” award for contribution of code and ideas to the farm hack community.  The weekend is drawing to a close, and as we begin to pack up we are laughing and exchanging contact details in order to continue the conversations and work down the line.

There’s a common misconception held about farmers that suggests they are part of a backwards industry that drags at the heels of technological advancement.  In my experience this couldn’t be further from the truth.  On any given day a farmer is a meteorologist, chemist, mechanic, scientist, businessperson and so much more; and to this polymathic existence will soon be added roboticist and programmer.  Gert, the son of Nanne, is the very embodiment of the next-wave agriculturalist (who, by the way, can also add “pilot” to the skills list). Part farmer, part programmer, he has drifted from team to team throughout the weekend, offering his unique perspective whilst at the same time listening to the expertise of the seasoned technologists amongst us.  With the mounting need to feed 9 billion people by 2050 whilst at the same time reducing the impact on the environment, the role of robotics and artificial intelligence in the agriculture and environmental industries is only going to intensify.  As my good friend Jaymis always says, I love living in the future, and it is great to meet someone like Gert who is leading the charge.

For too long the vast majority of the tech industry has operated on a “push” principle

At the same time, there is still a long way to go to bridge the current gap between the soil and the circuit.  I firmly believe that no one person can be a master of all domains,  and that each is capable of contributing their part to the whole.  For too long the vast majority of the tech industry has operated on a “push” principle where they have forced the extolled virtues of their products onto the customer, rather than employing a “pull” principle where the customer extracts the solution they need out of the opportunities the industry can provide.   In the past this has lead to death-by-features, over promising, and disappointment.  As a technology provider and an advocate for my industries, I firmly believe that it’s a great thing to understand the customer, but it’s a beautiful dance when you understand each other.  Hack events like this provide a great opportunity for this interaction, and that’s why you’ll continue to find me “in the field”; be it an actual field of potatoes, a rainforest, a construction site, or even a train station; rather than just behind a desk thinking I know what’s best.

There’s one thing I haven’t mentioned yet – as the only foreigner in the room this weekend I find myself swimming in a pool of Dutch speakers who graciously tic-tac between languages in order to make sure I am included and kept up to speed as the weekend progresses.  I am extremely grateful for their kindness and patience.   Despite getting lost from time to time, one thing has quickly become clear to me – you don’t need to speak the same language to understand passion, and that, at the end of the day, is what FarmHackNL has been all about.

The author would like to particularly thank Anne Bruinsma, Linda Haartsen & Simeon Nedkov of FarmHackNL; and the entire Sterenborg Family.  Dank u wel!

French farm hackers L’Atelier Paysan host annual gathering June 17-19

Tue, 05/31/2016 - 01:29

Event page @ latelierpaysan.org

Come and join us for a weekend in June on a Burgundy farm! Atelier Paysan is organising a gathering on the 17th, 18th and 19th June 2016 : AGM, agricultural DIY fair, practical workshops, talks, concerts and banquets…

3 days in June to include in your cropping plan!

BOOK YOUR TICKETS NOW! 3 days in June where you can meet fellow farmers, have a go at welding and other metal work, get an overview of the technical innovations in our network, as well as feedback your reflections and imagine together the cooperative’s future.

We have organised more workshops and debates to oil up our rusty skills and jump start our enthusiasm to take part and learn! To break the ice, nothing better than a banquet and some good wine. And with spirited concerts in the evening, this will be a real Rock & Roll adventure!

Friday 17th June Saturday 18th June Sunday 19th June Welcome, Atelier Paysan’s AGM 1st agricultural DIY fair: reports and demonstrations of the network’s machinery and agricultural building designs

Take part in a workshop whatever your level of skill:

  • workshop to convert the host farm’s equipment to the quick hitch triangle system.
  • workshop modifying a piece of kit
  • Making a pedal powered agricultural tool with Farming Soul
  • Constructing a mobile pig shelter (wood and metal)
  • Making a ’Piggott’ wind turbine
  • Making a seed cleaning machine
  • Arduino (open-source electronics: irrigation control, thermal sensor controls)
  • Introduction to sharpening drill bits and metal tools, etc.
Farming DIY award ceremony following a morning of debates. Lunchtime: Banquet Lunchtime: Banquet Lunchtime: Banquet 2pm: setting up agricultural DIY fair, first demonstrations, first workshops, first talks Afternoon: continuation of morning activities Afternoon: Collective Tidy up! 6pm: Big Conference 6pm: Big Conference Concert & Barbecue Live at Château! Rock Noise and Organic wine! Des vignerons cossus et des guitaristes qui démangent…

The final programme (in French)

> Download

Where?
In Burgundy: The Domaine Saint Laurent (a farm producing meat, dairy products, vegetables and wood) is in the parish of Château, 2 kms outside the town of Cluny in Bourgogne (http://www.domaine-saint-laurent.fr/).

It’s easy to reach !
By train: TGV train station of Mâcon with regular shuttles onto Cluny
By car: One hour north of Lyon, 20 mins from Mâcon.

What will we eating?
Breakfast and lunch for all 3 days is included in price, as well as Friday evening’s barbecue, provided by Le Pain sur la Table, an organic caterer (http://lepainsurlatable.fr/). You will however have to pay for your wine-inspired conversations. Wine producers will be there to provision you…

Where will we sleep?
You can camp on the farm, or rented accommodation. Arrivals from Thursday evening onwards.

To book a place, fill in this google form (in English).

More informations with Julien Reynier: j.reynier@latelierpaysan.org

Fresh new Farm Hack video for you

Tue, 05/31/2016 - 00:01

The Cuban Allis-Chalmers G

Thu, 05/05/2016 - 01:20

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

Culticycle video: with new counterbalance belly mount lift

Fri, 04/15/2016 - 01:52

The point of the counterbalance is if the implement can float and the driver controls that action, a lot of the bogging down disappears and it cruises along no problem. You can see it hit a rock and the front weight bounces pretty high, but it doesn’t create a jolt in the pedaling effort. It’s getting there, wherever that is!  

Tim Cooke, Culticycle designer

Culticycle Tool Page on Farmhack.org

How to Build a Low-tech Internet

Tue, 04/05/2016 - 00:11

This piece was published by Low-Tech Magazine. The original article can be found here.

 

Wireless internet access is on the rise in both modern consumer societies and in the developing world.

In rich countries, however, the focus is on always-on connectivity and ever higher access speeds. In poor countries, on the other hand, connectivity is achieved through much more low-tech, often asynchronous networks.

While the high-tech approach pushes the costs and energy use of the internet higher and higher, the low-tech alternatives result in much cheaper and very energy efficient networks that combine well with renewable power production and are resistant to disruptions.

If we want the internet to keep working in circumstances where access to energy is more limited, we can learn important lessons from alternative network technologies. Best of all, there’s no need to wait for governments or companies to facilitate: we can build our own resilient communication infrastructure if we cooperate with one another. This is demonstrated by several community networks in Europe, of which the largest has more than 35,000 users already.

 

Picture: A node in the Scottish Tegola Network.

More than half of the global population does not have access to the “worldwide” web. Up to now, the internet is mainly an urban phenomenon, especially in “developing” countries. Telecommunication companies are usually reluctant to extend their network outside cities due to a combination of high infrastructure costs, low population density, limited ability to pay for services, and an unreliable or non-existent electricity infrastructure. Even in remote regions of “developed” countries, internet connectivity isn’t always available.

Internet companies such as Facebook and Google regularly make headlines with plans for connecting these remote regions to the internet. Facebook tries to achieve this with drones, while Google counts on high-altitude balloons. There are major technological challenges, but the main objection to these plans is their commercial character. Obviously, Google and Facebook want to connect more people to the internet because that would increase their revenues. Facebook especially receives lots of criticism because their network promotes their own site in particular, and blocks most other internet applications. [1]

Meanwhile, several research groups and network enthusiasts have developed and implemented much cheaper alternative network technologies to solve these issues. Although these low-tech networks have proven their worth, they have received much less attention. Contrary to the projects of internet companies, they are set up by small organisations or by the users themselves. This guarantees an open network that benefits the users instead of a handful of corporations. At the same time, these low-tech networks are very energy efficient.

WiFi-based Long Distance Networks

Most low-tech networks are based on WiFi, the same technology that allows mobile access to the internet in most western households. As we have seen in the previous article, sharing these devices could provide free mobile access across densely populated cities. But the technology can be equally useful in sparsely populated areas. Although the WiFi-standard was developed for short-distance data communication (with a typical range of about 30 metres), its reach can be extended through modifications of the Media Access Control (MAC) layer in the networking protocol, and through the use of range extender amplifiers and directional antennas. [2]

Although the WiFi-standard was developed for short-distance data communication, its reach can be extended to cover distances of more than 100 kilometres.

The longest unamplified WiFi link is a 384 km wireless point-to-point connection between Pico El Águila and Platillón in Venezuela, established a few years ago. [3,4] However, WiFi-based long distance networks usually consist of a combination of shorter point-to-point links, each between a few kilometres and one hundred kilometers long at most. These are combined to create larger, multihop networks. Point-to-points links, which form the backbone of a long range WiFi network, are combined with omnidirectional antennas that distribute the signal to individual households (or public institutions) of a community.

Picture: A relay with three point-to-point links and three sectoral antennae. Tegola.

Long-distance WiFi links require line of sight to make a connection — in this sense, the technology resembles the 18th century optical telegraph. [5] If there’s no line of sight between two points, a third relay is required that can see both points, and the signal is sent to the intermediate relay first. Depending on the terrain and particular obstacles, more hubs may be necessary. [6]

Point-to-point links typically consist of two directional antennas, one focused on the next node and the other on the previous node in the network. Nodes can have multiple antennas with one antenna per fixed point-to-point link to each neighbour. [7] This allows mesh routing protocols that can dynamically select which links to choose for routing among the available ones. [8]

Long-distance WiFi links require line of sight to make a connection — in this sense, the technology resembles the 18th century optical telegraph.

Distribution nodes usually consist of a sectoral antenna (a small version of the things you see on mobile phone masts) or a conventional WiFi-router, together with a number of receivers in the community. [6] For short distance WiFi-communication, there is no requirement for line of sight between the transmitter and the receiver. [9]

To provide users with access to the worldwide internet, a long range WiFi network should be connected to the main backbone of the internet using at least one “backhaul” or “gateway node”. This can be a dial-up or broadband connection (DSL, fibre or satellite). If such a link is not established, users would still be able to communicate with each other and view websites set up on local servers, but they would not be able to access the internet. [10]

Advantages of Long Range WiFi

Long range WiFi offers high bandwidth (up to 54 Mbps) combined with very low capital costs. Because the WiFi standard enjoys widespread acceptance and has huge production volumes, off-the-shelf antennas and wireless cards can be bought for very little money. [11] Alternatively, components can be put together from discarded materials such as old routers, satellite dish antennas and laptops. Protocols like WiLDNet run on a 266 Mhz processor with only 128 MB memory, so an old computer will do the trick. [7]

The WiFi-nodes are lightweight and don’t need expensive towers — further decreasing capital costs, and minimizing the impact of the structures to be built. [7] More recently, single units that combine antenna, wireless card and processor have become available. These are very convenient for installation. To build a relay, one simply connects such units together with ethernet cables that carry both signal and power. [6] The units can be mounted in towers or slim masts, given that they offer little windload. [3] Examples of suppliers of long range WiFi components are Ubiquity, Alvarion and MikroTik, and simpleWiFi.

Long Range WiFi makes use of unlicensed spectrum and offers high bandwidth, low capital costs, easy installation, and low power requirements.

Long range WiFi also has low operational costs due to low power requirements. A typical mast installation consisting of two long distance links and one or two wireless cards for local distribution consumes around 30 watts. [6,12] In several low-tech networks, nodes are entirely powered by solar panels and batteries. Another important advantage of long range WiFi is that it makes use of unlicensed spectrum (2.4 and 5 GHz), and thus avoids negotiations with telecom operators and government. This adds to the cost advantage and allows basically anyone to start a WiFi-based long distance network. [9]

Long Range WiFi Networks in Poor Countries

The first long range WiFi networks were set up ten to fifteen years ago. In poor countries, two main types have been built. The first is aimed at providing internet access to people in remote villages. An example is the Akshaya network in India, which covers the entire Kerala State and is one of the largest wireless networks in the world. The infrastructure is built around approximately 2,500 “computer access centers”, which are open to the local population — direct ownership of computers is minimal in the region. [13]

Another example, also in India, are the AirJaldi networks which provide internet access to approximately 20,000 users in six states, all in remote regions and on difficult terrain. Most nodes in this network are solar-powered and the distance between them can range up to 50 km or more. [14] In some African countries, local WiFi-networks distribute internet access from a satellite gateway. [15,16]

A node in the AirJaldi network. Picture: AirJaldi.

A second type of long distance WiFi network in poor countries is aimed at providing telemedicine to remote communities. In remote regions, health care is often provided through health posts scarcely equipped and attended by health technicians who are barely trained. [17] Long-range WiFi networks can connect urban hospitals with these outlying health posts, allowing doctors to remotely support health technicians using high-resolution file transfers and real-time communication tools based on voice and video.

An example is the link between Cabo Pantoja and Iquitos in the Loreto province in Peru, which was established in 2007. The 450 km network consists of 17 towers which are 16 to 50 km apart. The line connects 15 medical outposts in remote villages with the main hospital in Iquitos and is aimed at remote diagnosis of patients. [17,18] All equipment is powered by solar panels. [18,19] Other succesful examples of long range WiFi telemedicine networks have been built in India, Malawi and Ghana. [20,21]

WiFi-Based Community Networks in Europe

The low-tech networks in poor countries are set up by NGO’s, governments, universities or businesses. In contrast, most of the WiFi-based long distance networks in remote regions of rich countries are so-called “community networks”: the users themselves build, own, power and maintain the infrastructure. Similar to the shared wireless approach in cities, reciprocal resource sharing forms the basis of these networks: participants can set up their own node and connect to the network (for free), as long as their node also allows traffic of other members. Each node acts as a WiFi routing device that provides IP forwarding services and a data link to all users and nodes connected to it. [8,22]

In a community network, the users themselves build, own, power and maintain the infrastructure.

Consequently, with each new user, the network becomes larger. There is no a-priori overall planning. A community network grows bottom-up, driven by the needs of its users, as nodes and links are added or upgraded following demand patterns. The only consideration is to connect a node from a new participant to an existing one. As a node is powered on, it discovers it neighbours, attributes itself a unique IP adress, and then establishes the most appropriate routes to the rest of the network, taking into account the quality of the links. Community networks are open to participation to everyone, sometimes according to an open peering agreement. [8,9,19,22]

Wireless links in the Spanish Guifi network. Credit.

Despite the lack of reliable statistics, community networks seem to be rather succesful, and there are several large ones in Europe, such as Guifi.net (Spain), Athens Wireless Metropolitan Network (Greece), FunkFeuer (Austria), and Freifunk (Germany). [8,22,23,24] The Spanish network  is the largest WiFi-based long distance network in the world with more than 50,000 kilometres of links, although a small part is based on optic fibre links. Most of it is located in the Catalan Pyrenees, one of the least populated areas in Spain. The network was initiated in 2004 and now has close to 30,000 nodes, up from 17,000 in 2012. [8,22]

Guifi.net provides internet access to individuals, companies, administrations and universities. In principle, the network is installed, powered and maintained by its users, although volunteer teams and even commercial installers are present to help. Some nodes and backbone upgrades have been succesfully crowdfunded by indirect beneficiaries of the network. [8,22]

Performance of Low-tech Networks

So how about the performance of low-tech networks? What can you do with them? The available bandwidth per user can vary enormously, depending on the bandwidth of the gateway node(s) and the number of users, among other factors. The long-distance WiFi networks aimed at telemedicine in poor countries have few users and a good backhaul, resulting in high bandwidth (+ 40 Mbps). This gives them a similar performance to fibre connections in the developed world. A study of (a small part of) the Guifi.net community network, which has dozens of gateway nodes and thousands of users, showed an average throughput of 2 Mbps, which is comparable to a relatively slow DSL connection. Actual throughput per user varies from 700 kbps to 8 Mbps. [25]

The available bandwidth per user can vary enormously, depending on the bandwidth of the gateway node(s) and the number of users, among other factors

However, the low-tech networks that distribute internet access to a large user base in developing countries can have much more limited bandwidth per user. For example, a university campus in Kerala (India) uses a 750 kbps internet connection that is shared across 3,000 faculty members and students operating from 400 machines, where during peak hours nearly every machine is being used.

Therefore, the worst-case average bandwidth available per machine is approximately 1.9 kbps, which is slow even in comparison to a dial-up connection (56 kbps). And this can be considered a really good connectivity compared to typical rural settings in poor countries. [26] To make matters worse, such networks often have to deal with an intermittent power supply.

A node in the Spanish Guifi community network.

Under these circumstances, even the most common internet applications have poor performance, or don’t work at all. The communication model of the internet is based on a set of network assumptions, called the TCP/IP protocol suite. These include the existence of a bi-directional end-to-end path between the source (for example a website’s server) and the destination (the user’s computer), short round-trip delays, and low error rates.

Many low-tech networks in poor countries do not comform to these assumptions. They are characterized by intermittent connectivity or “network partitioning” — the absence of an end-to-end path between source and destination — long and variable delays, and high error rates. [21,27,28]

Delay-Tolerant Networks

Nevertheless, even in such conditions, the internet could work perfectly fine. The technical issues can be solved by moving away from the always-on model of traditional networks, and instead design networks based upon asynchronous communication and intermittent connectivity. These so-called “delay-tolerant networks” (DTNs) have their own specialized protocols overlayed on top of the lower protocols and do not utilize TCP. They overcome the problems of intermittent connectivity and long delays by using store-and-forward message switching.

Information is forwarded from a storage place on one node to a storage place on another node, along a path that eventually reaches its destination. In contrast to traditional internet routers, which only store incoming packets for a few milliseconds on memory chips, the nodes of a delay-tolerant network have persistent storage (such as hard disks) that can hold information indefinitely. [27,28]

Delay-tolerant networks combine well with renewable energy: solar panels or wind turbines could power network nodes only when the sun shines or the wind blows, eliminating the need for energy storage.

Delay-tolerant networks don’t require an end-to-end path between source and destination. Data is simply transferred from node to node. If the next node is unavailable because of long delays or a power outage, the data is stored on the hard disk until the node becomes available again. While it might take a long time for data to travel from source to destination, a delay-tolerant network ensures that it will eventually arrive.

Delay-tolerant networks further decrease capital costs and energy use, leading to the most efficient use of scarce resources. They keep working with an intermittent energy supply and they combine well with renewable energy sources: solar panels or wind turbines could power network nodes only when the sun shines or the wind blows, eliminating the need for energy storage.

Data Mules

Delay-tolerant networking can take surprising forms, especially when they take advantage of some non-traditional means of communication, such as “data mules”. [11,29] In such networks, conventional transportation technologies — buses, cars, motorcycles, trains, boats, airplanes — are used to ferry messages from one location to another in a store-and-forward manner.

Examples are DakNet and KioskNet, which use buses as data mules. [30-34] In many developing regions, rural bus routes regularly visit villages and towns that have no network connectivity. By equipping each vehicle with a computer, a storage device and a mobile WiFi-node on the one hand, and by installing a stationary WiFi-node in each village on the other hand, the local transport infrastructure can substitute for a wireless internet link. [11]

Picture: AirJaldi.

Outgoing data (such as sent emails or requests for webpages) is stored on local computers in the village until the bus comes withing range. At this point, the fixed WiFi-node of the local computer automatically transmits the data to the mobile WiFi-node of the bus. Later, when the bus arrives at a hub that is connected to the internet, the outgoing data is transmitted from the mobile WiFi-node to the gateway node, and then to the internet. Data sent to the village takes the opposite route. The bus — or data — driver doesn’t require any special skills and is completely oblivious to the data transfers taking place. He or she does not need to do anything other than come in range of the nodes. [30,31]

In a data mules network, the local transport infrastructure substitutes for a wireless internet link.

The use of data mules offers some extra advantages over more “sophisticated” delay-tolerant networks. A “drive-by” WiFi network allows for small, low-cost and low-power radio devices to be used, which don’t require line of sight and consequently no towers — further lowering capital costs and energy use compared to other low-tech networks. [30,31,32]

The use of short-distance WiFi-links also results in a higher bandwidth compared to long-distance WiFi-links, which makes data mules better suited to transfer larger files. On average, 20 MB of data can be moved in each direction when a bus passes a fixed WiFi-node. [30,32] On the other hand, latency (the time interval between sending and receiving data) is usually higher than on long-range WiFi-links. A single bus passing by a village once a day gives a latency of 24 hours.

Delay-Tolerant Software

Obviously, a delay-tolerant network (DTN) — whatever its form — also requires new software: applications that function without a connected end-to-end networking path. [11] Such custom applications are also useful for synchronous, low bandwidth networks. Email is relatively easy to adapt to intermittent connectivity, because it’s an asynchronous communication method by itself. A DTN-enabled email client stores outgoing messages until a connection is available. Although emails may take longer to reach their destination, the user experience doesn’t really change.

A Freifunk WiFi-node is installed in Berlin, Germany. Picture: Wikipedia Commons.

Browsing and searching the web requires more adaptations. For example, most search engines optimize for speed, assuming that a user can quickly look through the returned links and immediately run a second modified search if the first result is inadequate. However, in intermittent networks, multiple rounds of interactive search would be impractical. [26,35] Asynchronous search engines optimize for bandwith rather than response time. [26,30,31,35,36] For example, RuralCafe desynchronizes the search process by performing many search tasks in an offline manner, refining the search request based on a database of similar searches. The actual retrieval of information using the network is only done when absolutely necessary.

Many internet applications could be adapted to intermittent networks, such as webbrowsing, email, electronic form filling, interaction with e-commerce sites, blogsoftware, large file downloads, or social media.

Some DTN-enabled browsers download not only the explicitly requested webpages but also the pages that are linked to by the requested pages. [30] Others are optimized to return low-bandwidth results, which are achieved by filtering, analysis, and compression on the server site. A similar effect can be achieved through the use of a service like Loband, which strips webpages of images, video, advertisements, social media buttons, and so on, merely presenting the textual content. [26]

Browsing and searching on intermittent networks can also be improved by local caching (storing already downloaded pages) and prefetching (downloading pages that might be retrieved in the future). [206] Many other internet applications could also be adapted to intermittent networks, such as electronic form filling, interaction with e-commerce sites, blogsoftware, large file downloads, social media, and so on. [11,30] All these applications would remain possible, though at lower speeds.

Sneakernets

Obviously, real-time applications such as internet telephony, media streaming, chatting or videoconferencing are impossible to adapt to intermittent networks, which provide only asynchronous communication. These applications are also difficult to run on synchronous networks that have limited bandwidth. Because these are the applications that are in large part responsible for the growing energy use of the internet, one could argue that their incompatibility with low-tech networks is actually a good thing (see the previous article).

Furthermore, many of these applications could be organized in different ways. While real-time voice or video conversations won’t work, it’s perfectly possible to send and receive voice or video messages. And while streaming media can’t happen, downloading music albums and video remains possible. Moreover, these files could be “transmitted” by the most low-tech internet technology available: a sneakernet. In a sneakernet, digital data is “wirelessly” transmitted using a storage medium such as a hard disk, a USB-key, a flash card, or a CD or DVD. Before the arrival of the internet, all computer files were exchanged via a sneakernet, using tape or floppy disks as a storage medium.

Stuffing a cargo train full of digital storage media would beat any digital network in terms of speed, cost and energy efficiency. Picture: Wikipedia Commons.

Just like a data mules network, a sneakernet involves a vehicle, a messenger on foot, or an animal (such as a carrier pigeon). However, in a sneakernet there is no automatic data transfer between the mobile node (for instance, a vehicle) and the stationary nodes (sender and recipient). Instead, the data first have to be transferred from the sender’s computer to a portable storage medium. Then, upon arrival, the data have to be transferred from the portable storage medium to the receiver’s computer. [30] A sneakernet thus requires manual intervention and this makes it less convenient for many internet applications.

There are exceptions, though. For example, a movie doesn’t have to be transferred to the hard disk of your computer in order to watch it. You play it straight from a portable hard disk or slide a disc into the DVD-player. Moreover, a sneakernet also offers an important advantage: of all low-tech networks, it has the most bandwidth available. This makes it perfectly suited for the distribution of large files such as movies or computer games. In fact, when very large files are involved, a sneakernet even beats the fastest fibre internet connection. At lower internet speeds, sneakernets can be advantageous for much smaller files.

Technological progress will not lower the advantage of a sneakernet. Digital storage media evolve at least as fast as internet connections and they both improve communication in an equal way.

Resilient Networks

While most low-tech networks are aimed at regions where the alternative is often no internet connection at all, their usefulness for well-connected areas cannot be overlooked. The internet as we know it in the industrialized world is a product of an abundant energy supply, a robust electricity infrastructure, and sustained economic growth. This “high-tech” internet might offer some fancy advantages over the low-tech networks, but it cannot survive if these conditions change. This makes it extremely vulnerable.

The internet as we know it in the industrialized world is a product of an abundant energy supply, a robust electricity infrastructure, and sustained economic growth. It cannot survive if these conditions change.

Depending on their level of resilience, low-tech networks can remain in operation when the supply of fossil fuels is interrupted, when the electricity infrastructure deteriorates, when the economy grinds to a halt, or if other calamities should hit. Such a low-tech internet would allow us to surf the web, send and receive e-mails, shop online, share content, and so on. Meanwhile, data mules and sneakernets could serve to handle the distribution of large files such as videos. Stuffing a cargo vessel or a train full of digital storage media would beat any digital network in terms of speed, cost and energy efficiency. And if such a transport infrastructure would no longer be available, we could still rely on messengers on foot, cargo bikes and sailing vessels.

Such a hybrid system of online and offline applications would remain a very powerful communication network — unlike anything we had even in the late twentieth century. Even if we envision a doom scenario in which the wider internet infrastructure would disintegrate, isolated low-tech networks would still be very useful local and regional communication technologies. Furthermore, they could obtain content from other remote networks through the exchange of portable storage media. The internet, it appears, can be as low-tech or high-tech as we can afford it to be.

Kris De Decker (edited by Jenna Collett)

Atelier Paysan, the French collaborative for open-source farm tools, now has an English language website!

Wed, 03/23/2016 - 17:36

Atelier Paysan is a great partner of Farm Hack and their website is a treasure trove of amazing information and tools, so we non-french speakers are very excited about this!

On the new English language version of the site, you can read about the work and structure of the cooperative organization, their events and trainings, general design and build methodologies, and tool descriptions with technical drawings.

Triangle Quick Hitch in action

One of these tools is the Triangle Quick Hitch, which was the focus of a Farm Hack event in 2012 and is also documented on the Farm Hack site.  This is a system several farms in the US have already implemented as a cheaper, open-source alternative to proprietary quick hitch systems, and one that is already more widespread in Europe.

Another precious nugget that Atelier Paysan has developed is the self-build guide:

With tutorials and technical drawings to build 16 tools adapted to organic vegetable production, this book is an instruction manual for becoming self-sufficient in terms of farming machinery. Included are principles of self-building, methods and techniques, regulatory considerations, and most importantly, examples of tools tested by vegetable growers presented in the form of building tutorials, allowing you to develop your skills and expertise around the tools you work with.

The guide is spiral bound and 246 pages long with a folding cover, designed to be easy to use and long lasting. It will accompany you in your farming project and throughout your career. It’s a source of inspiration which you can use and enrich with your own adaptations.

Unfortunately translating this guide book into English is a big project, so it has not yet been done. If you have several thousand dollars or an inclination to translate this technical manual, get in touch.

The work of Atelier Paysan in the field of training farmers and organizing collaborative development and building of tools for biological agriculture is truly inspiring to us, and we look forward to continue learning from and collaborating with them!

Pages