Further reflections on the Farm Hack event by Ashley Robinson
Mark it down in the diaries, folks – Scotland’s very first Farm Hack – Oct 1st & 2nd, Tombreck Farm in Perthshire. A gathering of people, ideas and skills – all aiming to make the technology and tools of agro-ecological farming a bit more accessible, collaborative, and open-source. A description nicked from the Farm Hack website describes Farm Hack as, a “farmer-driven community to develop, document, and build tools for resilient agriculture – and to build community around that goal.”
When I heard that one of the co-founders of Farm Hack, Severine von Tscharner Fleming, was speaking in Glasgow, I knew I needed to attend. Speaking as part of Open Jar Collective’s “Soil City” events, Severine was discussing her experiences of Farm Hack, and the potential for a Scottish Farm Hack later this year.
What IS Farm Hack? I think of Farm Hack as a Wikipedia of appropriate technology for small-scale farmers. Of course, it’s much more than that. It’s an online platform for ‘hacks’ of the farming variety – which enables the sharing of resources, information, tools, blueprints, and skills. It’s also an offline platform for building community, creating connection, and empowering collaboration.
What started in 2010 in the US as a website and a handful of events, has grown into an inspiring way to organise community-led technological innovation and design in relation to small-scale farming. This technological innovation and design is deliberately human-scale – creating adaptable, affordable, and easy-to-fix farming equipment.
How does it work? This open-source and ever-evolving database of technological resources are achieved through collaborative, and slightly unlikely, partnerships. Techy folk and farmers come together in a mutually beneficial way, to develop and build tools. Market gardeners to mechanics, shepherds to engineers, dairymen to designers – everyone has a role in Farm Hack.
Severine speaks! Severine seems to be a woman of contrasts, or at least, my short time spent with her gave me this impression. She offered in-depth analysis alongside silly anecdotes, enlightened solutions and harsh realities, here-and-now examples with grand possibilities for a different future.
She spoke of the importance of developing tools and equipment using design principles that mimic those principles of agro-ecological farming, such as simplifying complexity, and being energy and labour-saving.
She spoke of the multitude of benefits of bringing people together towards a common goal. Particularly bringing together people who aren’t usually in the same sphere – technies and farmers. These benefits are more than just the formation of genuine relationships, the value is where those relationships can lead. Good design? Yes. Better technology for farmers? Of course. More importantly though, those relationships foster mutual understanding of one another and their respective values and paradigms. This understanding, and this collaboration across different spheres in society, can only lead to good things for the small-scale farming movement.
She spoke of different examples of what Farm Hack has developed, giving us a look into what we could be doing here in Scotland. Software, such as a mobile phone app, that alerts the farmer when their greenhouse temperature drops, or if their electric fencing fails. Pedal powered and draft-animal powered farming machines that use muscle, rather than oil, energy. Clever modifications of old tractors, making a more modern utilisation of existing implements. The sharing of untapped resources that were previously part of society’s waste stream. The only limit seems to be those of the collective human creativity.
Following Severine’s presentation, many of us gathered to discuss and organise a Scottish Farm Hack, with much fruitful insight and exciting plans coming together. We wanted to keep most of the same elements and format of the UK Farm Hack gathering, including a weekend residential format, practical and technological workshops, skill sharing, and of course, the social aspect of connecting with others.
We discussed the potential of the Scottish Farm Hack differentiating slightly, by having a more holistic approach. This could mean not just focusing on innovative tools and associated skills, but supporting and attracting all aspects of agro-ecological farming. Examples of this include showcasing the methods and techniques of resilient agriculture, or bringing in the livestock, woodland, and orchard aspects of farming alongside arable production ‘hacks’.
Many thanks to Severine for her enthusiastic and enlightened contribution to the Scottish Farm Hack imaginings and discussion – and Soil City for hosting! Perhaps we’ll see you, and many other farmers and tinkerers, on the sunny hillside at Tombreck, dreaming and building the tools for the Scottish farming renaissance.