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Farmer-scientist group wants to ‘hack society’ through open-source technology

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by Bonnie Azab Powell 29 Dec 2010     Grist.org

One of the most frequent criticisms leveled against the sustainable agriculture movement is that its proponents want to send farmers back to 19th-century hard labor, with hand weeding and harvesting. Here’s an incredibly cool group of eco-minded “farmer-scientists” who aren’t in the least afraid of technology — and in fact believe in “creating industrial processes that are fully in harmony with ecologically responsible living.”

The Open Source Ecology team’s first, ambitious project is the Global Village Construction Set — a sort of life-size Erector set of the most essential machines for building a “small civilization with modern-day comforts,” including housing and the means for food, energy, and technology production.

40 machines

The proposed set of essential machines. Eight prototypes have been built so far. Drawing: Courtesy of Open Source Ecology

Parts like engines and chassis can be swapped amongst the eight prototypes built so far, which include the Compressed Earth Brick Press and LifeTrack Multipurpose Tractor. The group claims that their DIY machines are on average eight times cheaper than buying them from the manufacturer.

The Global Village Construction Set is currently the leading contender in Make magazine’s Green Project contest: voting closes Dec 31 at midnight. [ Note: they won the Grand Prize!] It’s just ahead of two other interesting but far less radical projects, the Upcycle Exchange and FabMo, both of which seek to divert materials from the waste stream and into the craft communities.

Factor E Farm

Open Source Ecology’s home base at the Factor e Farm in Missouri. Photo: Sean Church

Open Source Ecology, by contrast, is about “hacking society” via permaculture principles. “We are proposing high-tech neosubsistence — or the capacity to live from local resources by use of advanced, appropriate technology, without requiring any compromise on quality of life,” writes Marcin Jakubowski, the project leader and “sparkplug,” on the group’s blog. “It is difficult to get people to think out of the box — that totally sustainable, regenerative, resilient economies are a choice — and that we are proposing a solution to implement these technologies.”

Jakubowski is a Princeton graduate who got a PhD in fusion physics from the University of Wisconsin then started a hydroponic vegetable farm in Madison, Wisc., before founding Open Source Ecology to work on closed-loop manufacturing. He and the dozen other Open Source Ecology members live most of the year on Factory e Farm, a 30-acre former soybean farm in Missouri, “where we put the theory of Open Source Ecology into practice … We paid our last electricity bill three years ago. We are getting our power from waste vegetable oil and the sun. We drink pure free rain water. We grow most of our food. We are free. Welcome to our life. We want to help others do the same. Decentralization. Regain control of your life.”

Sound good? Check out Open Source Ecology’s two-minute explainer video [above], get lost in their wiki (like I just did for two hours) and consider voting for them in the Make contest or becoming a True Fan and financially supporting their work.

Bonnie Azab Powell is Grist’s food editor. Follow her on Twitter.

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  1. […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Jennifer Nazak and Restore The Earth, Claudia . Claudia said: Farmer-scientist group wants to ‘hack society’ through open-source technology : http://wp.me/pxgwD-wo […]


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