We at Watervine Impact really dig collaboration. Our whole business model is based on bringing together diverse groups of skilled innovators to build, market and fund culinary and farm enterprises. We think we're pretty good at this, but the folks over at Farm Hack are taking collaboration to a whole new level, through building and sharing open source tools and knowledge through their online and offline community. I am a member of the Farm Hack community. Recently, I had the chance to present Farm Hack to a New York City food and technology audience, at the January Food + Tech Connect Meetup on AgInnovation. Here are adapted remarks. This content is based on insights from Dorn Cox, the co-founder of Farm Hack.
"Prior to working in the culinary and farm worlds, I worked in tech marketing in Silicon Valley. It was in Silicon Valley that I first saw the immense transformative power of open source and it is this power that I also see in open source farming and culinary innovation.
Farm Hack is a worldwide community of farmers and culinary allies that build and modify our own tools. Farmers and food makers like to tinker, improve and iterate on the things we do and we like to talk about our improvements to each other. Farm Hack allows us to do that beyond our own farm gates or the four walls of our kitchens. In agriculture and culinary arts today, we have access to so much knowledge. We can tell the health of our soil and its impact on climate. We can innovate a new method for bread baking in Miami, using flour grown in North Carolina, and we can tell every other person on the planet what we know.
Farm Hack is a community about both ancient and modern technology, but even more than technology, Farm Hack is about culture – technology is just a means to an exchange of knowledge.
Food today is faced with some really huge challenges, around energy, water, land, soil, seeds and many other issues. Tools to grow or make better food should not have to cost hundreds of thousands of dollars and be black boxed so we can’t improve,or make, or fix them ourselves.
As we see it, every farm and kitchen is a research and development lab. Every farmer or baker is an inventor. You have to be. Agricultural research is done every day, but most of it doesn’t get past the farmer’s gate or the baker's door. What Farm Hack does is to provide a place for farmers and their culinary and tech allies to link up around ideas, tools and really ingenious problem solving.
The community is both online and offline. The online site experiences 300-1000 unique visitors per day. Community members facilitate dozens of events in the US, Canada and Europe and add three to four registered users per day. Farm Hack continues to grow, adding a range of different tools, and thoughts, creating a living learning community.
We have a lot of fun, but we do have some challenges.
Our biggest challenge is inspiring our community and communicating that their creativity and ideas are what drives value. Our community only has value if everyone engages, shares and uses it. Another challenge is making it easy to share ideas, and also to make the process of collaboration fun, relevant and rewarding.
What is most important to understand is that this is a site for tools we intend to use and share not invention to patent and protect. While the community respects ownership, as Dorn Cox says, "We want to see growth from production, not protection."
What is hacking and open source?
Open Source can be thought of as the idea that "From one seed springs a thousand." Again, from Dorn, "Hacking is a move from a world where the even the farmer is a consumer and 100% dependent on the global supply chain to a resilient, distributed network of fabrication shops, community college fab labs, maker spaces, open toolkits and sharing." Farm Hack provides balance, adding diversity to the culinary and farming ecosystem.
I encourage you to go on the site and input a search term that interests you. Login and join, post or improve a tool, share a thought or a link. You will find information on soil health and water quality monitoring, greenhouse systems management, beehive health and safety, pedal power strawberry picking and much more. I even posted a food system hack on how to connect people who grow food with people who need food in ways that work for everyone.
Farm Hack Community members are modern day blacksmiths, building our own tools, systems and improvements.
We want to keep farming in the hands of the farmers, chefs, makers, and eaters. We know, because we have thousands of years of data on this, that an open system is the one that creates resilience, abundance and long-term prosperity for everyone."