Ag Innovations

Here are some interesting agricultural innovation-makers, as shown at the Stone Barns Center website, reporting on their December 6, 2011 Young Farmer's Conference.

The “Slow Tools” Project. Small-scale farmers need tools that are scaled to the size of their operations—whether that be a 2-acre plot of land or a rooftop garden—and that are ergonomic, lightweight and affordable. But many of these tools simply do not exist in the marketplace. Enter Eliot Coleman, who for more than 40 years has been farming organically at his renowned Four Season Farm in Maine—with a heavy dose of inventing on the side. Frustrated by the lack of farming tools to suit his needs, this celebrated farmer-inventor has designed and built some amazing pieces of equipment, from a seeder with rollers fore and aft, to a co-lineal hoe (with the blade in line with the handle), to a modular greenhouse whose independent units can be easily broken down and reassembled. Now Eliot wants to see these and other tools brought to the swelling ranks of young farmers. With Stone Barns Center, Eliot is working to launch a project that will develop new designs of appropriately scaled, open-source tool systems that will propel small-scale producers into the 21st century. First up on the slate are an electric tractor and a hand-held baby greens harvester.

FarmHack. An offshoot of the newly formed National Young Farmers Coalition, FarmHack is a community for “those who embrace the long-standing farm traditions of tinkering, inventing, fabricating, tweaking and improving things that break.” Modeled after the computer open-source programmer community, FarmHack is a web forum where ideas and innovations can be shared among farmers living hundreds or thousands of miles apart. Need know-how for a paddlewheel-powered irrigation pump? A precision tine cultivator? A self-contained biodiesel processing plant built in a retrofitted Coca-Cola trailor? (Both FarmHack and the National Young Farmers Coalition are the brainchildren of the husband-and-wife team Ben Shute and Lindsey Lusher Shute, themselves farmers and soon-to-be parents.)

Some of you may recall that the Local Living Festival 2011 featured a talk by SUNY-ESF's Leanna Mulvihill on their recent Farm Hack session.

. They met as Cornell graduate students, where their agriculture research in Africa and the United States convinced them that small-scale farms can become more vibrant and resilient if they embrace sustainability. And so Jeff Gordon and Giulia Stellari started AgSquared, an online software toolkit to help small farmers improve their operations and build their businesses. Their company’s simple premise: better plans, streamlined management and more complete records can help make farms more productive, more profitable and more sustainable. AgSquared is currently being beta tested on 50 farms, including Stone Barns Center.