Here are some meditations on OPENSOURCE by Dorn Cox of Greenstart NH— a key leader of Farmhack.
Here are some meditations on OPENSOURCE by Dorn Cox of Greenstart NH– a key leader of Farmhack.
“So many of the next steps we have talked about are around improving the value for the participant in farm hack, which in my mind is access to relevant information and community. One of the values of participating in opensource is, as Rob mentions, is access to project capital that would otherwise not be available. This is clearly an area that has a lot of potential to be enhanced on the site through facilitating multiple distributed funding methods – but is just part of the value. Another value is access to documented ideas and experiences from folks with skilled minds ready to problem solve with you – this is a little more complex because it requires a certain critical mass of people to jump in, and is more fragile because the exchange and value is more based on social relationships and a more nebulous future return which will likely not be directly linked to your own contribution. In academic terms it is “complex reciprocity” – it is like a barn raising. By showing up and contributing, you put yourself on the list when you need a barn raised by the group – it is a sort of informal community contract. As in a barn raising those that make large contributions are recognized by the group but that return can come in many different forms – in learned skills, in shared experience, in good food, and in future connections and idea exchanges.
I, as a farmer, am not interested in developing a tool business, but in improving my farm and I would like to have access to the best tools for a kind of agriculture that has not yet been developed. I see the speculative R&D and manufacturing being a poor fit to rapidly develop adaptive technology that will meet my needs and the needs of the next generation of farms and farmers needs. In my view, anytime there is a license involved, it puts up a road block to expanding on that bit of insight, which will slow down innovation. The music industry and sampling controversy is the most common example, but there are so many right now with patent trolls in computer hardware and software making a fortune by producing no value but instead creating a toll in road of common progress. Fashion is the most public example of a billion dollar industry based on no design protection. Anyone can copy anyone else and they do – that is why the brand identity is so important. It identifies quality craftsmanship, or other qualities that are built on trust (maybe not the best industry to emulate, but you get my point). However, what you see in fashion is constant churn of designs and rapid adaptation to changing markets. I think this characteristic fits adaptive direct market agriculture much better than the model on the other end of the spectrum of living on royalties based on unchanging work done decades before. As Lois and I have talked about a lot, there are clearly revenue models in opensource hardware (and software), but they are different revenue models based on service and skills transfer rather than knowledge protection. By sharing development risk, we can also reduce the amount that we each need to recover back from a project in order to move on to the next project, and instead of looking to recover a large development cost, we can focus on marketing our products and skills. Even Wikipedia now has professionals making a living – not by licensed content or ads, but by writing and maintaining really good entries for third parties.
Our project is a little different than Wikipedia, but I believe not as different as we would think. I think we tend to dwell in our discussions on a very narrow set of projects that are expensive to prototype and require specialized fabrication skills. That is why I was so interested in the french FarmFab concept http://www.adabio-autoconstruction.org. They have an entirely separate program around fabrication skills that is much more like vocational training- with traveling trucks with equipment that can show up at a farm to do a build of a previously set design. When I was doing the weekend biodiesel workshops with Girl Mark, she would charge for the weekend and people would bring their own materials etc. SO the knowledge was free and open source, but Girl Mark’s time was compensated for – (and those projects required low skill levels and few special tools). These two models might be something we could build on. I think we would do well to separate the skill development track from the documentation and design work. I think this would enable us to focus on the social and online process of designing and sharing things that are easy to share electronically and socially first (photos, software code, parts sourcing, 3d components, skills videos, shared experiences, approaches, food etc.)
There is certainly demand for fabrication skills development but by developing a separate track for projects that require it, we might be able to move faster on other projects. Not everything on farmhack will require machining and metalwork – but it is easy to dwell on it as a barrier. The fabrication skills development track and lowering the cost of access to tools- like mobile setups, coops, fablabs, partnerships with schools etc. could then continue as an objective but not a road block. I don’t think this would be an abandonment of our current work, but rather a refinement that would also help clarify and define what “farm hack” events are all about (builds, skills, or designs, or documentation, and how they all relate to one another).”
Intrigued by the farm hack project and process? Want to jump in? You can! It is an opensource project totally powered by the people who participate, by the people who show up, bringing projects and momentum. The first step is signing up at FARMHACK.net, and starting to cruise the posts, add your own tools, document hacks you see on other peoples farms, and move the conversation forward. Teamwork is our best business strategy.