On Friday June 8, 2012 I presented about Farm Hack at the 12th annual American Ecological Engineering Society conference. Ecological engineering is designing ecosystems for the mutual benefit of people and the environment. It was held in Syracuse, NY at the State University of New York College of Environmental Science and Forestry. Most of the approximately 150 participants were academics, students or consulting engineers.
Categories of presentations and posters included ecosystem restoration, sustainability and sustainability analysis, education, community and technology transfer, water and wasterwater and, of course, agroecosystems. In addition to Farm Hack, other presentations on agroecosystems were on vermicomposting, harvesting rainwater for food production, accumulation of antimicrobials by crops, the impact of Andean coca cultivation, quantifying changes in cacao growing regions in West Africa and managing human waste as a nutrient resource.
Ecological engineers are ideal collaborators for Farm Hack. Farmers are the original ecological engineers – they manage and design ecosystems to grow food. Farmers do this with tractors and seeds, while engineers are more likely to use diagrams and computer models to get the job done. Ultimately their goals are the same: work with the environment to provide services that people need. Ecological engineering strives to be both quantitative and qualitative in its approach. It acknowledges and expects natural systems to self-organize and favors directing existing conditions rather than building expensive infrastructure. Farm Hack as a social technology that mimics this principle with its open source ethic where information is made available to everyone.
So far the focus of Farm Hack has been on physical tools which are great because these tools can be used regardless of location and are easily transferrable from farm to farm. However, Farm Hack has yet to delve into ecological design. This is entirely understandable as ecological systems are inherently site specific and require much more data to frame a problem before a solution can even take shape. These kinds of projects would require long term relationships between farmers and engineers in order be implemented.
Many topics within ecological engineering translate directly to agricultural needs. Phytotechnology is using plants to accomplish specific goals like soil stabilization or remediating contaminants in the soil and water. Urban farming, where soils are frequently less than ideal and require restoration has the potential to benefit hugely from phytotechnology.
All farms produce waste and depend on soil fertility, but may be able to address these issues in better ways. Composting systems can be designed for different purposes: improving soil fertility or stabilizing food waste, offal and animal mortalities.
Stormwater management is a big deal for agriculture. Some farmers could benefit from capturing rainwater and using it for irrigation later, but others may be more concerned about preparing for flood events.
Engineering analyses that examine the economics, energy and resource usage and nutrient cycling may be useful as well. Farmers frequently don’t have a way to quantify their practices effectively could use them to make better management and business decisions.
The presentation was well-received and the audience asked thoughtful questions about the specifics of how the Farm Hack community shares information and plans events. My hope is that Farm Hack gained exposure in the ecological engineering community and that this is the beginning of more engineers participating. Farm Hack was highlighted by Stew Diemont, the president of the society, in his closing remarks as an example of exciting new directions for ecological engineering.
By Leanna Mulvihill
Plans for Farmhack@ESF are coming together! We’ve received positive responses from the SUNY Environmental Science and Forestry community, special thanks to the Environmental Resources Engineering department, and a few local farms are excited to participate as well. This event will be covered by Food + Tech Connect, a company that brings innovators in food and information technology together. The Saturday after Farmhack@ESF (September 17th!), is the Local Living Festival in Canton, NY on September 24th where Leanna Mulvihill will be giving a presentation on Farmhack@ESF and the designs that come out of it.
Ideas for possible designs are still needed! Farmers who would like to work with landscape architects, engineers, botanists and ecologists are highly encouraged to share their ideas. There are students and faculty eager to hear your point of view and collaborate. Please contact Leanna Mulvihill at email@example.com.
By Leanna Mulvihill
My name is Leanna Mulvihill and on September 17th, I’m bringing Farm Hack to my school — the State University of New York College of Environmental Science and Forestry (SUNY ESF) in Syracuse, NY. ESF is unique in that every course of study has an environmental focus. There are a lot of different flavors of science majors and other majors including: environmental studies, landscape architecture, construction management, bioprocess engineering and environmental resources engineering. As such, it is pretty easy to get students from a variety of programs excited about sustainable farming. This fall I will be a senior in environmental resources engineering and am
currently interning at Tantré Farm in Chelsea, MI.
Farm Hack @SUNY ESF will be a one-day event for farmers and designers of all varieties with the goal of creating relatively low-cost, easy to implement solutions for small scale farmers.
We need farmers with design ideas/farm tech challenges to pitch and people to help solve them . If you’ve got an idea burning a hole in your pocket, please let me know! The ideas will be presented in the morning and teams will be formed based on the interests/expertise of the participants. Each team will have the rest of the day to flesh out their designs with research, sketches and
rough prototypes. This will be from 10am until roughly 5pm and snacks will be provided. Some materials will be available and bring your laptops, we’ve got wireless.
Presentations of these designs will happen that evening from 6-8pm. If you can’t participate in the full day event or would just like to drop by and see what it is all about, please come to the evening presentations!
A similar event was held last spring at MIT. They came up with a triketor and a self-flushing irrigation valves Check it out!
Farmhack@ESF – Saturday September 17th 2011 Nifkin Lounge, 1 Forestry Drive Syracuse, NY
RSVP to firstname.lastname@example.org
Post your design ideas on our Facebook event page (Farmhack@ESF) or email them.
Hope to see you there!