DIY Genetically Modified seeds

Image from CIMMYT

We’re excited to announce that we had a secret Farm Hack – St. Louis event last week, at which young farmers and off-duty GMO scientists put their heads together. After an all-nighter hack-a-thon, we came up with a great new way to create DIY Genetically Modified Seeds on your very own farm, using off-the-shelf materials!

Materials list:

  • one packet of regular seeds
  • one .22 caliber rifle
  • one briefcase full of cash (for lobbying against GMO regulation)
  • some genes from a fish, to help create a flood-tolerant plant.

Next step is to put on a Tyvek suit and click here to follow our detailed instructions.



FarmHack: Sustainable Agriculture Tool Lending Library

The city of Berkeley's Tool Lending Library. Photo from

Tool lending libraries have been established in quite a few communities– Berkeley’s, which is part of the city’s public library system, is probably the most famous. But these tool libraries are aimed at homeowners. It isn’t unusual for farmers to share infrastructure (like large cooperatives that share processing equipment), and neighbor farmers may informally share equipment (my own farm shares a potato digger with two other vegetable farms, since we each only need it a day or two per season), but organized sharing of tools and equipment between farms isn’t very common.

Ten small farmers in North Carolina have cooperated to take things to the next level, after getting grant funding to establish a Sustainable Agriculture Tool Lending Library. They put up money to purchase implements and tools that no single farm needed on a daily or weekly basis, like a disc harrow, a manure spreader, and a trailer to move the tools around on. To coordinate who gets to use what tool when, the group is using tried-and-true methods of communication like monthly meetings, and newer ways, like Google Calendar. Although they note that sometimes it may be hectic if multiple farms want to use the same tool on the same day– common when weather is dictating what you can do when– they are mindful that without the Library, they probably wouldn’t have access to most of these tools at all.

The Library is targeted at new-entry farmers who are making their living farming, since these are usually the growers with the least resources to purchase the appropriate equipment.

Here’s an illustration of the Library and some of the member farms, inlcuding the founders at Lil’ Farm, and the folks at Bluebird Meadows Farm:

Sustainable Agriculture Tool Lending Library from RAFI-USA TCRF on Vimeo.

DIY industrial-scale tools: Open Source Ecology’s Global Village Construction Set

Global Village Construction Set in 2 Minutes from Open Source Ecology on Vimeo.

For young farmers, especially those starting up operations from scratch, the challenge of acquiring the equipment needed to do the job can be daunting. The history of farming in the U.S. is full of lessons to be learned from farmers who have taken out loans to buy equipment, then been forced to scale up to pay off the loans, then needed to take out more loans to scale up . . . Many young farmers are heeding these lessons by re-envisioning their farm plans to be more hand-scale; others are making do with very-used but often very unreliable equipment; and many are putting off farming altogether until they accrue more cash.

But there’s another approach being attempted by the hacker/engineer farmers and community builders at the Open Source Ecology project.  They are asking the questions: what if we as a community took more control of the production process for medium to large scale farming equipment and tools? Just as programmer communities came together with open-source software to challenge giants like Microsoft, what if we as farmers came together to design, build and improve our own tractors, tools, and implements?

FarmHack Tools: Chispito wind generator

Make Magazine has an amazing resource of step-by-step DIY project guides, and some of them are totally relevant to farmers.  From author Abe Connally, here’s one that could be useful in a number of ways.

Who the project is for:

Want to charge your 12v tractor batteries in the middle of a field?  Want to top off your electric fence controller battery?  Want to run a transfer pump to move water from a pond to a watering trough?  A DIY wind generator might be for you (post ideas for other good farm uses in the comments!).

What skills are necessary to complete it:

This project will require a few days to finish and you may need to research how wind generators work a bit to execute everything properly.  A good place for an overview of small-scale wind power projects is

Summary of the project (from the Make Projects post):

There are no limits to what you can do with wind power. It’s abundant, clean, cheap, and easy to harness. They designed this Chispito Wind Generator (that’s Spanish for “little spark”) for fast and easy construction. Most of the tools and materials you need to build it can be found in your local hardware shop or junk pile. They recommend that you search your local dump or junkyards for the pieces required. Or, if you live in a city, search [] for salvaged parts, and see if you can install one on your roof.


FarmHack: Using Google SketchUp to design equipment

When I go on a tour of someone’s farm, I am usually snapping photos of cultivators, measuring seeders, taking notes on techniques.  If I decide to copy a farm-built tool from a friend’s farm, it usually involves me making a bunch of phone calls or e-mail requests for info on how they built what they built, asking for drawings, etc.  I’ll be sure to ask for potential “pitfalls” in the design–  things they might modify if they were to build it again– and then I’ll launch my own effort at building a version for my farm.   Sometimes it goes pretty smoothly–  other times I realize only half-way into building it that I should have drilled this hole differently, or that I can’t mount that cultivator where I planned because the lift point is in the way . . .

Recently I’ve started using the 3D drawing tool Google Sketchup to create a mock-up of a tool before I set out to build it.  The great thing about this tool is that it’s free, relatively easy to learn, and  you can share plans with anyone who has a computer.  So, when I designed the frame for the tine weeder, and also the seeder frame, that I built for my Allis Chalmers G cultivating tractor, I modeled my tractor’s dimensions to ensure that my planned tools would fit properly–  have enough vertical clearance, not bump the front tires when turning, etc.

Here is a link to my mock-up of my Allis G tractor.  It’s a bit rough and simplistically geometric–  think super-early Pixar–  but it does the trick.  And it can be used by anyone with an Allis G.  The only caveats are that my G has a couple of spacer blocks that push the front wheels a few inches forward of a standard G, and this mock-up is for my G that has already been converted to run on an electric motor, rather than the gas engine, so that is represented in the design:

Allis G (converted to electric) SketchUp model

It would be great to get a team of farmers to model various tractors and implements and to build a library of them here on FarmHack, so that we can download one another’s designs and improve/modify/adapt each other’s tools to our own farms.