8. Rollercrimpers, open source food network and tech for small-scale growing

'Crop Crimpers' - flatten and break cover crops

Conservation Agriculture: a trio of cover cropping, no-till and diverse cropping, is an important part of sustainable farming. The FAO suggests Conservation Agriculture's adoption is 'perhaps most urgently required by smaller-scale farmers'. One area that is still unclear, mainly in wet mild climates like the UK, is how to kill the cover crop at the appropriate time to plant your desired crop. Currently, many farmers do this using chemicals to burn the crop off. Hence, this farming method is not popular with organic farmers. Luckily, people are developing tools to ‘crimp’ the cover crop, or essentially break their stalks very near the surface of the soil. This technique means that the plant dies but the soil remains undisturbed.
The Rodale Institute published all the blueprints of how to build a rollercrimper they designed. An amended version for rough terrain is also available on Farmhack. You can also buy them directly. Their is a company manufacturing them in Pennsylvania, USA. This French company also makes something similar in many different sizes, for use in vines and on much smaller scale operations, they even have a horse-drawn option.
We asked John Cherry, arable/cattle farmer in Hertfordshire, UK and no-till advocate what he thought. “I really like the look of these things, but I've never actually seen one in the flesh, or metal strictly speaking. I'd love to know whether you could terminate a cover in our climate (wet) with one, it would be quite a game changer, glyphosate-wise.”

 

Open Food Network  - sell online from local food hubs & sell direct from the farm

Open Food Network is a not-for-profit that provides software for food hubs or for farmers to sell direct from their farm. They recently launched in the UK and are pretty well established in Australia. All of their software is open-source, so any tech-savvy farmers out there can potentially adapt it to their needs. Producers on Open Food Network (OFN) can choose to sell their produce directly to consumers, or via food hubs. To have a shopfront on OFN UK is free for anyone trading under £5000/year through their OFN shop, otherwise they charge 2% of monthly turnover - so anywhere from £100/year (if your OFN shop turnover is £5001/year) to £2000+/year (if your OFN shop turnover is £100,000+/year) to use their services. Farmers are also not charged anything if they are using the software to sell through food hubs or other producers.

There is a great article on how it benefits smaller-scale food producers and farmers here.

Open Food Network is a similar service to The Food Assembly which we featured a few months ago. The main difference is that The Food Assembly is a for-profit company that has taken external investment, so their service has developed much more quickly and is currently more user-friendly (but they do also take a larger cut of the turnover). They also have a slightly different model where people start Food Assemblies - or new food hubs as pick up and meeting points, rather than relying on current food hubs.

Another open source food software system we came across is Open Food Source, although this looks very technical and not as well developed.

 

Farmbot Genesis  - grow your own food with a tech helping hand

Farmbot Genesis ‘humanities first open source CNC farming machine’. The farmbot is a relatively simple robotic arm that seeds, weeds and waters plants in a plant bed. You can choose which plants you want to plant and in what setup using the app, and then the robotic arm will plant and care for your vegetables night and day, with very little required from you.  Initially this project seemed like the worst of robotic farming coming true. But, on second thoughts, it is a tool that could help many more people grow their own food on small-scales and locally. This is an example of a technology that can support more sustainable land management and smaller-scale mixed growing patterns. At the moment it can be pre-ordered for $4000 with the first machines due to ship in February.