Farm Hack Davis ~ Highlights from a Creative, DIY Weekend

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Visualization of an open-source food distribution website

Farm Hack is a community-driven movement that brings farmers together with engineers, builders, welders, architects, software designers, and other skilled non-farmers to develop, document and build accessible, appropriate technology for more resilient agriculture. It’s based on the principles of sharing, open publication, and the evolution of design.  And, the recent Farm Hack Davis - the first in Northern California – booked up completely weeks before the actual event!

Cross-pollination was the word of the day! And not just among the one group collaborating to design an innovative new apiary. Another group was crowded around big sheets of paper sketching blueprints for a small-scale grain elevator, while another was devising a new website to connect farmers to local markets. From theoretical to practical, this day was about tapping into a wide diversity of creative ideas, to create tangible solutions to many on-farm challenges.

Sponsored by the National Center for Appropriate Technology (NCAT) and UC Davis’ Sustainable AgTech Innovation Center, the organizers of Farm Hack Davis hosted this unique, two-day creative confluence of farmers, mechanics, ranchers and engineers. Marisa Alcorta, the event’s facilitator, kicked off the day by introducing the many diverse skill sets in the room. By mid-morning, the crowd of seventy had split into groups, each collectively tackling a single on-farm challenge.

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Davis-based farmer shows off his specialized tractors

The term “hack” is typically associated with computers and technology, but during this day it was applied instead to a more visceral world of shovels, soil, worms and fence posts. But, the spirit was the same: just as computer hackers approach the internet with a playful resourcefulness and independent ingenuity, so too did these teams as they sought out alternative solutions to common on-farm problems. Rather than purchase products, they invented tools. Rather than rely on tradition, they stretched their imaginations. And, however collaborative the weekend was, each solution ended up geared towards autonomous application, small-scale production, and the DIY sensibility that is so necessary for the success of local agriculture.

This same sensibility overbooked this event. Weeks before their big Hack, Marisa and her co-organizers were forced to turn people away. Though it might seem a paradox, what attracts this new, modern generation of both agriculturalists and designers is a kind of “old fashioned” do-it-yourself-with-other-people approach. Those at the Hack valued relationships over corporations and collaboration over contracts, and in the course of just one day, more collaborative relationships arose than anyone could have expected.

When the sun had gone down at Glide Ranch, the event’s beautiful venue just outside the town of Davis, all the varied groups reconvened. Most had arrived as strangers that morning, but when each group stood up that night to present their findings, you would have guessed they’d known each other for ages. Between jokes and friendly heckles from the audience, each presenter proudly showed off diagrams and explained their process, the obstacles they encountered, and the insights that arose.

Some of these solutions will return to the field and go into effect as soon as the farmer can gather up the supplies. For others, there’s still plenty of hacking left to do. But either way, the weekend event offered an opportunity for folks to get off the farm and flex their minds so that when they do return, it’ll be with new eyes, as well as the eyes lent to them by fellow farmers, tinkerers, engineers, and the like. And, so long as they all stay in touch, Farm Hack Davis will be only just the beginning of many hacks to come.


Check out more information on upcoming Farm Hacks, or inquire about hosting a Farm Hack in your area!

Curious to see Farm Hack in action? Watch this video!

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