Around The Farm

Slow Tools, Fast Change

Cars, houses, meal sizes: for the past few decades, all have been getting larger. The same goes for farming equipment. In this era of “bigger is better,” it’s not easy to find farming tools suitable for small-scale operations. In fact, it’s almost impossible.

“Nearly all of the tractors and their implements used by small farmers disappeared during the rise of the current global industrial farming system, beginning in the 1960s,” says Barry Griffin, a design engineer. Today, the market for small-scale farm equipment and tools simply doesn’t exist—and that puts small farmers at a disadvantage.

That’s why Griffin is teaming up with Stone Barns Center on the Slow Tools Project, a partnership that is re-imagining and re-inventing tools to bring appropriately scaled, lightweight, affordable and open-source tools to the swelling ranks of young farmers.

“The re-emergence of small-scale farming has created a need for small tractors and other tools and implements capable of performing traditional and newer farming tasks more efficiently and ergonomically,” says Griffin. Today’s small farmers simply cannot purchase the equipment they need to work a 30-inch greenhouse bed, for instance. They end up having to buy standard, cumbersome pieces and adapt them for their needs, hurting efficiency and very often their backs.

The Slow Tools project is bringing together a small group of engineers and leading farmers to design, build and make available through open-source systems a host of new tools. Among the partners are Eliot Coleman, an organic farmer, inventor and author from Four Season Farm in Maine, Ron Kholsa, organic farmer and engineer of Huguenot Farm in New Paltz, Josh Volk of Slow Hand Farm in Oregon, and Jack Algiere, our Vegetable Farm Manager. They have identified 34 tools in need of development, beginning with a small electric tractor that will serve as the “motherboard” frame to which other tools can be attached. Other inventions to follow will be the solar-powered “Horse Tractor,” which could have a significant impact among cultures dependent on draft animals and where drought limits water availability, and a compressed-air grain harvester and processor.

“We believe that these essential pieces of equipment will help reduce the risk of failure that so many young and beginning farmers face,” says Jill Isenbarger, executive director of Stone Barns Center. “The challenges they deal with are significant: high land prices and connection to markets, for instance. Tools shouldn’t be one of them.”

Originally published on July 12, 2012

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