On the weekend of the 18th & 19th April more than 120 farmers & growers descended on Ruskin Mill farm, Gloucestershire, for the launch of Farmhack UK. Farmhack is an initiative born out of the Greenhorns young farmers movement in the U.S. that aims to bring together farmers, growers, engineers and designers to create appropriate scale farm tools for a new generation. The Ruskin Mill event was organized by The Landworkers’ Alliance and was the first Farmhack event to be held outside north America.
Helped largely by the fine spring weather the event was a fantastic success. Following the opening session in the Ruskin Mill field kitchen on the Saturday morning everyone walked up the hill for a series of practical demonstrations of home-made farm machinery. First up was a demonstration of a bicycle-powered grain mill, designed and built by Fergus Walker of the Fife Diet. The mill uses a bicycle to power a flexible drive shaft that is geared to drive two opposing mill stones. The grain is fed into a hopper in the top of the mill chamber after which the milled grain drops into a bowl underneath – ready for baking!
Next we headed over to the horticulture field where the first of several horse-powered demonstrations was given by Mike Paddock displaying the Charlie Pinney forecart. The forecart is essentially a four wheeled horse drawn cart with a hydraulic 3-point hitch on the back which can carry any tractor mounted tool. Mike was demonstrating a Massey toolbar however the forecart could equally carry tractor mounted ploughs, cultivators, and weeders. The Pinney cart also has the option of adding a 36 horse-power PTO unit that allows it to run small-scale mowers, tedders & balers.
Next up Ed Hamer from Chagfood Community Market Garden demonstrated a new cultimulcher he had built to fit onto the Pioneer Homesteader he imported from the U.S. in 2012. The cultimulcher is essentially a Cambridge style roller with 36 alternating stubs welded onto each wheel enabling it to crumble soil more effectively with each pass. The roller was combined with a spring-tine cultivator to help lift and aerate the soil without compacting it.
The final horsedrawn tool was demonstrated by Stuart Cragg from Ruskin Mill. This was a home-made toolbar that could carry inter-row cultivators as well as sweeps for bed forming. The toolbar is used for the majority of cultivation and tillage on the horticulture field at Ruskin Mill allowing them to grow all of their crops on 60cm ridges.
Next up was Adrian Halstead from Barcombe Nurseries who demonstrated his home-built lazy weeder consisting of a winch unit powered by solar panel which runs an 18v Dewalt drill that pulls a simple bed-frame along the rows. The weeder enables one or two people to lie flat while either weeding row crops or planting out plugs. It was constructed entirely from recycled materials with an incredibly low cost price. The final field demonstration was given by Mike Fisher of Northdown Orchard who showed his plywood boards and markers used for marking out spacings on biomulch.
The afternoon sessions were split into three streams with sessions running in the Field Kitchen and the Saxon Barn simultaneously. First up in the Field Kitchen Robin Grey from Three Acres & a Cow gave a fantastic introduction to the Farmhack.net website, explaining how to download designs and instructions for tools and, more importantly, how to upload infomatics on tools you have built yourself. Next we heard from James Hodges, a self-declared techno geek, who brought along his 3-D printer that he had made from scratch. He explained the process of building a 3-D printer and went into the potential components that could be made for agricultural enterprises including sprinkler units and valves.
Abby Schlageter from Polymathine then gave a presentation of the smartphone Apps she and her family have designed to improve the efficiency of harvesting on their farm in Chile. Lastly we heard from the Atelier Paysan (farmer fabricators) from France who had come across the Channel especially for Farmhack. They explained how over the past three years they have managed to secure public funding for vocational training for small-scale farmers to learn the skills of welding and fabrication needed to improve the efficiency of the way they farm. They have also managed to fund three mobile workshops, vans and lorries kitted out with welding, metal working and woodworking tools to enable them to run courses and builds on farms anywhere in the country.
The first session in the Saxon barn was given by Adam Ormes from Yorkley Court where he demonstrated how to produce compost teas using a flowform aerater. Next we heard from Lynn Davis, also from Yorkely Court, about how she set up the Forest of Dean Foodhub. The thrird session was run by Peter Brinch who demonstrated his home-made seed cleaner which he build from designs downloaded from the Real Seed Catalogue. Lastly Scotty & Darren from Swansea demonstrated the rocket stove they have fabricated to create biochar for soil augmentation.
Whilst these sessions were running the third stream “the hack” was underway in the woodwork and metal workshops. The Landworkers’ Alliance has often lamented the lack of decent Broadforks on the market in the UK for aerating soil in polytunnels and compacted ground. As a result we decided that building a Broadfork would be a worthwhile project for the weekend in order to give people experience of woodworking (for the handles), blacksmithing (for the tines) and welding (for putting it all together). As a result we had three practical workshops running simultaneously giving more than 80 people the chance to gain hands-on experience of fabricating their own tools.
The Saturday evening began with a hearty feast laid on by Jyoti Fernandes of Fivepenny Farm who provided fantastically wholesome catering for the whole weekend, followed by a stomping ceilidh and an impromptu set from folk singer Robin Grey.
On the Sunday morning we convened for a closing session during which we took some feedback on the organization of the weekend before splitting into working groups to propose strategies for taking Farmhack UK onwards and upwards! We finished off with auctioning the Broadfork that was made on the Saturday which raised £100 for the LWA!
To finish the event we had a talk by Bernie about the philosophy behind Ruskin Mill, followed by a great farm tour by Stuart. Thanks to all at Ruskin Mill and everyone involved in the first of many UK FarmHacks!