The Unconventional Farmer's Mission

This week in the Flog:

  • How do I view the future of The Unconventional Farmer and why?
  • What is the best thing we can accomplish as a community?
  • What is our next step as a community?
  • An inspiring video and how it relates to us unconventional farmers

Today I’m going to share something totally new, that’s actually been brewing here for some time.  This is a very different post than normal, and I hope you will read on as I share a mission statement for The Unconventional Farmer (TUF).  This is something of a Call to Action – and in the modern spirit of iterative innovation, it’s a bit half-formed still.  You can help me solidify it…

Once, years ago now, I saw a map showing all these BSF composters all over the world. “that’s so cool” I thought, “wouldn’t it be neat to have a map like that of Natural Farmers, enable them to make connections with each other, and have this visually rich representation of the global network.”

This idea of “network” or rather “community” has always interested me.  I guess I’m a product of the new cult of Information Technology – connecting people to form communities in ways that were never possible before is just awesome.   But what do we DO with this connection?  How do we make each other and the world better?  And what does this have to do with The Unconventional Farmer?  Read on…

Enter Joi Ito’s TED talk from earlier this year.  I encourage you to watch the video, but I’m going to take out some points that directly apply to us.

After the 2011 earthquake rocked Japan and several nuclear reactors blew up, a bunch of concerned citizens formed a group and began measuring radiation and posting it on a website.

States Ito: “…we decided we were going to try to measure the radiation and get the data out to everybody else, because it was clear that the government wasn’t going to be doing this for us.”

Three years later, Joi Ito’s group has 16 million data points, their own customized Geiger counters, and innovative ways for people from all over the world to add to the network of information. As Mr. Ito says “We are arguably one of the most successful citizen science projects in the world, and we have created the largest open dataset of radiation measurements”.

Joi Ito asks “How did a bunch of amateurs who really didn’t know what we were doing somehow come together and do what NGOs and the government were completely incapable of doing?”

A bunch of amateurs? Sounds familiar? Chances are this Natural Farming stuff is fairly new to you. Natural Farming and these fermented recipes are poorly understood and not widely used. We are the amateurs.

“…it was a new way of doing things that was enabled by the Internet and a lot of the other things that were going on…I want to talk a little bit about what those new principles are.”

This is what I think is so interesting about this talk. These principles can be applied to any community. Any “loosely organized group of amateurs” can create tectonic shifts by leveraging technology. This is what I’m talking about:

“So the Internet caused innovation, at least in software and services, to go from an MBA-driven innovation model to a designer-engineer-driven innovation model, and it pushed innovation to the edges, to the dorm rooms, to the startups, away from the large institutions, the stodgy old institutions that had the power and the money and the authority.”

Massive innovation no longer depends on massive companies with massive budgets. It can be done by US, the Community. Joi Ito goes on to discuss factories that innovate right on the factory floor. What was initially only done in “software and services” is suddenly happening in other sectors like hardware, or biological science!

This is where we get some really neat insights. For example Joi states:

“So it’s happening in software and in hardware and bioengineering, and so this is a fundamental new way of thinking about innovation. It’s a bottom-up innovation, it’s democratic, it’s chaotic, it’s hard to control. It’s not bad, but it’s very different, and I think that the traditional rules that we have for institutions don’t work anymore, and most of us here operate with a different set of principles.”

Look at that – “it’s a bottom-up innovation, it’s democratic, it’s chaotic, it’s hard to control.” What a paradigm shift from the traditional way of doing things.

This is the new mode of innovation: Quick, agile, create-in-the-moment type innovation done by a large group of loosely organized, regular citizens, where the whole creation process is facilitated using technology. There is no permission from budget councils or managers or governments, no proof that this or that idea will work out – simply constant innovation towards a high level goal that unifies the group, or “community”.

And something Mr. Ito mentioned jumped out at me, that resonates with us: “…learning over education is very near and dear to my heart, but to me, education is what people do to you and learning is what you do to yourself.”

Don’t worry about formal education and listening to experts. Do your own study, and then start expanding on that by experimenting yourself. Most likely you are well familiar with this concept already. The internet has opened this opportunity to us – all the resources we need are at our fingertips, we don’t need to ask anyone for them.

This talk concludes with a critical piece of advice. Joi states:

Compass over maps…We could not have planned this whole thing, but by having a very strong compass, we eventually got to where we were going…”

To innovate as this loose group, to practice “citizen science” as Mr. Ito calls it, requires a unified vision. This can be a high level vision, but it needs to be shared by all. I love the compass analogy – if everyone set their compass to North and started walking, we will all meet at the north pole regardless of where on Earth we’re coming from. People may take small detours and zig zag and do all kinds of crazy stuff, but if the general direction is north we will meet up eventually. And the closer we get to the north pole, our destination, the more our paths will intersect and the direction become clearer, the way easier to follow.

How does this relate to the future I see for The Unconventional Farmer?

It’s very simple – I hope to make the TUF site a two-fold resource – to provide the technology to drive the innovation, and reinforce the heading on our group “compass”.

What is our next step as a community?

I’ve taken the first step to providing the technology we need to organize, connect, share information and experiments, and more. We have opened the TUF Forums to facilitate information sharing and storing. The organization comes later. Register now to join this effort, and become a citizen scientist for the natural farming movement.

I have some questions for you…

What is our direction as a community? What do we want to accomplish? Popularize Natural Farming? Drive it towards the main stream? Prove it’s effectiveness through experiments? Show the difference we can make by using these alternative methods?

Do you have the answer to those questions? Can you share with us? I would love to get your feedback, please help us shape our future and the future of The Unconventional Farmer (TUF). Click here to share.

Here are some ideas of how technology can support these goals:

Prove Natural Farming through experiments: Create a test kit, or test methodology that is easily replicable, and assign a number to it, like 1000. Each person can sign up for the test, run the experiment, and add their findings to the pool. Eventually would have 1000 replications of the same simple experiment. Create a bunch of these experiments so people can browse and choose which experiment interests them, then run it at home. These would all be in a customized section of the website which would act as the repo and upload/download interface.
Show difference we can make: Assign a value, like a carbon credit, to each natural farming technique. For example if you make 1 cubic meter of biochar, you can save “x” CO2 emissions, and cut down on fertilizer input by “y”. So people using boichar can put down how much they’ve used and we’ll record that credit. We can show all of these on a world map, like a google maps with heat zones to display how much people in different areas are saving their environment. This would be a wonderful visual representation of our effect as a group.
Popularize Natural Farming: This one relies on site popularity and usage. Adding value to the website draws more people, and more people get into natural farming. We will also produce more on the “how” – home gardeners are used to seeing fertilizer charts and simple-to-follow instructions. We’ll produce those to make these more “normal” as practices and recipes.

What Can you do now?

Sign up for our forums which are now up! As I mentioned, this is the first step we are taking as a community – one place where we can share ideas and experiments. Organizing it comes later but at least for now we can all get on there and share. Register for the forums now and you can post anywhere on there.

I’ll be discussing this more later on – amazing parallels can be drawn between business innovation and academic publishing. It’s going to be a good discussion! In any case next week I’ll publish the post on how to make your own supercharged animal feed – it’s a two part series that’s really interesting!

  • jim

    here is a growing community –

  • Jerry

    I signed up, had a question but could not post to Forum Support. How do you post?

  • jana

    We need all the good people we can get! To make the difference. To push others from passivity and show them it can be joy to grow.

    When I talk to people about gardening and new techniques, there is no interest from them. Most replies are:
    – I don’t have time
    – there is no scientific proof this will work
    – my income is depending on good crops, I cannot afford to lose money on childish play

    My parents are one itsy-bitsy example. When I started making BIM and other recipes in the spring, they laugh: o, our daughter is collecting microbes in the woods, hahaha. But as they monitor me through the season, see my dedication and results, they turn around. Not completely, but now they even have their own suggestion what else to do and what to try.

    A good practice leads. Thanks.

  • richard

    I really like this call to action. It’s just what our over regulated administered and governed little world needs.
    I’ll be blunt.Mankind has overstepped his bounds since almost day ONE. Earth friendly symbiotic agriculture was here for more than 4 BILLION years before we even showed up . As hunter /gatherers we were marginally permissible but we soon moved into monoculture, chemical fertilizers were next on the agenda , and now we are up to creating new genes , never seen before and sticking them willy nilly into any old chromosome we can get to stand still long enough to insult with our god-posturing ways….
    we are now not only poisoning our food crops but also poisoning the livestock to which we feed them AND the consumers of that livestock , but it does not stop there – no .
    Soil is a living being , born of about 4 billion years of symbiosis with the plants that grow in it . It is a mind-bogglingly complex , incredibly beautiful !~system of interdependence that would humble any politician who dared to look at it.Plants and soil actually PAY ATTENTION to each other !
    But some human factions have no respect for or understanding of HOW and WHY plants manage to magically germinate and grow in soil. They have no respect for that what is working here has been developed over a period of billions of years symbiosis billions of years ..before we were even here.
    They think they can improve on 4 billion years of symbiosis, change the balance of microbes in the soil, mess with endo mycorrhyzal fungi
    It boggles the mind , doesn’t it ? , that some little johnnie-come-lately human could entertain the notion that he could improve on what he has been granted the opportunity to experience…….
    It boggles the mind
    But mankind in general does not even yet , apparently,realize that he has screwed up here.
    Unconventional Farmers DO realize that mankind has screwed up here .
    Unconventional Farmers don’t create new genes and set them loose in the wild.
    Unconventional Farmers don’t even use chemical fertilizers.
    Unconventional Farmers DO realize that big business practices of creating ‘new elements” of lifeforms has the potential to kill life on Earth… Some idiots are trying to innovate outside the bounds of the symbiosis that has been developing here for billions of years…. take a second and ask yourself ..what kind of ignorance is required , what level of ego is present , to attempt such a demand ?
    …. The “recipes ” section of the UF website is an introduction to a return to Earth friendly farming . It builds on what has already been working for a few billion years
    …. in short , if anything can save our little World from the way it is going , unconventional farming is going to be at the top of the list .

    Our human feet have gotten so far off the ground we can’t even remember how to grow a kick-ass tomato in the back yard !
    Yet if we left it alone , that tomato would grow.
    Let’s elect a tomato , a hot pepper , a brassica , corn (no gmo ) a potato , basil and a thousand “weeds” to congress and see how things change… and lets make worm castings the Sargent at arms.
    We humans get to learn how to build good soil, stand back , and be amazed at what happens when we put seeds in it …..
    unconventional farming can save our World
    Grow some damn Microbes ,build your soil !~ watch em bubble and set them FREE ….in your garden, Earth will hug you, feed you , and make you whole again.

  • rbuck

    It seems to me that a key element lacking in agriculture is a clear, easy-for-the-farmer-use definition of food qualify. One of the things I’ve noticed in reading the discussions in the various ag and gardening forums I participate in, is that folks seem to believe in a specific philosophy of agriculture with almost religious zeal. For the Reams folks it seems the only way of determining quality is by measuring Brix. Others espousing BCSR (base cation saturation ratio aka Albrecht) or SLAN (sufficiency level of available nutrients aka conventional ag) seem to come down on either using taste to determine quality or the FDA definition of quality, which as I understand it is largely about yield, shippability and cosmetics.

    Having seen how my grandkids have taken to sugar, I think there is more involved than simple taste and having seen FDA data which indicates crop mineral content have been significantly reduced over time, it would seem there is more involved than yield and cosmetics.

    Arden Anderson has a definition but it involves things like ORAC which are not easy to measure.

    So does anyone have a definition of quality which is based on nutrient density, yield and cosmetics which is easy for a farmer to use real time to manage crop production?

    So for me a key issue for this forum is to develop a easily usable definition of food quality. Without such a definition I think we are at risk of seeing conversations of methods devolve into shouting matches as they frequently do in other forums.


    • Patrick

      Hmmm that is awesome input Roy, thanks for that input. You are exactly right, we should start with the end goal and work backwards from there.. I can create a Sticky for the topic for the time being, and we can take the next steps later on.

  • Well said, Richard,
    Since the Haber process was developed 150 odd years ago, for fixing nitrogen industrially to be used for agriculture and explosives, the arrogance of the military industrial complex has indeed gone through the roof and they now consider democratic politics as little more than their theatrical entertainment sector.
    Over the same period, the agricultural lands of the world have lost organic material estimated to be around 20 times the mass of the current human population.
    Unconventional farmers can put this carbon back in the soil where it belongs, and if enough of us are doing it and are satisfied to simply take part in the biological system, then the market for industrial products will shrink in proportion. Ultimately the megalomaniac fringe will be left high and dry along the high tide mark of corporate over-reach, to shrivel up in the clear sunshine of the next exciting chapter of life on Earth.

    • Oops, I’ve just checked and I see that in fact the haver process was developed about 100 yrs ago, not 150 as I said.

    • Patrick

      Hey Gordon, awesome imagery there in the end of your post! 🙂

      Yep, I love the idea of us putting that carbon back in the earth where it belongs. I hope to publish more on that topic, and shed more light on what we can do in that regard.


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