I was invited to visit the Indiana Small Farm Conference this past weekend, and was I ever glad I went. I got to reconnect with some farmer friends and make new connections. I learned about the challenges facing the people who grow our food on a small scale. And of course lunch was delicious, as well it should be with food supplied from local farms and prepared by the stellar whole-foods caterer known as The Juniper Spoon.
But the highlight was a session with a representative from Open Source Ecology. This is a group I’ve had my eye on for a while because of the radical way they are working to take back the building blocks of modern life. The goal is nothing less than a modular, low-cost, DIY “Global Village Construction Set” of 50 machines that would meet the major needs of civilization.
The best part? The plans are all open source, allowing anyone, anywhere, to try them out and make improvements.
OSE Construction Manager Chris Reinhart, it turns out, lives just an hour away from me. He calls himself a tinkerer and maker, and holds an architecture degree from Ball State. He is developing plans for a micro-house that could be built by a small group of people in a handful of days, using equipment from the GVCS.
He posts his plans on Facebook and logs his work online for all to see. As a writer I shudder at the prospect of having so many eyes on a work-in-progress, but transparency is the name of the game here. Reinhart says the idea is to “tap the hive mind” and constantly iterate improvements.
Another goal is to standardize workflows. Reinhart explained that a group of 16-20 people could break into smaller teams, each take a module (there’s one for plumbing, one for windows, etc.), and work separately until time to put the construction together. He likened the system to a life-sized Lego set that can be snapped together.
The above TED talk by OSE’s founder, Marcin Jakubowski, talks about how lowering the barriers to farming, building, and manufacturing can unleash human potential. An entrepreneur who wants to start a construction company can jump right in. A household can add a DIY wind turbine and sell energy back to the grid. Farmers can be less dependent on manufacturers.
Think of it: That irritating built-in limitation of purchased gadgets, planned obsolescence, would become a thing of the past as people discover how to build and fix their own machines.
“This is a different model, economically and socially,” Reinhart says. In contrast to a top-down command and control ethos, this bottom-up model empowers many people on the ground, all making and innovating and selling to each other. I love the collaborative “do-it-with-others” spirit of these guys. Go DIWO!
Correction: The original blog post indicated that six machines have been prototyped; in actual fact 16 are in prototype phase, and the workshops are being offered on the six most mature designs.