I just got back from Farm Hack Intervale/Essex, which was a weekend-long gathering of farmers, engineers, designers, fabricators, artists, and other good-hearted folks on the Vermont, then NY, side of Lake Champlain, meant to continue the imagining, reimagining, and development of better farm tools and practices.
Festivities Saturday included a tour of the Intervale Center's community farm and the tools and toys in its infrastructure-sharing cooperative's arsenal, led by Rob Rock of Pitchfork Farm, followed by group "charettes" tackling farm challenges, followed by a ferryride to NY, amazing meal in the local grange hall, bonfire and dance party at Black Kettle farm with way too many bottles of lovely, potent Citizen Cider, and drunken crawl to the barn for some sleep in the hay. I can't tell you how comfortable it is to sleep in a spread hay bale, because I don't remember, but I did wake up to a sunlit barn without any aches in the ol' back. My head, on the other hand...
Sunday, we toured Essex Farm, a mind-boggling, draft-powered, 600-acre, year-round, full-diet CSA farm helmed by Mark Kimball and made famous by his wife Kristin's book The Dirty Life. Keep an eye out for this charismatic guy; I really think he'll be the next Joel Salatin. Me, I got some serious barnheartburn kicking through the cow pies.
Perhaps the most intriguing part of the trip was spending time with Andy Wekin and his fleet of pedal steeds. He owns Pedal Power Engineering, designing and building setups that allow folks to power electrical appliances by... pedaling. It's such a simple concept but really incredibly ingenious. A must for those of us homesteaders looking to get off-grid however we can. Check out his videos; he powers and charges laptops, kitchen appliances, and some more hardcore stuff. He's even working on small-scale hydropower and combining both hydro and pedal in some interesting ways.
To any homesteader out there with a farmy bent, you've gotta make it out to a Farm Hack. The inspiration and ideas and solidarity you take back with you are good and powerful. Keep an eye out for future hacks at the Farm Hack site. Even if you can't, or won't, travel, their blog and wiki are ripe for the pickin' for some great homsteady inspriation. Many of these large-scale ag ideas can be downsized and jigged a bit for the homestead.