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NOFA: an open source conversation

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I wanted to be friends with each of the farmers, food system supporters, and eaters at the NOFA conference, and to hear the perspectives and stories of EVERYONE. I was most inspired by the vision of a newly organized world that so many seemed to share. NOFA brought together folks interested in all aspects of the food system. We each brought our own perspectives, opinions, actions for change… And I think that all of these visions, together, can create something new. I think that with multiples of us all working towards the same thing, in slightly different ways, we will be able to create system change.

The most inspiring of the workshops I attended was led by Farm Hack and the Greenhorns. Dorn Cox, Severine von Tscharner Fleming, and others discussed their decentralized approach to knowledge creation and restoration. Farm Hack is an online resource where farmers can upload the blueprints they’ve used to create low-tech tools that can be locally manufactured. On so many levels, this technology is open source: farmers draw off of each others’ ideas (including historical ideas, from back when we had no fossil fuels as a crutch) to create tools. In exchange for inspiration, any modifications or new plans must be uploaded to farm hack, too, so other users can continue to build on these plans. Thus, a whole cycle of creating and sharing produces a reciprocal resource of ever expanding knowledge. The website is meant to be a resource that others can turn to in order to locally manufacture implements that currently require specialized manufacturing equipment. Through this open source resource, we can kickstart local manufacturing all over the world (drawing from ideas created all over the world). We can create a new system of exchange that is based on reciprocity, rather than proprietary or private knowledge. As a geography major, this re-envisioning of scales of manufacturing and knowledge creates really beautiful fireworks in my brain.

On so many levels, this new food movement is about scale. It’s about decentralizing and maintaining strong community networks– communities of place and of interest. It’s about re-envisioning who is creating and producing knowledge, ideas, tools, and food. It is about re-creating communities, and ways of relating to each other, through the interchange of blueprints (including seeds!). And I love that it isn’t about answers, either: no one at NOFA claimed to know exactly what forward steps we all need to take. Each person was following a path, some more stridently than others, and we were all walking together in generally the same direction. We could openly discuss current troubles and ideas, creating dialogue and sharing ideas, which others could then latch onto and locally manifest (tweaked to appropriately fit individual places). I think creating structures for this conversation, like Farm Hack, will be key in facilitating this walk towards a new world.

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