Factor e Live Distillations – Part 7 – Local Food Systems

In today’s episode, we discuss the OSE program for agriculture. What did we learn so far, and how can we apply this to creating local food systems? We are proposing the integration of perennial agriculture, living gene bank, open source equipment, and agroecology – or what we call open source agroecology – towards a replicable package of providing healthy, local food for everybody. We propose community supported production as a means of linking the urban and rural landscapes in a mutual inter-independence for providing food, biofuels, lumber, and other products. Can this become a viable and mainstreamable model for providing needs from local resources? What items of local production can be included in this? If our program is insufficient, what are we missing?

Note that we are also offering our first plant propagation workshop on Saturday, Feb. 28, 2009. You will learn to propagate raspberries, apples, peaches, pears, and plums. You can even take the plants home with you, and you will use an open source v-grafting tool in the process.

Moreover, we are starting a community-supported gene bank as part of our community-supported production enterprise model. You can read more information than is mentioned in the video by reading the extended transcript below.

Our work in general is aimed at building the infrastructure for real-life Global Villages – which you can replicate in whole or in part. You can also see our earlier presentation on the Global Village Construction Set. To support this work, join the 1000 True Fans – 1000 Global Villages campaign – by committing to $10 per month for 24 months. Here is the PayPal subscription button, where you can use either PayPal, credit card, or bank account to commit to the subscription.

See below for a transcript of this video.

Welcome to Factor e Live Distillations – Part 7 – on the Local Food Systems. Here’s a little story. What did we do so far, what did we learn, and where are we going? Supporting links are in the blog text.

We started with urban agriculture on the streets of Madison WI. I learned that when you put seeds in the ground, and you have soil – things will grow and produce abundantly.

We went on to a 5 acre plot, which we found by knocking on somebody’s door and asking. By the way – you can do this, typically for free, on the outskirts of most cities.

We learned about weeds and equipment. Weeds will knock out your crops very easily, and that’s where most of the challenge to easy living exists. We got tons of squash, literally – and plenty of tomato, carrot, and others. We did not know what to do with it. Most of our crop went to waste – first by weeds and second – we found that you also need to market your wares. We even bought an antique, pull-behind combine. We harvested some beans a little, but the combine broke, we fixed it, it broke again, and we sold it on eBay for fifty bucks. We also harvested apples and made certified open source apple sauce for local coops. The business model worked – but with free apples from a supportive farmer.

The next experiment was hydroponics – the promise of outstanding yields on amazingly small space. The amazing figures are true. For example, if you grow lettuce – you can get $1/square foot per week! An acre of that gives you over net $1M per year. Compare that to $200/acre on row crop. The only trick is, the $1M is super-intensive factory farming – it does happen – but it is not the direction we want to go. While the $1/week proposition sounds attractive, the catch is that you must apply heavy doses of pesticides. Doing this organically is extremely difficult – but I’d like to hear about organoponic or other techniques that are productive and labor non-intensive.

We grew beautiful lettuce with economics similar to above, on the scale of a few growing tubs. It grew amazingly fast. We took it to market once, sold out in a second, made a hundred bucks. We were getting ready to scale up – but thrips wiped out the entire second crop.

The lessons so far? Things grow, and grow in abundance. It’s easy to manage weeds or pests on a small scale, but if you go larger – mechanization and pests play the dominant role. Plus, equipment is expensive and it breaks – so it is almost impossible to run – never mind replicate – a diversified operation from seed to value added. Thus, local food supply chains are a fringe phenomenon today.

Our present plan is a combination of tree crop, organoponic raised beds, perennial vegetables and herbs, wildcrafting, heirloom vegetables, intercropping, nursery and gene bank to reproduce and breed all of the above – along with chickens, goats, bees, worms, bats, and fish – backed up by open source, scalable equipment at the unit of 40 acre scale- for field, post-harvest, and value-added production. Basically, our place is on its way to becoming an edible landscape for human and animal alike. We’d like to show easy 100% food sustainability for our 20-30 person crew that we aim to assemble by the end of this year.

In fact, our major goal is to build an open source combine for grains and beans, plus hay equipment for the animals and a 1 acre fuel crop grass, plus the aquaponic bioponic Chinampa system. Also, we’re aiming to produce MicroLifeTrac – the 2 wheel, walk-behind version of the bigger open source tractor.

This, therefore, ties in to a beautiful food-fuel-combined heat power-gasifier-biochar-solar power-and biofuel package. Nick’s got the combined heat power gasifier steam engine, I’m on top of the solar concentrators, and others are needed for biofuel pyrolysis oil – combine – haying equipment – general agricultural operations. Jeremy’s got the sawmill that’s part of lumber production for modular housing units – as part of our agroforestry action.

So how do you create a 100% sustainable, integrated, local, regenerative food system? Let’s take a look at some the available techniques. Civilization started by hunting and foraging, moved on to settled agriculture, and now can return to foraging in settled lifestyles. Foraging? Kind of. We mean highly integrated agro-ecosystems and edible landscapes – with a foundation in perennial agriculture.

Start with staples. Mark Shepherd of New Forest Farms, along with a number of others like Badgersett Farms and Oikos Tree Crops – are breeding hazelnuts and chestnuts as a potentially mainstreamable, perennial agroforestry alternative to corn and soybeans monoculture that is the basis of US agriculture. Hazelnuts contain the protein that soybeans provide, and chestnuts provide the carbohydrates that corn provides. Plus, The Land Institute is developing perennial grains, though none is yet being grown commercially as a food source.

Establish the above, add an orchard and berries, mix in perennial vegetables in the understory – and in a 5 year period – your plot of land gives you staple food for ever – from trees that can literally shower you with food, as opposed to you having to do annual field crops – year after year. Animals can graze in between, in select areas.

The orhchard and nursery are another key. Include propagation capacity – cuttings, mist propagation – and move on to animal stock, willow bark rooting hormones, grafting, budding, seed for rootstocks, and so forth. This is powerful. It means that if an open source ecologist wants to replicate an edible landscape or production plot – they can – at little or no cost if sweat equity is applied. This is where Factor e will offer courses and living material. This spring, we’ll be starting this, by a workshop – propagating raspberries from cuttings, and grafting apples, peaches, pears, and plums on rootstock that we grew from seed – free, day-long workshop for True Fans, $40 for others – so sign up for the last week in February, True Fans are first in line. If you are not a True Fan, you can still sign up any time before the workshop and the workshop will be free to you as well. We can accommodate only 12 people for the event, so sign up now if you want to learn this and take home some plants. It’s a treat to be able to create your own fruit trees for pennies per tree. If animal stock is considered in that package in the future, this is like Heifer Project International for open source ecology.

See our proposed Plantout at the wiki.

Move on to intensive agriculture – organoponic, aquaponic raised beds. This went by the name of Chinampas – and was reportedly a highly successful food growing system for indigenous Mesoamerica. Adapt this to Factor e Farm. We’ll dig a circular trench, like a house foundation, with LifeTrac in a day. With runoff from our clayey soils, this fills with water, and we fill this with fish. On the island that has been created, we make raised organoponic beds – with lumber from our sawmill. Fertigation feeds the beds, we harvest fish towards winter, and a chicken coop over the water feeds algae. We plan on time lapse photography with this – so you can see the details of how this works. This reminds me of closed-loop systems in the nature of very successful Integrated Food and Waste Management Systems. With bat guano from bat houses, vermiculture – we aim to close our chicken-raising loop.

We will be adding some grain crop, such as millet, and black-eyed peas. We hope the open source combine is done in time for harvest. We’ll be hatching out many chicks, and our goats should go from 5 to 10 by this year.

Between plantout, soil fertility, equipment fabrication, and propagation work – we’ll be busy this year on the ag front.

Here’s where we are starting a funding basket for the living stock part – an open source nursery of sorts – the community-supported gene bank. We are creating an open source living gene bank and propagation facility, and populating it with as many useful species as possible. You can benefit greatly from this – by sweat equity propagation where you then get your stock for free. This means that if you support the gene bank, you are welcome to come on site, and propagate material for yourself. Sweat equity means that both sides benefit. For example, if you propagate an apple tree for yourself from rootstocks and scion wood, we would like you to propagate one for us as well. This is a loose arrangement, but it typically means that we do a service to you by providing you with plants and animals, and you give back to us in terms of your labor of propagating some stock for us. This is both educational and productive for both sides.Funding will go to purchasing plant and other living stock, which will subsequently be stewarded at Factor e Farm. About half of the total of $6k request will go to the stock, and the other half to soil improvement via manuring, contour swales, microberms, and other earthwork to stabilize erosion and build the soil. The soil improvement work will go towards the supplies and tractor work involved in this task.The economics work out in terms of us collecting a diverse array of stock – by co-funding this collection – so that it can become a one-stop-shop for many peoples’ needs. Sweat equity helps us propagate material, and others benefit by access to low-cost or free material. We can use this stock to start productive operations – nut and fruit orchards, berry u-picks, and so forth. We are aiming to encourage others to become producers themselves – by providing easy access to the required living material.The point is that contributions go to creating a rich repository of living material. As such, even from the financial perspective, a future producer who is interested in totally diversified productive operation has an incentive to contribute. It takes thousands of dollars to acquire initial living stock for such an operation – but that cost may be practically eliminated if one has access to a nursery. This is exactly what we’re building.For example, say you want to start an orchard and u-pick. You can come to our apple root stock planting, followed by rooting of branches that become rootstocks. In the spring, you graft the apple plants and do raspberry root cuttings for a crop that fruits much sooner than apples. You can do that – at no cost outside of a day or two of labor, which can provide you with hundreds of plants. These would otherwise cost you hundreds of dollars, or thousands if you got older plants. Is this doable? Yes, because plant propagation can produce in abundance – and sweat equity can address the labor requirements to a large degree. This does rely on appropriate equipment for soil propagation and maintenance duties – but we’ve got that covered with the LifeTrac and MicroLifeTrac infrastructures. Think of it this way: we are creating a propagation facility, and every one of us collaborates in making it a success. How about freeloader? You can’t freeload if you’re paying with your labor. Giving back to the gene bank by propagation keeps the gene bank from being depleted.

We believe that such a gene bank or open source nursery could be a great contribution to local food system, as an increasing number of people becomes involved in edible landscapes, perennial agriculture, and production.

Propagation is trivial for many plants, such as raspberries and apples. You have to come on-site for this aspect – and our wiki has a propagation calendar that displays available stock and timing for propagation. Supporters are welcome to come to workshops or by appointment. This is meant to be a regional plant exchange with a living facility, as part of a small farm incubator for local food systems – by providing access to the necessary tools, stocks, and knowledge.

We’re generating the necessary knowledge by documenting the successes and failures. One example of success is – if we plant out rootstock seed in the greenhouse – the plants can be ready for grafting by budding in late summer, if we take care of the plants. We did some budding, but none of it took last year. From some of the pictures in this video – does anyone have any suggestions on what went wrong?

Anyway, that’s brief on our agriculture. We hope this clears up some perspectives for you – and inspires you to get involved in your food system.


  1. Mathew

    It’s amazing to see you focused on the Chinampa system. I was talking to friends about how radically new farming methods can be developed in response to hardship, and Chinampa was the first thing I brought up.
    The aztecs developed it to feed themselves during war. They could retreat to Mexico City and feed the whole 300,000 population with their system of floating islands!

  2. Sam Rose


    I have been thinking about your open source gene bank project.

    I have some relatives who have been farmers here in Michigan for several generations. One of the bits of knowledge passed on to be by these people is that:

    1. there are lots of native plants that have several uses, including food, fuel, perhaps production (many regard these plants as “weeds”)

    2. It is possible to turn over soil over seasons, and bring old seeds to the surface which will gerimanate, and could be raised to seed, then seeds captured.

    This can be done in urban, suburban, and rural settings.

    If there were a way to collect open knowledge about these species, plus collect the species themselves, this could contribute to food and gene pools quite significantly. Some of these plants would be a great contribution to an urban/suburban permacuture system (examples include wild blackberries, wild cherry and edible apple trees, chicory, stinging nettles, clover, etc etc).

    This year, I am working on a suburban dome greenhouse/permaculture installation, and wild plant permaculture will be part of the program. I would like to coordinate this activity with you. eg, I could document on the openfarmtech wiki.

  3. Ric Frost


    Best video yet in terms of production quality! Did you get some new hardware/software? Keep up the great work!

  4. Richard Schulte

    dont forget the land institute… perennial grains…

  5. […] The full presentation is here. […]

  6. […] the gene bank development for edible forests – as discussed previously in the Distillation on the Local Food Systems. This includes an open business model for related enterprise incubation, and it combines for […]

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