This year, OSE is developing the concept of the Distributive Enterprise. You can read more about it here, but in a nutshell it’s a business that’s designed to be replicated by others. It open sources not just its technologies, but also its business model, operations manuals and marketing materials, with the goal of creating an ecosystem of similar enterprises cooperating as a sort of bottom-up, decentralized franchise.
As a 2016 Distributive Enterprise Fellow, I’ll be one of the first guinea pigs for the program, working on an agricultural business that centers around a grain-free egg flock and an aquaponic greens system here at Factor e Farm. This overview is the first in a weekly series of blog posts about the project.
The Big Picture
The main aim of my time here is to test three ideas that are central to the Distributive Enterprise model:
1. The Cascade of Enterprises
Can a new Distributive Enterprise generate enough revenue in its first year to seed another one? In this case, I’m assisting with the 3D Printer Workshop Enterprise, which will provide some of the capital to fund the farm start-up. If we can make this concept work, each Distributive Enterprise can cascade into a number of others, and the exponential growth of open source businesses that are independent but complementary can challenge the massive, centralized behemoths of the existing industrial system.
2. Zero to Hero
Can open source collaboration allow a novice to access advice from experts, helping to accelerate learning and avoid missteps? Years of training and trial-and-error can be saved with a few words from someone who’s already been there and done it, and OSE has shown that Subject Matter Experts will contribute to open development efforts.
My agricultural experience is limited to a few small market garden projects: I’ve never used an aquaponics system or looked after more than four chickens. So we’ll be contacting farmers and other experts to make sure we avoid needless mistakes – and we’ll be publishing our interactions with them so others can benefit too. Check out our first interview with Geoff Lawton for an example of this.
3. Viral Replicability
Marcin has written a lot about this concept here, but essentially the idea is to actively encourage others to adopt any business model that we’ve proven successful. This means it doesn’t just benefit us, but allows people anywhere to start up tested regenerative enterprises, remaking their local economies and liberating their own working lives. So we’ll be designing the business with replication in mind, publishing exhaustive documentation and actively assisting others who want to start something similar.
This year’s farm business has three main parts:
1. The Low-Cost No-Grain Compost-Powered Open Source Egg Farm
Building on the work of compost connoisseur Karl Hammer and permaculture educator Geoff Lawton, we’ll be testing whether a small farm can run a profitable egg enterprise by feeding chickens on local food wastes, producing compost as a by-product. Details of the system will be published here.
2. The Open Source Incubator
To help lower the barriers to entry into small-scale egg-raising, we’re developing a low-cost incubator that can hatch 100 chicks a week. This will help us and other farmers to avoid the cost and ethical concerns of buying from mass-production hatcheries and to rebuild the diversity and vigor of egg flocks through localized selective breeding. And as an open source tool, it offers the possibility of another Distributive Enterprise manufacturing incubators. Details here.
3. Aquaponics Greens
One of OSE’s big success stories of 2015 was the construction of the Modular Aquaponics Greenhouse. This year we’ll be testing the setup under commercial conditions by producing greens and vegetables for sale locally. Production details will be published here.
We’d like this to be a collaborative effort: if you’re a farmer, egg flockster, aquaponic grower or DIY-incubator-genius with advice to offer we’d love to hear from you. If you think you might want to replicate this enterprise or just want to follow along, the links below will take you to all the information we’ll be publishing, and stay tuned for on-site training opportunities later in the year.
How to stay informed on this project:
Follow this blog
My log on the OSE Wiki
Compost Chicken System wiki page
Open Source Incubator wiki page
Aquaponics Greenhouse wiki page
The 2016 Agriculture Webinar Series
2016 Agriculture Photo Gallery
Working Document Repository (contains works-in-progress in various states of chaos – for final documentation refer to development spreadsheets on the wiki pages linked to above).