In the UK the average farmer is 58 years old, which presents our nation with a big challenge. Not only does this suggest that farming is often not seen as a desirable career choice for young people in the UK, but some farmers of this age can find themselves ‘technologically challenged’ due to their generational relationship with technology.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m not tarnishing all farmers with the same brush – many farmers and growers out there are extremely technologically adept – and not all of them are young in age.
Often, when we talk about technology on farms, our immediate impulse may be to think of tractors, machines and even drones – money and energy intensive machinery and equipment created and used to make farming easier and therefore more profitable. But, what about technological systems on a more personal and immediate level, such as internet based tools to help organise the farm?
Recently I volunteered on Essex Farm in Essex, New York State. Essex Farm is a community supported agriculture project where each farmer has a smart phone and the farm team used the organisational tool Trello to administrate day to day, weekly, monthly and seasonal activity. Each farmer logs on and updates their cards each night. Every morning, over a coffee, Mark – the farm owner and manager, goes through the cards for the day and tasks are prioritised and allocated. Easy – and no scraps of paper in sight.
Of course, on snowy winter days when the internet struggles, Trello struggles too - but overall it enables the increasingly available every day tool (the smartphone) to help run the farm – a tool that most young people, whether farmers or not, tend to have in their pockets all day, every day.
Over the pond
Of course, in the UK we have our own issues with rural access to the internet, which is slowly, but surely, getting better year by year. Yet, farming in the USA is being revitalised aided by the simple fact that the new generation of young farmers grew up with easy access to the magic of the internet and jazzy technological tools previous generations have not seen.
A grassroots not for profit based in New York state, the Greenhorns, aim to promote and support young farmers using technology such as; audio, video, events and publications (amongst other tools, such as ‘weed dating’ – a farming take on speed dating to help young farmers meet like minded souls) to help enable young farmers, promote best practice and to share successes and importantly – their social lives.
This farmer driven community has developed tools such as ‘farm hack’ – an internet based community where farmers can share information. Farm hack is based on Open Source principles, allowing an horizontal exchange of information sharing and ideas. A brilliant tool designed and run by those who need it most, the farmers themselves. Farm Hack also enables farmers to build beneficial new relationships with members of the local community with desirable skill sets such as engineers and designers, bringing a social aspect to the mostly internet based tool.
Join a Farm Hack
And now for the exciting news… Farm Hack has arrived in the UK. On April 18th the Landworkers Alliance held the first ever Farm Hack outside of the USA. Combined with the CSA network designed to link up community supported agriculture projects across the UK by promoting information sharing, best practice and promote a fairer food system, and some great apprenticeship programmes like the Soil Association’s Future Growers scheme – we’re making steps in the right direction. Watch this space!
Originally published on the Soil Association's blog here.