Open-Source Permaculture

A group of college nerds came together collectively at the UC Berkley campus in the 70’s and ushered one of the most technologically important inventions of the modern age…fully functional personal computing.  Fueled by their desire to figure out problems and impress their friends, these students and enthusiasts worked hard and for long periods of time to crack the problems of computing.  Their club was called Homebrew, and the ethic was sharing and open-sourcing.

I am currently working on applying such an ethic and also provide some insights in how to apply open-source to permaculture design.  The sheer power and swiftness of computers makes them well-suited to creating scaled basemaps which can be easily traded, shared, and printed for various uses.

The roster of Open-Source programs and their uses are as follows:

LibreCAD- Scaled Basemapping

Inkscape – Vector Based Editing

GIMP – Pixel Based Editing

Scribus – Desktop Publishing

Krita – Digital Painting

There are other free but not open source programs available to the budding permaculture designer:

Google Earth Pro (Yeah buddy) – GIS and Geositing

Google Mytracks – GPS Tracking

Xmind – Mindmapping

SketchUp – 3d Modeling

Let me briefly explain which programs I am using so far and for what purposes:

Open-Source

LibreCAD – With this program I am trying above all to create a basemap that is scaled, and on which I can make visually appealing with other software.  This is done by typical low-cost surveying techniques like triangulation and offset/extension.  I build the basemap with my own personal measurements combined with any found measurements from existing maps.

Inkscape – Basically the mainframe of the operation.  Even though on the surface inkscape is basically an open-source version of Adobe Illustrator, it can support a large array of file types.  The most important file type it supports is .dxf which is integral to using and then improving upon work done in LibreCAD.

*Here is a link to an example of the first full basemap I created with the LibreCAD/Inkscape Combination.

GIMP – A photo editor.  I use it personally to edit digital photos that I’ve taken.  Right now I’m working with a Canon A2300 modded with CHDK.  Essentially CDHK makes certain point & shoot Canon cameras able to shoot in RAW format as opposed to jpeg, as well as other useful features like altering shutter speed and aperture.

Scribus – Really haven’t been able to sit down and figure out this one yet.  I have experience with InDesign, so I will have to learn the different interface.  From what I’ve seen and read it can get most jobs done.

Krita – A lot can be done with this digital painting program.  This program is for painting the basemaps that I finish in Inkscape.

Free to use

Google Earth Pro – Now the pro version is available, all one needs to do is download the pro version and use the code GEPFREE when logging in to it for the first time.  It is pretty powerful and I sometimes get lost in all that can be done with it.  It is perfect for getting a bird’s eye view of your site and the context of where you are doing design work.  There are topography maps available to put as overlays and there are soil maps that can be overlaid as well to find out what kind of soil types are existent on your site as well.  The soil types can be clicked on and then sent you to more information.

Google Mytracks – This app requires a GPS device via cell phone, so you’ll need a smart phone in order to use this.  It basically tracks the path that the phone moves in.  This can be used to find out how long it takes to travel certain paths, changes in elevation and other data.

Xmind – Just a mindmapping software.  Bubble diagrams and webs are created through topics and subtopics.  Can be used to organize ideas, plans, and projects.

SketchUp – Used for 3D modeling.  Any kind of architectural work and concepts can be hashed out on sketchup for the site.  I have used it briefly to model the garage and see what it would look like with a second floor.  The garage is right in a central location of the garden, so I imagined that with a second floor and large windows facing the garden (and simultaneously facing south as well) a nice space could be created up there that takes advantage of the solar gain during colder months.

Open-Source is an ethic I really like, and computing is important to design.  Things just move faster with open-sourcing, when many users can access the code and change it to improve the programs and offer more applications.  Companies tend to stop innovating when they become a certain size and opt instead to buy innovation from smaller groups or individuals.

But with more focus and time spent on the learning curve with the open-source programs, innovation can be occurring all the time, because individual coders and small groups can constantly be tweaking the source code in order to provide a tighter designed program.  This is what I’m after as a designer, tightest design possible.

So if you have the time, go for open-source, collaborate, and get more sites implemented.

Don’t let your children grow up to be farmers and other drugs.

An article was published the other day in the New York Times in the Opinion section detailing the crumbling structure of small farming in the U.S.  It is titled “Don’t Let Your Children Grow Up to Be Farmers”.

You can find it here.

Being a recent college graduate myself, I enjoy the impending anxious conversations with my parents about making $500 a month as an apprentice. Our head spaces couldn’t be any different. I am trying to change the inequalities in our society through Permaculture; they are trying to impress financially secure qualities in me. I understand it of course, there is a monthly nut I need to be able to cover as I find myself in a more independent adulthood.

But I am too crazy for that.

The article suggests that there should be loan forgiveness for young farmers. This is a brilliant idea. If you can believe it, farmers are less valued than teachers. I mean hegemonically of course. Politicians will pine for votes on platforms of improving teachers salaries, but there is nothing about farmers. This is systemic. The truth is we’re in the same sinking boat, but farmers are slightly lower on the crow’s nest pole. The difference is teachers, in their relatively self sacrificing occupation, benefit from eventual loan forgiveness federally. This means that a teacher may find relief after a decade of service. Not too shabby if after a Master’s degree one finds oneself to be $35,000+ in debt on the basic principle, not to mention interest (or usury depending on your views).  Though honestly, what kind of loan is that?  Pay me more than I loan you to teach our populace.  Joke.

The question we have to ask ourselves is “do we want less educated farmers?” That is the implication I personally see here. This is inequality. We’re living in the wealthiest empire ever to exist (yes empire) and we cannot even provide policy for food growers to be savvy philosophers to boot, without crippling them in debt peonage.

I consider myself to be an educated small farmer. I want to do Permaculture design but it is tough without another source of income, one I wish to find when I go back to a community college for graphic design. But the fact of the matter is that an Anthropology B.A. shouldn’t cost as much as the business B.S. This is not to mention the asinine view of a critical thinking discipline as an art and business as a science, lacking any real body of theory about the natural world we live in. An anthropology degree is of lower market value than a business degree, but the critical thinking and writing skills are essential for everyone to have access to without indebtedness. Why is the price the same?

Provide legislation to give loan forgiveness to farmers. It will provide farmers like myself with the freedom to pursue valuable polyculture research and to bolster local economies. It will provide a more educated populace equipped with the tools to break down inequality. And quite honestly, I think we can afford to give 1% of the population providing a need we have every single day a way to better themselves without unsheathing a double-edged sword.

-Colin