Global Village Construction Set

A physicist-turned-farmer is using open source technology for an innovative project that places the power to survive and thrive directly in the hands of every community.

Marcin Jakubowski defines himself as both a farmer and a technologist; these two professions had to be combined in order to successfully establish the organization he founded. Jakubowski and his collaborators are rethinking the world's most basic technologies and turning tractors, brick ovens and soil pulverizers into tools for creating a more sustainable and cooperation-based model for living.

Jakubowski, who completed a Ph.D. in physics, quickly realized that his acquired skill set in no way matched his values or natural inclinations. In an interview, he described the gap thusly, "I noticed that even academia was turning into branches of proprietary corporate research and development, as opposed to the original mission of culturing open knowledge toward the benefit of everybody." This Polish-born American then turned to farming in Missouri, but once again, the reality did not live up to expectation. Weighed down by tools that were too expensive to purchase and maintain, and faced with imminent bankruptcy, Jakubowski responded by building his own, and better, system—all from scratch.

The Open Source Ecology (OSE) project is a network of farmers, engineers and supporters working together to build the Global Village Construction Set (GVCS), a platform that can be used to flexibly manufacture 50 industrial machines needed to build and sustain a small community without sacrificing standard of living. The 50 machines include basic tools to cultivate the earth, bake bread and drill holes, serious hardware for industrial purposes, and modern tools such as a wind turbine, a 3D printer and a bio-plastic extruder to make building materials from recycled matter.1

Only a handful of prototypes have been built to date, but they have already garnered considerable acclaim. For example, a compressed earth brick press, which can transform dirt loaded directly at the building site into bricks, at a rate of 16 per minute and 5 000 a day. There is also a micro-tractor that can be used for tilling, mowing and chipping, enabling farmers to optimize yield on even the smallest patch of land.

What makes Jakubowski’s brainchild so compelling is how the machines have been designed (open source), how they are made (with local and recycled materials) and the power they have to unleash unlimited human potential.

Open source: All 3D designs, schematics, instructional videos, budgets and product manuals for the 50 machines have been published on the OSE open-source wiki, so that technical collaborators can contribute to the design and prototyping of the machines. Jakubowski calls this repository a “civilization starter kit” .

Low cost: Machines built on the GVCS cost, on average, eight times less than machines purchased from an industrial manufacturer.

Modular: Motors, parts, assemblies, and power units are interchangeable, enabling units to be grouped together differently to diversify functionality. The ability to take these machines apart allows users to maintain and fix tools themselves, without having to rely on expensive repairs or wait long periods of time to restart operations.

DIY: The do-it-yourself (DIY) nature of the GVCS tool set puts the power of designing and producing tools directly in the hands of the user. This means that GVCS tools can be scaled and modified to adapt to the needs of individual communities, whether they be located in rural Missouri or northern Africa.

With OSE, Jakubowski has finally discovered a way to effectively apply his skills, all the while supporting his values and beliefs. During interviews, this farmer/technologist is acutely insightful about why our modern paradigm is no longer working. He calls it, the “continuing decay of equitable wealth distribution”, or more simply put, the growing gap between the haves and the have-nots. For Jakubowski, no change can be brought about to our society unless this economic inequality has been addressed.

However, he is also careful to underline, in concrete terms, how open source and a greater distribution of the means of production are contributing to reversing this decay. For example, the OSE project can potentially help alleviate the instabilities of top-heavy global monetary systems by relocalizing economies and putting more power in the hands of communities.

Making information more readily available and allowing individuals to manufacture their own tools means greater self-sufficiency and less reliance on faltering global systems, banks and corporations. This theory, Jakubowski rightly points out, can be applied to many things, from food production to developing apps. There is also the effect that open source initiatives can have on poor communities by providing its members with work and the possibility of becoming self-reliant and self-sufficient.

From an environmental point of view, the benefits are numerous and apparent. GVCS takes what already exists and makes it better so that it can serve everyone. Production-wise, the interchangeable parts of the GVCS machines are manufactured from scrap metal and recycled materials. They are built to last a lifetime, not just for a short term—like so many other consumer items. These machines will help to reduce carbon footprints by enabling communities to grow their own food, rather than drive to a big box store to buy food items that have been shipped from thousands of miles away. Furthermore, since these communities will benefit from immediate resource feedback, it can be assumed that they will have better control over supply and demand.

From a human perspective, Jakubowski’s ever-growing project does much to feed the human spirit as well. He started this project in the hopes of creating a DIY or ‘maker’ culture: where individuals become more hands-on in the production of the items they handle every day. Also, being more self-sufficient would mean greater motivation to preserve our local environment. Jakubowski posits that if humans could understand what truly goes into production and consumption, they would be far more committed to protecting the resources they have.

Ultimately, the question Jakubowski wants us all to reflect on is: what could we accomplish if we lived in communities driven by self-reliance, empowerment and unfettered creativity? The answer, also from our farmer/technologist, is: “If we truly shared and allowed each other to build on each other’s work, then we could go way further, we could enhance innovation and creativity way over the present standards.”

The GVCS drew our attention not only on it’s own value but also because it overlap a number of trends we have an eye on. It can be seen from the angle of a kind of “survivalist 2.0” for planning and innovating where one of the goals is to help create more resilient lifestyle and communities to deal with coming challenges. It also connects to online values and tools in a very post digital way with an Open Source ethos, the use of Kickstarter to complete a round of financing and by networking internationally with collaborators. Finally it also shows a globalisation of problems and solutions as the toolkit can find itself enabling a rural US village as well as a new settlement in a developing country climbing out of war or famine. — AR

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