Slow Tools for Small-Scale Farming

Rozie Apps
Wednesday, 11th May 2016

Farmers and engineers are joining forces to create the necessary tools needed for small-scale farming. They are 'hacking' and inventing, creating new machines out of components that are low cost, even free, and are already available.

With the increase in small-scale farming comes the need for suitable equipment.

For many starting out on small plots, the tractors, harvesters, machinery and other farm equipment that may be needed are expensive and often too big for the job in hand.

Traditionally, when farms were still small and family based, 'slow tools' were in abundance, but the rise of industrial agriculture has pushed aside the market for such items.

Now a group of farmers, engineers and manufacturers have begun to actively develop the necessary tools for small-scale farmers.

These lightweight, affordable and open-source tools will become a part of the growing revolution that is taking place across the globe.

The Slow Tools project is bringing together a range of people, including Eliot Coleman, organic farmer and author, Ron Kholsa, organic farmer and engineer, Josh Volk from Slow Hand Farm and Jack Algiere. So far, 34 tools have been identified for development, beginning with a small electric tractor, which will serve as the 'motherboard' frame for other tools to be attached. 

The working group is being incubated by Stone Barns Center for Food and Agriculture, 25 miles north of Manhattan. The working farm is 80-acres, and is a lab for resilient, sustainable agriculture, as well as vegetable, livestock and soil-building experimentation and demonstrations. They also train young farmers and run the Virtual Grange, an online community and hub for beginner farmers.

They offer technical tutorial videos, the latest news in agriculture, forums to find the answers to your questions, apprenticeship opportunities and news on conferences and workshops. 

One of the inventions in the pipeline is the solar-powered 'Horse Tractor', which could have a significant impact among cultures dependent on draft animals and where drought limits water availability, and a compressed-air grain harvester and processor.

Barry Griffin, the project’s lead design engineer explained in a statement about the launch, “Nearly all of the tractors and their implements used by small farmers disappeared during the rise of the current global industrial farming system, beginning in the 1960s. The re-emergence of small-scale farming has created a need for small tractors and other tools and implements capable of performing traditional and newer farming tasks more efficiently and ergonomically.

The working group are revolutionizing farming for small and medium scale farmers, and are already working with an English manufacturer to create a soil blocker for 1020 germination trays. Over the years, small scale farmers have been 'hacking' standard germination trays to work with soil blockers, because they have never seamlessly worked together. The group discovered that soil blockers from Europe were designed to fit standard European trays, and the 1020 trays they have been using for decades, are an American standard. 


Soil blocker and seed trays


Jack Algiere demonstrating the uses for a leaf rake for removing thread weeds from beds.


A seed dribbler. This creates straight lines at the righ depth for sowing seeds.


A pedal-powered seated cart from Europe, originally designed for harvesting asparagus. He uses it for picking, transplanting and weeding, an example of a more ergonomic way of working.


Four wheel hoe:

For more information visit the Slow Tools Group facebook page:

For more on the Virtual Grange visit

Further resources

The Urban Farmer by Curtis Stone

Read the classic Four Season Harvest by Eliot Coleman

Watch: The One Acre Permaculture Farm

Miraculous Abundance by Perrine and Charles Hervé-Gruyer

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barker |
Mon, 20/06/2016 - 17:38
Don't forget Jean-Martin Fortier and his book the Market Gardener, by far the most useful and dog-eared book on my workbench.