RAFI's Innovation Project

Think agricultural technology is only for industrial-scale farms? A new project by the Rural Advancement Foundation International (RAFI) aims to shine a bright light on how collaboration and innovation can be powerful tools for small farmers. In league with Farm Hack, an open source community for resilient agriculture, RAFI is documenting the ingenuity of the hundreds of farmers they have worked with over the past 17 years to create a book and a vast online library of agricultural innovations that will serve as an ever expanding resource for farmers. 

The Growing Innovation Project, complete with interactive maps, a searchable database and a book of useful models, is an opportunity for RAFI to encourage individual farmers to share ideas for the mutual benefit of all food producers. Whether they be beginning farmers, transitioning farmers looking to convert to another type of production or growers simply seeking ideas to improve their techniques, farmers will be empowered to strengthen their own operations and the small farming community by contributing to and learning from the collection of ideas presented by the project. 

"We want to highlight and celebrate these farmers, but we also want to do much more than that. We want to make sure that the lessons they've learned benefit other farmers," explained Jean Willoughby, RAFI's Project Coordinator. "(The project) might be something like a cross between Wikipedia, FarmHack.net and some of the tools you might find on the National Sustainable Agriculture Information Service's (ATTRA ) website. It will be open source and encourage collaboration." 

In an era marked by increasingly volatile weather patterns to which farmers must adapt, innovation in agriculture is as essential as ever. While patented agricultural technologies serve to create large dividends for biotech companies, RAFI's fresh, collaborative approach serves two larger purposes: resilience to changing climate and local food production and distribution systems capable of succeeding outside the large-scale industrial model.

"In business, competitive advantage is often touted as the ticket to success and it is undeniably important," Willoughby acknowledged. "However, partly through (RAFI's) work on Growing Innovation with Farm Hack, we're pushing for something more like collaborative advantage -- encouraging farmers to share expertise and resources to produce mutual benefits. We also hope that Growing Innovation will be the start of a larger public dialogue on the potential of grassroots innovation to help transform agriculture."

And it certainly could be as other groups, such as the National Young Farmers Coalition and Greenhorns, continue to spearhead efforts to draw young farmers towards small sustainable models. The project is still in development - although with 17 years of data collection complete, they're almost there. RAFI hopes to launch the site sometime this summer. You can learn more about RAFI, a non-profit aimed at cultivating markets, policies and communities that support thriving, socially just and environmentally sound family farms, and the Growing Innovation Project on their website