August 1, 2021

Bristol Aggie Agricultural Mechanics Majors Big Impact - Small Farms

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Dighton, MA: On Tuesday, June 8th, Bristol County Agricultural High School’s junior Agricultural Mechanics students headed off to Helfand Farm, part of the Dartmouth Natural Resources Trust’s (DNRT) network of conservation lands. It was not to enjoy the vast network of trails or work in their community garden. Today, these students set out to change the world by revolutionizing small-scale agriculture, not just in the United States, but specifically for farmers in Ethiopia. In partnership with Slow Tools Inc., a Massachusetts non-profit promoting the engineering, testing, and manufacturing of farm tools, and guided by their instructor Mr. Ben Medeiros, the students helped install new farming tools that they have been building during the current school year. If successful, these tools will make small scale farming more profitable, economical, inclusive and equitable for use in Ethiopia and locally here on the South Coast of Massachusetts, and elsewhere.

These tools will be installed and tested on a 2.5-acre (1 hectare) plot at Helfand Farm and the crops managed by David Sanders of Silverbrook Farm; who leases the Helfand Farm lands from DNRT. This is the first time that these implements will be tested on a “whole farm” approach. If successful, the farm concept will be replicated in Ethiopia as part of a new farm to market supply chain being developed by XSyn Corporation, a US and Ethiopian based entity specializing in supply chain management.

“Together we are connecting the Southcoast soil, students, farmers and community with those in Ethiopia and hopefully elsewhere. The pandemic and other thermodynamic issues have I think re-awakened the need to feed ourselves as much as possible locally. The Southcoast has the proven, multigenerational expertise and Bristol Aggie to be innovative in finding solutions for the future of food on a small scale with big impact.” Barry Griffin, founder of Slow Tools, Inc.

The machines that will be tested are: a 20-foot Beam Tractor in 60-foot diameter Circle, 30-foot Beam Tractor in 80-foot diameter Circle, 20-Foot Beam Tractor in Field and Row format, Single, Dual, and 4 wheeled “Electric Horse'' tractor. A successful outcome in Dartmouth will be duplicated in Ethiopia so that an ongoing mutual sharing of problems, innovations, and new opportunities between the regions is possible.

“This is an incredible opportunity for our students. The ability to collaborate with industry professionals across multiple specialties, take what they learn in the classroom and apply it to truly make an impact in the world is extraordinary. These students are taking foundational skills, engineering solutions to real world problems and then fabricating equipment that will have a profound impact in agriculture is outstanding. Meaningful education., Adele Sands, Superintendent, Bristol County Agricultural High School.

The goal of this project is to improve farm competitiveness, increase efficiency of labor and energy, and develop community skills and knowledge. Finally, the process itself of sharing innovation using local manufacturing of new tech farm tools is a valuable lesson to be learned for all communities here and abroad.

“The combination of present-day multi-generational experience in commercial fishing, small farming, manufacturing, supported by vocational and educational resources, local and nearby urban markets, government support, and other community needs, are the special ingredients that create a rare opportunity to design, demonstrate and manufacture next generation farming tools for use locally and elsewhere in the world.”, Barry Griffin.

This project is made possible by collaborations with the following:

Project Lead Abel Girma, XSyn Corporation (Los Angeles/Ethiopia)

Land Management Linda Vanderveer, Dartmouth Natural Resources Trust (DNRT), Dartmouth, MA

Farming Management David Sanders, Teal Farm/SilverBrook Farm, Rochester and Dartmouth, MA

Engineering and Farm Machinery Design/ Development Barry Griffin and Abe Weissman, Slow Tools Inc., Dartmouth, MA

Material, Equipment, and Logistical Suppliers Roger Thibault, General Supply and Metals, New Bedford, MA Dennis Desrosiers, New Bedford Welding Supply, New Bedford, MA Jose Malgalhaes, Fairhaven Shipyard - Paint Shop, Fairhaven, MA Jim Tripp, Davis and Tripp Shipyard - Logistics, Dartmouth, MA Ray and Tina, Hay Ray's Farm and Feed - fencing, Westport, MA John Soares, John Soares Village Garage - fabrication/forming, Westport, MA Peter Simonsen, Interstate All Battery Center - batteries, North Dartmouth, MA Cory Henriques, Den Mar Corporation - fabrication, Dartmouth, MA

Tim Couto, farming and logistic support, Dartmouth, MA Ronald Silvia, Electrical Contractor, Dartmouth, MA

The “Why”?

80% of Ethiopia’s 110 million people are engaged in some aspect of small-scale agriculture, most of whom farm on “small holder” plots in the 1-hectare range. Significant challenges include reducing poverty, improving health, feeding a growing population, and maintaining a role for small-scale family farming of fruits, vegetables, and poultry.

In Southern Massachusetts specialized vegetable, meat, and wine production have increasingly replaced traditional dairy farming. Farmland has also been converted to housing and industrial development. Today’s purchase and rental cost of farmland in Southern Massachusetts is second only to Rhode Island in dollar value in the USA. The cost to farm will likely increase as land based non farming economies increase in value. For how long can we continue to produce our food locally? We therefore believe that local farming innovation and educational strategies shared globally may be fundamental to our collective future.

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