Appropriate Technology

"The search for appropriate technology doesn't end with finding the right tractor or thresher. Instead it creates a cascade effect. Next comes finding appropriate separating equipment as well as facilities willing to clean small quantities of grain. Our agricultural system has been very good at getting big. Going small will take even more work." - Douglas Gayeton

In the age of technology, one with a very deep history in agriculture, there are many models and methods to apply and experiment with. In this week’s Food List, we explore the different ways in which small-scale farms are adapting technology to fit their modes.

Most research and development in agriculture focuses on mass crop production, often forcing small farmers to “make it work.” They use technologies new and old. Farmers are collaborating with engineers across the country, like at Stone Barn Center, to develop slow tools for smaller operations. This is a solution for many food producers . As one small producer, Doug Mosel says, “the closer we get to using the last remaining “ancient sunlight,” the smaller and simpler technology will become.” By filling these technology gaps, smaller farmers have a better opportunity to focus on various other challenges.

The beauty of this appropriate technology movement is the open source knowledge driving it. And so, when the latest sustainable design, such as the culticycle, becomes available, the technology can be found for free on sources like Farm Hack.

Appropriate technology is not only about developing new technological adaptations for small farms. It’s also about using what you have around you as well. Draft animal power is still a widely used practice on farms. In fact, horse power is the symbolic standard for measurements of labor, especially on farms.

Appropriate technology is about recycling the resources that you have around you. One story from Cleveland tells us of how appropriate technology extended the growing season into the winter. Fresh produce all year round in the four season states? And if you think that’s extreme, Low-Tech Magazine shares with us a dirty secret of the past that could be the “key” to sustainable farming.

In this edition of the Food List, we learn that farm technology is a greater quest for whatever works. It’s a matter of applying what makes sense, in the past, present, and future. How can you make appropriate technology work for you?

This week's terms

Appropriate Technology

A holistic approach to human problem solving. It involves working with nature—of which we are a part—to develop and sustain systems beneficial to the health of the whole.

Horse Powered

Also known as ‘draft animal power,’ this is the use of horses, mules, or oxen to do productive work in farms, forests, and other settings. Traditionally, horses, mules, and oxen did all the work that tractors do today.


A low-cost, easy –to-learn system that produces ample high value produce on less than one acre, makingit possible for first-generation farms to get started without a lot of land or capital investment.

Season Extension

The use of greenhouses to prolong the growing season. Seeds are planted earlier and the last harvest of the year comes later, allowing consumers to continue eating local foods longer than would otherwise be possible.

Night Soil

Human excrement, most prominently used as fertilizer in earlier cultures, is reappearing as a soil amendment.

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