Dr. Christian Siefkes about garden farms and Decenters:

Growing food is just one of the purposes of garden farms. People used to distinguish gardens and parks meant for recreation and beauty from farms dedicated to agriculture and animal husbandry. Garden farms are both. They provide food and renewable resources. At the same time, they are places of recreation and relaxation, open to everyone. Fields, flower beds, and pastures are interwoven with areas for playing, picnicking, or bathing.

Lots of different cultivation practices are used, since each project chooses their preferred style. Many use permaculture or approaches aimed at providing high yields even on small areas, such as the biointensive method and hugelkultur. Also widespread is hydroponics, the cultivation of plants in a nutrient solution instead of organic soil. Hydroponics provides high yields at little effort. It is often combined with fish farming in tanks or open ponds. This variant is known as aquaponics. Since the plant beds are regularly watered with the nutrient-rich water from the fish tanks, no nutrient solution is needed.

Garden farms use the pub/sub method to distribute their produce. They announce (“publish”) what they intend to produce. People decide which of the offers of nearby garden farms suits their tastes. They let the chosen farm know that they which to regularly receive a portion of their produce (“subscribe”). Then the garden farm caters for them as long as it is active, or until they change their mind. Most farms let people customize their subscription by specifying which stuff they cannot or don’t want to eat (many people don’t eat meat) and what they like most. If you need more, because you have visitors or want to throw a party, it’s best to let the garden farm know some days in advance so they can adjust your portion. Likewise when you need less or nothing for some time, say because of traveling.

Based on the subscriptions each garden farm can assess the demand and produce accordingly. If a farm gets more subscriptions than they can fulfill, they may take over some nearby unused land and increase their output. If no additional land is available or they don’t want to expand, they refer the potential subscribers to nearby farms.

Most garden farms have cooking/baking facilities on their premises. There they bake bread, prepare jams and other spreads, and pre-cook meals. All farms are part of the GardenNet coordinating the global sharing of plants that only grow in certain climates. Each farm registers their need for plants that only grow elsewhere. The farms situated in suitable climates informally distribute these additional demands among themselves, each producing a bit more than they need for themselves. This global giving and taking is the most convenient solution for all. Everyone has access to produce from other climates, without the additional effort it would take to grow them locally in greenhouses (though that happens as well). The GardenNet also takes care of local shortages or surpluses.

The various places known as decenters or hubs also play an important role in our re/production. They, too, are based on the right to copy and modify. All decenters document what they do and how they do it, thus allowing people elsewhere to learn from their practices and to adapt them to their own needs. There are many kinds of decenters – learning and research hubs, health and care hubs, vitamin factories, fab hubs, community cafes, and more. All run by volunteers who join forces in order to organize and operate them.

Learning and research hubs can often be found together. They are places for learning, research and exploration. Health hubs treat people who are ill or had an accident. They have specialists who can perform surgery, treat your teeth or your eyesight, or help with childbirth. Care hubs are dedicated to body care and to physical and mental well-being. There you can get a massage or your hair cut. Most care hubs have teams of mobile caregivers who look after old or ill people that need special support. Health hubs have rescue teams that provide first aid in emergencies.

Vitamin factories have nothing to do with food (that’s what garden farms are for). “Vitamins” here mean any parts needed for kitchen fabrication or fab hubs that are unsuitable for decentralized production. For example, electrical and electronic components such as motors, LEDs, and microchips. Until some years ago, the fabrication of microchips (the core of any computer) required huge semiconductor fabs. These were so complex to build and run that only a few dozen existed worldwide. Some people feared that the projects running the fabs might become too powerful. They feared they could conspire and blackmail the rest of the world by threatening to cut everybody off from access to chips, the basis of all modern communication and production equipment. These worries were unfounded, if only because the fab operators themselves were far too dependent on garden farms and other projects. They could never have risked turning against everybody else. Nor was it ever quite clear in which ways they could have benefited from such blackmail.

Meanwhile, printed electronics has advanced sufficiently to efficiently manufacture electronics of all kinds, even microchips. Electronics printers are similar to inkjet printers, but their resolution is much higher and they print liquefied electronic materials (such as conductive polymers, silver particles, and carbon) instead of ink. For complex components, multiple layers are printed on top of each other. Such printers can be found in most fab hubs, hence the super-specialized semiconductor fabs are being phased out.

Fab hubs complement the kitchen fabrication with machines that are larger and more versatile than the equipment you typically have at home. They are open to everybody living nearby. Typical equipment includes some big and fast CNC mills and 3D printers as well as a laser cutter. Laser cutters use a strong laser beam to cut metal, wood, plastics, or stone; they can also engrave arbitrary pictures or text. Fab hubs also host equipment for printing electronics and pick-and-place machines for the automatic placement and soldering of electronic components on printed circuit boards (PCBs, made on a CNC mill).

They also tend to have equipment for making clothing and other textiles, especially knitting and sewing machines. CNC knitting machines create fabrics in any desired shape and arbitrary patterns, thanks to the Jacquard technique (invented at the begin of capitalist industrialization). The parts are then stitched together by an automatic sewing machine. Some people have smaller versions of these machines at home, but most use the machines in a nearby fab hub.

Originally published in German in the collection “Etwas fehlt” – Utopie, Kritik und
Glücksversprechen edited by the jour fixe initiative berlin (edition assemblage, Münster, 2013, pages 255–272).

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