Proving that innovation thrives on a small-scale, the winners of the 3rd annual Small Farm Innovation Challenge bring appropriate tech solutions to local agriculture. This competition, hosted each year by the nonprofit Community Alliance with Family Farmers (CAFF), invites anyone, anywhere to submit their innovations, from hardware to software to do-it-yourself (DIY), with a goal of helping small farmers become more viable and sustainable in a quickly evolving AgTech-centric world that often leaves small farmers out of the equation.
The Challenge includes three categories: Most Innovative Hardware, Most Innovative Software, and Best DIY Innovation.
In the “Hardware” category, the Amiga by Farm-ng based in Watsonville, CA took the top prize. This modular, low-cost machine enables small vegetable, fruit, and horticulture farmers to reduce hand labor with expandable intelligent electrical horsepower while also offering an alternative for many tasks that would otherwise require a full-sized tractor. A versatile system, the Amiga allows for multiple adaptations and additions, from towing to mechanical weeding and planting to harvesting and mounting cameras for data capture. According to Farm-ng, “Our goals are to disrupt the food system through empowerment of every person working to farm the smallest acreage and make their work more valuable and sustainable.”
Winning in the “Software” category, GrownBy, submitted by New York-based Farm Generations Cooperative, aims to help smaller farms compete for the $80+ billion in SNAP benefits used in the US annually to purchase food. Currently, farms can use EBT terminals at markets and stores to accept EBT/SNAP as payment, however farms have no means of transacting these payments online. This E-commerce solution simplifies the complicated processes inherent to multi-channel direct-to-consumer sales, all within a model of cooperative ownership to ensure affordable, equitable, and fair access to these technologies. In short: GrownBy makes it easier for small farms to participate in this substantial and vital food access program.
And lastly, CAFF’s Innovation Challenge includes a third category specifically for Do-It-Yourself (DIY) innovations designed not for commercial production but rather to share simple but effective designs freely with other farmers. This year’s DIY award goes to Sena Daniel Ahiabor with the Carver Integrative Sustainability Center at the College of Agriculture, Environment & Nutrition Sciences and Cooperative Extension Tuskegee University, Alabama. Their Elbow Operated Hand Wash Station offers an affordable in-field solution with a fresh twist to the design, especially for lower-resource farmers. Using only a few materials easily found at a hardware store, their innovations make it easier for anyone to meet the requirements of Good Agricultural Practices (GAP) and to improve sale of produce with timely and efficient handling of produce on a small scale.
Elizabeth Vaughan, who oversees CAFF’s Innovation Challenge, assembled a team of judges from a variety of fields and expertise to evaluate this year’s submissions. “We were so inspired not only by this year’s winners,” she said, “but also by the Challenge’s potential to spark further discussion centered around the needs of small farms, and to lift up the existing creativity and innovation of farmers to the larger AgTech community. We hope it will inspire even more innovators to apply for next year’s challenge.”
This year’s judges included:
- Thomas Hammond, Agricultural Engineer at Sonoma, Goldridge, & Marin RCD’s and Abundance Ag Engineering
- Hanna Kahl, Ecological Pest Management Specialist at CAFF
- Perri Kramer, Program Director at Food System 6
- Charity May, Principal at Sacred Futures
- Hector Reider, Farm to Market Co-Director at CAFF
- Arpan Soparkar, Business Analyst, GreenIT at Orange Silicon Valley
- Elizabeth Vaughan, Tech Hub Specialist at CAFF
- Josh Volk, Owner/Operator at Slow Hand Farm
- Evan Wiig, Director of Membership & Communications at CAFF
- Amy Wu, Founder of From Farms to Incubators
- Lisa Yeo, Assistant Professor at UC Merced
Contact: Evan Wiig, Director of Membership & Communications, CAFF, email@example.com, 415-710-5692
Community Alliance with Family Farmers has been dedicated to creating more resilient family farms, communities and ecosystems since 1978.