farm life · food · free culture · open source

Open Source Food?

I’m an open source software activist. Open source software allows people to freely use, modify and distribute it, as opposed to other types of software a single company might control. This is accomplished by licensing the software under an open license. I believe very strongly in the importance of open source software and try to apply the principles to other parts of my life as well.

One of my goals for 2018 is to plant some fruit and nut trees, so I’ve been planning and shopping. One of the nursery sites I was looking at had many trees that listed their patent number, while patents and copyright aren’t the same things, these trees would prevent me from reusing and distributing their genetics. Effectively making them proprietary fruit trees. This relates to some of the issues faced by farmers of commodity crops, including the ability to save seeds. In the newly burgeoning legal marijuana industry in the United States, the very same issues are coming into play.  The Open Cannabis Project is working to document existing strains as prior art to prevent corporations from attempts to patent existing strains.

I haven’t figured out all the trees I’m going to purchase yet, but I’m certainly going to be looking for ones that I can redistribute. One I do plan to plant is from the original strain Johnny Appleseed distributed. That is because I am a Chapman and like most Chapman’s in the US my family claims a relation to Johnny Appleseed aka John Chapman, though we don’t have any direct proof.

For my annual seeds, I only purchase from companies who have signed on to the Open Source Seeds Initiative. These companies such as Adaptive Seeds from where I buy much of my seeds. These types of seeds are open pollinated which means if you reproduce from the plants you grow you will get approximately the same type of plant, which is different from a hybrid plant where they might need create the same strain. I can also collect seeds from season to season to replant or share with others.

Black bean seeds I saved from the 2017 harvest
Black bean seeds I saved from the 2017 harvest

It is appalling to me how much of our food is caught up in the patent system, so I’m experimenting with at least what I can do at home. This is without even digging into the issues with the right to repair being blocked by major agricultural equipment manufacturers such as John Deere.  I’m not sure if we will buy a tractor yet, but this is certainly something I will consider if I do look for one to purchase.

As a new farmer, I can’t say I have it all figured out yet, but I’m working to apply what I’ve learned in open source to farm life.

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