Open Source Ecology, an interview

Open Source Ecology

Building Functional, Sustainable Agriculture in Wisconsin

An Interview with Brittany Gill by Rebeccah Kessel (Sustainable Eating Magazine)

“I love watching things grow. I put a seed in the ground and then there’s this plant and then there’s this tomato on this plant. It makes me think of life and beauty and purpose and growth,” states Brittany Gill, co-partner of the emerging organization Open Source Ecology.

And watching things grow she has done, as she and her partner, Marcin Jakubowski, have planted the seeds to create accessible and sustainable ways of living. With hard work, and some help, the roots of their organization are starting to take hold and their powerful vision is coming closer to sprouting into a reality.

Brittany allowed me to talk to her about Open Source Ecology, its connection into the bigger picture, and what she envisions for its future.

RK: What is purpose of Open Source Ecology?

BG: The goal of OSE is to make ecological lifestyles replicable, profitable, accessible and regenerative.
Currently people either have to feel guilted enough into ecological living to make the sacrifices, or they have to have the finances to be able to afford a healthier lifestyle. This makes sustainable living elitist. By coming up with technologies and systems that fit an affordable, ecological lifestyle and openly sharing the knowledge gained, access to ecological living will become a possibility for everyone.

RK: What is open source?

BG: The idea behind having an open source farm is similar to Linux,
an open source computer system. Linux was developed by people who
worked for Microsoft but were stifled by Microsoft’s proprietary
practices and were unable to implement any of their creative ideas.
Instead of feeling limited by the Microsoft’s system, they decided to
develop another, one in which the information and programs were free.
Having such an accessible system created a wide variety of individuals
working on the project. This makes Linux a computer system that is
constantly improving with no limitations on who can access or develop
new programs and information. Hence the concept, open source.

Open Source Ecology is taking this concept and moving it into the
field of agriculture. By starting OSE, information on how to have
functional, sustainable agriculture is being gathered. Lots of people
would like to grow their own food, or live in an ecologically
sustainable system, but have no idea on how to attain land at a fair
price, how to get their produce to people, or how to grow foods that
will sustain them year round.

OSE is open source in the sense of it documenting working
information and allowing for hands-on experience in the building of its
farm. OSE is also open source in the sense that the food grown on the
farm is being used to raise funds to create a sustainable training
center in which people can come and work on open source projects, such
as designing farm machinery.

Currently, there exist two kinds of farm
machinery: huge, for large-scale farming, and small, for personal
gardening. Large machinery is expensive; farmers often have to go into
debt in order to obtain it, and need to pay others in order to fix it.
It is not ecological or sustainable. Much of the smaller farm machinery
is great, but not large enough for medium-sized farms that want to feed
people on a large scale, like the Madison area. As students come and
work on open source projects, collaborative development of new
technologies occurs helping create new, sustainable, economic models.

RK: How did Open Source Ecology begin?

BG: Marcin believes strongly in the philosophy of open source and
decided this fall to start an organization to foster the growth of this
system. I saw that my interest in health, agriculture and ecological
lifestyles fit into this emerging vision. In need of finances and
experience to help this project grow, we decided to produce salsa. We
all have to make money to survive, so why not make it in an
ecologically and sustainable way? So, we decided to grow produce to
make salsa, and sell the salsa to sustain ourselves financially.

We went to a party, and met a man who was doing a CSA (community
shared agricultural) on a retired organic farmer’s land who was just
interested in having his land be used in exchange for some produce. We
called up Farmer Jim and now he is letting us use a section of his land
for the season. Farmer Jim has some tools that we have been using and
we talk to people to borrow more tools or acquire more land.

Our other plot (in Dunn, Wis.) we acquired just by
approaching the owner and asking if he knew of any land we could use.
He offered his. The resources are out there. It’s a matter of finding
people who have the same philosophies as you and asking for what you

RK: What is Open Source Ecology currently growing?

BG: Right now, tomatoes, squash and popcorn are our
production crops, but we are also growing Jerusalem artichokes, garlic,
onions, carrots and pumpkins. We are talking about harvesting the
pumpkin seeds and possibly pressing them into oil. Currently, CSAs
focus mostly on foods that can be utilized through the summer season.
We are growing white northern beans, soybeans, amaranth, buckwheat and
millet to experiment with growing locally produced food for a
year-round diet.

RK: How is Open Source Ecology bringing the local community into the project?

BG: Right now, we need help with the tomatoes. People tell me they
have too many tomatoes with six plants — I have two thousand! It’s easy
to grow a lot of food. It’s easy to grow high quality foods even
though, as a culture, we have such poor food sources. If anyone wants
to help, they can have all of the tomatoes they can eat and can.

We have approached community groups and churches
asking them to get involved. One idea is to have a farmer’s market
right at the church. Also, we want these groups to come and work, take
what they grow and sell it as fundraisers. Remember in school when we
would sell those awful pizzas or those candy bars as fundraisers? Why
not use something healthy and local instead? It not only helps us and
the community group financially, it also helps get our food out to the

RK: How can people become involved with Open Source Ecology?

We are looking for a diesel truck. We are looking
for a certified kitchen where we can process foods and for someone who
has some legal knowledge about marketing locally-made and processed
food items. And we can always use help on the farm! Working on the farm
is a great way to learn about agricultural and organic farming, get
exercise outdoors, and acquire free produce. We have open work days on
both Sundays and Thursdays and anyone is welcome to help.


To contact Brittany Gill for more information about Open Source Ecology, e-mail her at, or call her at 608-301-0190.

You can e-mail Marcin Jakubowski at , or call him at 608-358-9062.


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