Interview with Aaron Makaruk, AKER modular urban agriculture system

Open gardening tools for growing green thumbs and a healthier planet

Open gardening tools for growing green thumbs and a healthier planet
Image credits : 

Original photo by Gabriel Kamener, Sown Together, Modified by Jen Wike Huger

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Need a design for a garden bed you can print and construct yourself? Or, perhaps you live on an urban farm and are looking for a small run for your chickens? AKER provides these modular designs and others to help build "ecologically resilient, healthy communities." And, as a member of a community-supported agriculture project myself, I also have a keen interest in solving the unique problems presented by our rapidly growing world population and the need to feed it with heallthy food.

Beyond just creating a few cool urban gardening and farming designs, though, what's going on behind the scenes at AKER? I reached out to co-founders Aaron Makaruk and Tristan Copley Smith to find out. Aaron talks with me in this interview about he got started on this open urban gardening journey with just one email, and how it resulted in living on a farm for two years.

AKER was recently funded by the Shuttleworth Foundation.

What urban gardening designs do you have?

A chicken coop, compost bin, raised bed, wall planter, and beehive!

How did you get started with open source software, hardware, designs, and licensing?

While working with the Occupy movement in Denver in 2011, I saw Dr. Marcin Jakubowski's TED talk on the Global Village Construction Set. I wrote him an email and was at Factor e Farm within a week. I ended up working for him for two years, and I have been working to build the open source economy ever since through Open Tech Collaborative, Open Source Beehives, and most recently, AKER.

How does urban gardening impact our future?

The mission is to reintegrate nature into cities by making the tools and knowledge for growing food and creating ecosystems as accessible as possible. We are doing this in two ways: by making flat-pack kits that ship to your door and assemble in minutes without tools, and by sharing the source files for each design openly so that anyone can make a kit themselves.

By going to our website, anyone in the US and Canada (arriving in the EU and Australia in 2016) can order a chicken coop, compost bin, raised bed, wall planter, or beehive. The kits ship right to your doorstep and assemble in just minutes. You can also use our online resources to guide your growing process. We also differentiate ourselves from other retail growing kits by using premium and sustainable materials, meaning we restore more of the natural world than we draw from. People also have the ability to use our source files to make kits themselves. CNC routers and computer-controlled cutting machines are accessible throughout the world at Fab Labs, makerspaces, and cabinet shops.

We invite the general public to download AKER kit source files and learn to make them themselves. We want to make it easy for people to get started growing food, raising bees, raising chickens, making soil, and cultivating ecosystems in urban environments. If you have a balcony, rooftop, countertop, or backyard you can get started right away.

Can you tell us a little bit about what defines the Open Source Ecology community you are part of?

Our vision is to build the open source economy, a post-scarcity society that makes the knowledge to build the means of producing electricity, food, housing, transportation, and all the requirements of a healthy life universally available.

Tristan and I met at Open Source Ecology and have worked together ever since.

How did you come to have a relationship with the Shuttleworth Foundation? How important is their support to the future of the AKER project?

I met Karien Bezuidenhout while working with Marcin at Open Source Ecology. The Foundation's support empowers us to focus less on commercial success and more on social impact. Specifically, we have more resources to build documentation and training materials for designers and users.

What's next for AKER?

In 2016, we'll be expanding AKER kit distribution to the European Union and Australia, with other regions in the works. We're expanding our kit line, and we're building online training materials to foster a network of collaborative designs. Keep an eye out for new community projects that are in the early stage of development—we can't expand on them yet. We're also going to work at Fab Lab Barcelona for a number of months to finalize the full release of the Open Source Beehives sensor kits and integrate with their plans for the expansion of the Smart Citizen Platform.

About the author

Don Watkins - Educator, education technology specialist,  entrepreneur, open source advocate. M.A. in Educational Psychology, MSED in Educational Leadership, Linux system administrator, CCNA, virtualization using Virtual Box. Follow me at @Don_Watkins .