by Bill Braun
I first heard of Lu Yoder through the grapevine. I had been saving and processing vegetable seed by hand with aspirations of better infrastructure, when peer farmers told me “you have to meet Lu.”
Lu’s is a brilliant mind that comfortably navigates through disciplines, from RISD-commissioned public art installations to sailboat construction. Yet his passion for sustainable agriculture and empowering growers has earned him legendary status among local farmers. He not only perceives farming gaps needing to be filled; Lu recognizes the South Coast as an ideal place to re-establish a culture of local food. “The Portuguese elders in New Bedford and Fall River are the original urban farmers,” he noted, “and yet their grandchildren are at high risk for diabetes. A small step toward celebrating this incredible heritage—growing and eating healthy food, and the vigorous exercise that goes with raising it—will be a giant step forward for the health and happiness of our community.”
Among his many creations, Lu is well known in the farming community for his bicycle-powered inventions, scaling down the physics of industrial machinery to the pace of a small farm. Why bicycles, when an engine could arguably prove more efficient? Economy of scale, for one—small farms with limited resources can easily adapt Lu’s machines to their operations—but there is an element of community involvement in riding bicycles that generates palpable excitement. “If you told your kid they were going to wash carrots,” Lu remarked, “would they even look up? What if the carrot washer was so much fun to operate that the kids not only washed the carrots, but continued washing them again and again long after the work was done?
The practical use of bike power seems insane in today’s world, but people love it!” In short, bicycle power brings people into the picture where an on/off switch otherwise wouldn’t.
Lu is the recent recipient of a SARE grant (Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education) for the bicycle-powered seed cleaning machines. The grant allows for the plans and 3-D drawings to be released open-source via Farmhack.org—an online community of farmers worldwide who build and modify their own tools, and share the outcomes with others. The seed cleaning machines enable farmers to process their own seed for saving, as well as grain and dry bean crops intended for sale or consumption.
Farmers have always been creative and innovative, both by necessity and as an extension of working with the land and Mother Nature. Thanks to Lu, that creative potential has the exponential power of a flywheel.
Bill Braun is a vegetable grower and seed saver at Ivory Silo Farm in Westport, MA. You can see (and ride) Lu’s bike-powered seed cleaning machines this fall at the Ivory Silo farmstand on Hixbridge Road.