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Frequently Asked Questions

Here are some questions which we are regularly asked, divided into two main sections. Not all these questions (or answers) will be relevant for you- some may bring you new insights, whilst for others they are familiar issues they deal with day to day. This fits with the ethos of our organisation, which brings together the energy and motivation of those from a breadth of horizons and backgrounds.

The activities of Atelier Paysan: Frequently Asked Questions

- Does Atelier Paysan manufacture machinery?

No. We neither make nor sell machinery. With Atelier Paysan, farmers build and design their own tools, independently or with our assistance, depending on their abilities. Through the work we do, we aim to re-examine the place of tools and machines in the world of farming. Matthieu Dunand, a market gardener in the Haute-Savoie (from the GAEC La Pensée Sauvage), shares his experience:
« At first , I couldn’t imagine making my own tools. Today on the farm, our perspective has really changed: in the past we felt we had no choice but to work with the machinery available on the market, but we’re now continually working towards more ergonomic systems, better cultivation practices, and using less petrol. We have unleashed the engineers within us!

- Why do we promote organic AND small-scale agriculture ?

For us, organic and small-scale agriculture go hand in hand. We cannot promote a model of organic farming which does not have a wider social vision behind it. Similarly, we believe that the principles of small-scale farming lead naturally to a chemical free approach.

- Why do you not patent your inventions ?

Patenting is contrary to our aims of promoting the production and dissemination of common goods. We believe inventions are born out of a multitude of ideas and influences, encounters and gleanings, and that creativity is in its very essence a collective human wealth. All our inventions are therefore licensed under Creative Commons, where they can be freely adapted, developed and appropriated.

We believe that agronomic practices need to be elaborated with, by, and for farmers. More generally, we think that Technology is a collective asset which should serve the interests of those who use it. Farming skills and expertise are common goods of the organic farming movement. We would like bring these together to compile a open source encyclopaedia (modelled on initiatives like Wikipedia and open source computer programmes and designs). As well as ensuring our tools do not get patented, the Creative Commons label clearly articulates our approach and vision: to create and disseminate farm innovations which can be modified, distributed and appropriated by all.

Atelier Paysan promotes open innovation, based on the idea that users benefit from being involved in the process of creation and development. The collective production of common goods in physical and digital spaces has been developed by urban open-source communities such as Hackspaces or Fab-Lab, where skills and expertise are re-appropriated through the design, creation or repair of everyday objects. These initiatives include both community education and technical innovation. Atelier Paysan is developing rural versions of these community-operated communities, which we have named “Farm Labs”.

- What is our “innovation census”?

We are happy to travel anywhere in France to take a census of farmer-led innovations (tools and machines, agricultural buildings, etc) and document these on our forum. This sometimes gives rise to further research and development.

- What tools are we talking about ?

We work on tools for all types of production within small-scale and organic farming. This includes implements for tractors, two wheeled tractors and horses, as well as ergonomic tools and practices, hand tools, equipment for drying, sorting, preserving, etc. We have also begun research on the construction and renovation of ecologically sound agricultural buildings.

- How can I get involved in research and development?

It’s very simple, just get in touch with one of our members of staff to learn about our current projects and active working groups. They’ll fill you in on what’s happened so far, and the next steps planned.

- How big is a working group ? Is it local or national ?

A group for us starts with a few people who have come together to research a tool, a cultivation practice, or a specific need they face. It’s easier if the working group is based within a small geographical area, as the group will need to meet regularly. This is particularly relevant when it comes to testing prototypes, when the whole group gathers for a week. However, more widely dispersed groups can also work well! The energy, motivation, and availability of the members are what matters.

- There is a piece of kit I need on my farm, can you help?

We are not a design office or engineering consultants, and as such we do not provide an individual service for the design of a piece of equipment or building. One of the founding principles of our cooperative is to promote and support collective dynamics. This guarantees that the technologies we develop are relevant and appropriate. We also believe that we can go further together than as individuals. So if you have a tool you are dreaming of and you want to create it, post a message on the forum to reach out to colleagues, get a group together and contact us!
However, all rules have exceptions. We do occasionally help experimental not-for-profit projects to develop innovative agricultural machines, as long as they follow organic agriculture principles. In these cases, we ask a number of nominated farmers to commit to following the design and prototyping phase, in order to ensure the tool can be adequately tested and developed.

- Can I build the tools and machines you have designed?

Yes! You are free to use our technical drawings to create your own piece of equipment at home, modifying it as you see fit. We really appreciate feedback, as this can contribute to improving our designs. The end goal of our work is to have tools and machines that evolve, as a tool or machine which has been adapted can go on to benefit the wider community.

- I’ve invented a new tool or machine, and would like your help to disseminate it.

First of all, get in touch. We can begin to discuss your design and arrange to meet you and see your invention. What happens from there depends on the nature of the tool or machine and its design. At the very least, we will document it on the forum, with text, photos, videos and a technical factsheet. Sometimes, we will go further and make new technical drawings for your tool or machine so that it can be reproduced by others.

In this case, we will collaborate very closely with you, so that the 2.0 design is at least as efficient as the first. This usually also involves improvements to the design. A prototype is then built and tested on your farm before we disseminate an open source tutorial of the design. After this, the tool can be made and adapted by others, giving rise to a range of kindred tools!

- Can my tool or piece of machinery be used for training courses?

Yes, if it has a sound agricultural purpose and can be a useful base for teaching, it could be used for training workshops, in which we would seek your active involvement.

- I have an idea for a machine that doesn’t yet exist, how can you help me ?

If you’re on your own and your idea doesn’t feed into a collective project which is already running, we can’t help you. However, if you get a group together, ideally locally based, then we can begin a process of discussion with you. Firstly, we can see whether our principles and values are in line (organic farming, Creative Commons licensing, collective dynamics and ongoing commitment). Then we will begin the process of compiling a specification sheet together / making preliminary technical drawings / organising a collective prototyping workshop / creating a tutorial and possibly a training course outline.

- I am a conventional farmer. Can I take part?

We encourage you to do so! We know our collective projects also lead to individual reflection. The group can support you in considering a possible conversion to organic farming.

- If a group of farmers decide to establish a similar activity to yours at a local level, would you be willing to collaborate with them?

Yes, this would be very welcome! If you hear of any, please put us in touch!
We encourage groups to join our existing structure, so that other organisations don’t have to reinvent the wheel when setting up their group. We can also assist groups of farmers setting up innovative projects, and provide human and logistical support to enable these to go further.

We see ourselves as an organisation set up by and for farmers. If local initiatives were not emerging, we would have to recognise that our work is no longer relevant. We have recently created a job role for a national coordinator to encourage and support local farming initiatives to take off. The more local projects there are, the more shoulders to carry this adventure forward. These groups can in turn become stakeholders and be active in raising awareness locally

Questions around the economic model, the cooperative, being a member and getting involved

- Why a cooperative?

We felt that the legal and economic structure of a charity set out in the 1901 law was not adapted to our needs in terms of governance and perspectives of development. We also wanted to recognise the involvement of both our paid staff and our partners, so that they could be joint owners of Atelier Paysan’s work and vision.

- Does Atelier Paysan take a mark up on the resale of the materials?

Yes. The resale of materials ordered in bulk is a transparent activity which allows us to select the most suitable materials, as well as reducing the costs of raw materials, making self-built tools more affordable for farmers. It’s a win-win situation, as the money made through resale finances our research and development. It works a bit like cakes sold at a school fair to finance a school trip!
The mark up made from the resale of materials is our users’ participatory contribution towards the production of common goods, and finances the development of future tools.

- How is Atelier Paysan funded?

We are currently 60% financially self-sustaining, and receive the other 40% of our income from public funds. You will find more information in the section on our economic model.

- Does your cooperative receive public grants?

Yes. We feel that by taking part in the documentation, production and dissemination of common goods, we are contributing towards the creation of a new agricultural, economic and ecological model (with impacts on our ecosystems and public health). Common goods benefit everyone and we thus require substantial public funding to carry out our activities.

- What does the cooperative do with its profits?

We are a not-for-profit organisation, in the same way as a charity. However, we aim and need to have positive financial results every year, so that our earnings exceed our spendings, and so that all our surplus is allocated to the indivisible reserves of the cooperative.

- A not-for-profit cooperative?

We are a not-for-profit organisation in the sense that stakeholders do not make financial gains, nor do they receive annuities. Like other not-for-profit organisations, our balance at the end of the year (whether it is positive or negative) is allocated to our indivisible reserves. Shares do not carry a yearly dividend, nor are they re-invested (additional shares acquired). If you want to redeem a share, you will either get back its original par value or less if losses have been incurred.

- What is your equity composed of?

Our capital equity is made up of our shares, our legal reserves (enriched each year by 15% of our positive balance) and our indivisible reserves (also called statutory reserves, enriched each year by 85% of our positive balance).

To these are added:

  • current accounts of partners which are considered as quasi equity.
  • equity securities when securities have been issued (which is not currently the case), also considered as quasi equity.
  • medium term liquidity loans

In short, that’s how our cash management (WCR) works!

- Government funding makes up an important part of your income. Do you have a guarantee you will continue to receive them in future ? What will happen if funding is cut ?

Government funding makes up a small part of our income, compared to the economic models of other organisations in the agricultural development sector. Being 60% self-financed, our economic model is innovative. In the long term, we hope to be publically financed by no more than 40%. This is in order to ensure our organisation is financially resilient. However, neither do we wish to receive less than 40% public financing, as we are working on the creation of common goods which benefit everyone.
If funding is cut, thanks to the small portion of our income it represents and our resilient economic model, we will be able to adapt and cope. We are also developing participatory financing for our research and development work where users themselves contribute, similar to other partnership organisations such as the citizens’ endowment fund.

- What are your economic growth predictions?

In terms of employment and investment, we don’t currently know. We do not have any grand plans but we aim to find the means to respond to the needs that emerge from this collective adventure.