Bringing together farmers, engineers and industrious DIY’ers, Open Source Ecology is an effort to build low-cost, sustainable and self-contained machines that could build and power a small-scale society. In their words, the team is devoted to lowering “the barriers to entry into farming, building, and manufacturing and can be seen as a life-size lego-like set of modular tools that can create entire economies.” It’s a bold pitch, but the team has already developed a collection of tools that could move mountains, both literally and figuratively.

Open Source Ecology’s primary project is the Global Village Construction Set (GVCS), an open-source project to develop a wide variety of industrial machines. With plans for 50 machines that include a 3-D printer, backhoe, bakery oven, and even a bulldozer and cement mixer, the GVCS aims to make industrial machinery as open as freeware software, at a cost that the developers estimate, on average, will be eight times cheaper than comparable machinery on the market. The team has developed prototypes of nine machines, including the power cube, a self-contained power unit, and the LifeTrac, a full-sized four-wheel-drive tractor. In their words:

A modern, comfortable lifestyle relies on a variety of efficient Industrial Machines. If you eat bread, you rely on an Agricultural Combine. If you live in a wood house, you rely on a Sawmill. Each of these machines relies on other machines in order for it to exist. If you distill this complex web of interdependent machines into a reproduceable, simple, closed-loop system, you get [the GVCS].

The GVCS includes most of the tools a small society would need to go off the grid. But the project is not only for industrious DIY’ers–the machines could transform the developing world. Following a 12-part set of guiding principles, the GVCS project is focused on developing low-cost and modular machines that are user-serviceable and enable an efficient, closed-loop manufacturing system. The machines within the GVCS present developing nations with low-cost solutions to development issues, while also empowering communities to build and maintain the tools that they will be using.

The following two-minute video gives a quick overview of GVCS:

Global Village Construction Set in 2 Minutes from Open Source Ecology on Vimeo.

Talking about this seemingly herculean effort is one thing, but Open Source Ecology is putting their bold idea into practice. The Factor e Farm in Missouri has been established as a testing ground for the project’s plan to build a self-contained, sustainable society using the GVCS. Life on Factor e Farm is well-documented on Open Source Ecology’s video page, including clips of the farm in production:

Factor e Farm in Production from Open Source Ecology on Vimeo.

Want to get involved in the Open Source Ecology movement? There’s already a wealth of information on the project’s wiki, and if you’re ready to start building the tools to realize a open source society, they have calls for volunteers on the Open Source Ecology blog.

Paul M. Davis


Paul M. Davis

Paul M. Davis tells stories online and off, exploring the spaces where data, art, and civics intersect. I currently work with a number of organizations including Pivotal and

Things I share: Knowledge, technology, reusable resources, goodwill.