You might associate the sharing economy with Uber and San Francisco, but there’s a version of the sharing economy more productive than that barely regulated $362 Halloween cab ride: farming equipment.
Instead of shelling out big bucks for specialized machinery, food producers in Maine can now join a lending library of farm tools. Here are the details from Modern Farmer:
For a mere $100 annual fee, members have access to a six-piece inventory, currently made up of a seedbed cultivator, two-shank sub-soiler, plastic mulch layer, strip tiller, ridge tiller, and tine weeder.
“The equipment we choose is relatively simple, fairly easy to understand and operate,” Gold says. Which is not to say that any of it is convenient, or cheap: as just one example, the 1,200-pound mulch layer retails for well over $2,000. In other words, each piece is both undeniably useful and undeniably extravagant, especially given the cost per use (think electric bread maker, except for the farm).
The farmers receive equipment training and use a Google calendar to see what piece of equipment is available when. (Although there might be a technology gap here — most of the farmers I know rely on free truck dash calendars more than computers.) The farmer have a somewhat-flexible three-day window to use the tools, although late and cleaning fees can apply. But, as befits a program intended for the fiscally responsible farmer, “We’ve never really had to collect,” says program manager Mike Gold.
The Shared-Use Farm Equipment Pool came about when Gold, a Maine Farmland Trust staff member, saw the need to lower costs for both new and seasoned farmers. At this point, most of the tool pool members are newer vegetable farmers, but Gold says there’s appeal for established farmers, too: “They see the opportunity to use that one piece of equipment that they may only use one year or once every few years.”
As Modern Farmer notes, this definitely isn’t the first sharing program of its kind — there are equipment co-ops and joint machinery ownerships — but it’s a sign that the sharing economy may yet have legs beyond the city. And while we can’t think of anything responsible to do with a ridge tiller here at Grist HQ, we’re for anything that gives farmers a little break on the financial front.