BY ALEX PAZAITIS | JUNIOR RESEARCH FELLOW, TALLINN UNIVERSITY OF TECHNOLOGY CORE MEMBER, P2P LAB
Makers and the related activities are more often observed in vibrant cities, encapsulating diverse communities of designers, engineers and innovators. They flourish around luscious spaces and events, where talent and ideas are abound. Pioneer cities, like Barcelona, Madrid, London, Copenhagen and Amsterdam, have gradually evolved to prominent centres of the maker culture.
But what about places where these elements are less eminent? It is often said that some of the most advanced technologies are needed in the least developed places. And here the word “technology” conveys a broader meaning than mere technical solutions and enhancements of human capacities. Etymologically, technology derives from the ancient Greek words “techne”, i.e. art or craft, and “logos”, which refers to a form of systematic treatment. In this sense, technology is practically inseparable from the human elements of craftsmanship, ingenuity and knowledge. Elements that are as embedded in our very existence, as the practice of sharing with our neighbours. Especially in situations of physical shortage and scantness, solidarity and cooperation are the most effective survival strategies.
This is the case of a small mountainous village in North-Western Greece called Kalentzi. It is situated in the village cluster of Tzoumerka, a place abundant in natural and cultural wealth, yet scarce in the economic means of welfare. The local population mostly depends on low-intensity and small-scale activities combining arboreal cultivation, husbandry and beekeeping. Investment was never overflowing in the region, let alone in today’s Greek economy in life support.
A local community of farmers assembled around a practical problem: finding appropriate tools for their everyday activities. Established market channels mostly provide with tools and machinery that are apt for the flatlands. Acquisition and maintenance costs are unsustainably high, while people often have to adapt their techniques to the logic of the machines. They begun with simple meetups where they created a favourable environment to share, reflect and ideate on their common challenges and aspirations, facilitated by a group of researchers from the P2P Lab, a local research collective focused on the commons.
Soon the discussion was already saturated and they started building together a tool for hammering fencing-poles into the ground. Several tools and methods have been used for this task for ages, though each one with its associated difficulties and dangers. Some farmers climb on ladders to hammer the poles, while others use barrels. However, it’s the combined effort of hammering while maintaining one’s balance that is particularly challenging, whereas there are often two people required for the job.
Interesting ideas were already in place to solve this problem. Designs were drafted on a flipchart with a couple of markers and the ones more available brought some of their own tools, like a cut saw and an electric welder, to build a prototype.
That has been the birth of Tzoumakers: a community-driven agricultural makerspace in Tzoumerka, Greece. Tzoumakers is more than an unfortunate wordplay of “Tzoumerka” and the maker culture; it is about a unique confluence of the groundbreaking elements of the latter, with the rich traditional heritage of the former. A distinctive synthesis that transcends both into a notion that seeks to create solutions that are on-demand and locally embedded, yet conceived and shareable on a global cognitive level.
It is important to emphasise that Tzoumakers is not a place that develops new tools ‘in house’. Rather it builds upon the individual ingenuity of its community and remains open for everyone to participate in this process. Through collective work, field testing and representation new tools may be released and further shared to benefit others with similar problems. Many of the necessary innovations are already there; the role of Tzoumakers is to collect, formalize and disseminate them.
But it’s also important to understand that Tzoumakers, much like its tools and solutions, cannot provide ready-made blueprints for solutions to be simply copy-pasted elsewhere. The same applies to the projects that have been its inspiration, such as L’ Atelier Paysan and Farm Hack, which cannot convey one unified cosmopolitan vision for the agricultural sector. The same process of connection, collaboration and reflection has to be followed on every different context, whether rich or poor, vibrant or desolate, in abundance or scarcity. But it is this combination of human creativity, craftsmanship, meaningful work and sharing that arguably embodies a true, pervasive and “cosmolocal” spirit for the maker culture.
Tzoumakers and the P2P Lab are supported by the project “Phygital: Catalysing innovation and entrepreneurship unlocking the potential of emerging production and business models”, implemented under the Transnational Cooperation Programme Interreg V-B “Balkan – Mediterranean 2014-2020”, co-funded by the European Union and the National Funds of the participating countries.