tillers visit ya’ll

ya’ll know about tillers out near kalamazoo?  no?  i’ve been hearing about them for years, and meaning to take a trip, but this was my first.  i’d waited much to long.  i can’t do much better to explain tillers than their website so i recommend checking that out here.

i was asked to join a tour of tillers for the semis summer institute.  semis is a group that works to promote eco justice and place based learning in schools in southeast michigan, so the tour was largely made up of educators.

tillers is situated on 460 gorgeous acres.  we had perfect weather for our visit, and it helped it feel a little more like paradise.

the main focus of tillers is rekindling older technology, and building on it for the future.  this isn’t some luddite land, the reasons for doing this make perfect sense.  most of the development work that they do takes place in west africa, and much of technology that we have scraped is still very appropriate in those locations.  ideas like teaching folks how to fabricate tools so they don’t have to buy them, or drive oxen so they don’t have to depend on tractor companies certainly make more sense than trying to convince them to use methods that just make them go into debt.  these ideas make sense not just in africa, but here in the states as well.the tour starts at the spillway – where the mill for sawing lumber and grinding grain used to reside.  mills were at one point the center of community activity since they supplied all the power, they have since fallen to the wayside.  now days i hear conversation about the idea of community owned utilities and it makes you realize that once again everything new is really pretty old.

the blacksmith shop had about a half dozen forges, all with hand cranked blowers not the motorized ones i have learned to smith on.  much of what is being taught is how to create tools and parts so as to be able to fabricate what you need instead of being reliant on outside corporations to supply tools and materials.  the smith shop had beautiful timber frame construction, another one of the skills tillers teaches about.  hammers in smith shop

next was the wood shopyoke parts mallets for woodworking – note the reuse of the bowling pin.view of the animal barns oxen  - toad and badger press for making sorghum syrup duckslittle oxen in training larry and moemore oxensheepanother view of the farmhay bales inside the barnscythe blades inside the farm museum – tillers contains what is considered one of the best private collections of farm tools and implements.  they use this collection to repurpose old tools, revive traditions, or use them for inspiration for new tools.  in the corner sat prototypes for new tools. after the farm tour lunch was served, signaled by the ringing of the dinner bellnote the ear protection on a rope for the convenience of the ringer.  lunch was simple and delicious and i ate plenty and felt the need to find some shade and take a nap, but it was time for me to perform.  the reason i was asked to be with the semis tour was to be part of a conversation with tillers founder dick roosenberg, and man who i have a great deal of respect for and who is much wiser than i.  i frankly felt a little intimidated trying to have a conversation with him, but i think i held my own, pretty well.

we talked about appropriate technology, possible links between what was going at tillers and in detroit, and how educators could apply what they had learned to their space.  it was a really fascinating conversation.  i left tillers feeling rejuvenated and relaxed, with a long car ride ahead of me, but i with friends that i was happy to catch up with on the ride.

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