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what does severine use to get stuff done?

Posted: May 18 2016

Severine von Tscharner Fleming

Severine von Tscharner Fleming

Organiser, cultural worker (Greenhorns, Agrarian Trust, Farm Hack)

Who are you, and what do you do?

I'm Severine, an organizer and cultural worker in the young farmers movement. I run Greenhorns in the Champlain Valley of New York, I'm founder of Agrarian Trust, and co-founder and board secretary of Farm Hack. I'm also involved with quite a few other projects including mixing up wild-crafted seaweeds, fruits, and flower petals into herbal teas for a little farm business on the side.
You may have noticed the phenomena of the new agrarian movement -- out on the weekends selling our food at farmers' markets. Local agriculture is a compelling, diverse and healthy alternative to corporate mega-culture farming. My colleagues-in-arms have put their lives into direct action by founding thousands of new, small and medium-sized family-based businesses across the country. My main work is to initiate and coordinate creative networks that support my community's needs. That means connecting people, helping with access and mobility to overcome inevitable obstacles, and transmitting farmers voices and viewpoints out into media-space.
This work crosses many sectors, formats and institutional forms. It includes web-based communities that create and share open-source tools, as in Farm Hack. It includes direct contact with archives, public and private libraries, older people, oral and folk narratives, junk shops and radical micro-histories like Grange Future. It involves small teams of humans making grass-roots media (radio, video, anthologies/publications) like the New Farmers Almanac, and Greenhorns Guide to Cooperative Farming. It includes social media, Instagram and making our own cooperative film festival for outreach on college campuses. It includes sailboats and cargo-value-chain logistics. It includes engaging programmers and researchers to do mapping, working with lawyers to craft new legal forms of commons-based governance. It is wide ranging and more expansive than I ever expected, and it takes me out on the rural roads, almost constantly tracking down the future budding up from the agrarian underground.

What hardware do you use?

I'm sorry to admit it, but I'm on my 9th Apple. It seems like I've stared at a computer pretty much every day since 6th grade - my brother says I'm addicted to it. I like the Brother printers and the Canon cameras. When I'm at home I use an old-fashioned roller-dial phone for my radio show, which gives the best sound quality, but often I'm on the road and my listeners cringe at the bovine background chatter from the busted up old iPhone. I like the old iPhone software, not the new stuff. Kids these days!
I'm a luddite who needs wifi. It's a challenge working in rural and remote areas, hobo-ing and making films, while trying to manage workflows in 3 timezones on snatches of Internet. It does get done, but my calves are bloody from raging around in a techno-bramble patch for so many years and I'm not good at it. Suggestions are deeply welcome. It's only sheer persistence and the massive social architecture, a baroque brocade of co-operators and allies that keep the machines running, and servers clear of space-trash. What I really want is to live in a world with less computers, and a more appropriate level of complexity. I'd like to live in a place where setting up a meeting happens in a common kitchen, informally at mealtimes, and is synched not by algorithms, but according to our daily routine of sunrise, tea-drinking, goat-milking, and a leisurely rye toast with butter. I'd like a recycled, refurbished, off-grid solar server (that is locally owned) run by a friend of mine who barters for goat milk, kombu + rosehip jam.

And what software?

Once, I had a hacker/conceptual artist boyfriend who set me up on Ubuntu systems, and for a while merrily merged as many systems as possible into the fun activist-acceptable software tools. We switched away from Flickr and went to archive.org, we switched from Apple Mail to Thunderbird, got a Riseup account, switched from MailChimp to NationBuilder for databasing -- it's a labyrinth! Sadly, we spilled tea on that computer -- and I now crouch on the uncomfortably tiny Macbook Air. All the websites (almost 13 now) are still open source -- either on WordPress or Drupal. Each has their own little team who tend and mend them -- sometimes well and sometimes slowly. We're blessed to collaborate with Amy Francheshini, of Futurefarmers, who does the designs for all of it.
The huge collection of books, constituting our collection of Agrarian Futurism, lives on LibraryThing and our grange oral histories and intergallactic mix tape (which is on cassette + online). We just put out our first Vinyl of Grange Songs from the 1870's with Brian Dewan, who plays an electric harp. We got into Hackpad, Piratepad, Firefox, and GitHub (a great platform for collaborative legal documents). We frequently find people to work with on Good Food Jobs, and OurGoods. My collaborators keep dragging me into new platforms just when I figured out the old ones -- Trello, Loomio, Stitcher, etc. And then there's our old pony, the Etsy shop (buy stuff!). We do free online publication of our books (just a PDF!) and then cooperate with Publication Studio in Hudson, to self-publish them in hard copy under a Creative Commons license. We also print free PDFs for tabling with -- and books that need more reading, like the Debt Resistors Handbook.
But am I practicing my politics in the techno-sphere? NO, not entirely. I am inadequately disciplined in the realm of the click. I don't want to read forums and trawl for the Ars Technica narrative. I'd much rather read Leo Tolstoy and map out the cargo logistics for a sailboat stevador gala event. And so, due to my own sloth, I remain tethered to monopoly and main-lined to the dreaded total-surveillance of Google Docs and Dropbox. Last week I met with Kate Rich from the Feral Trade network, and I heard her gasp when I admitted my use of the G-sphere. Frankly, I'd need another hacker boyfriend or at least hacker side-kick to come hand-hold me through the change. I think there are many like me -- deeply techno-critical, but limping with a heavy workload, arms and eyes aloft, shiva-like, with a dozen spinning plates, each with their own little cluster of collaborating humans, idiosyncratic an in my case mostly farming. I don't think there's a techno-fix to finding the techno-ethical set of platforms, I think the solution is in the analog world.
I have to admit that I am frequently hacked, and haven't totally figured out the encryption key business yet. This means that my emails often go into other people's spam folders, and are not delivered, or are delivered a week late. I try not to get paranoid about it, and instead just to hack around the email-delivery pathologies by conducting transactions in person, on the telephone, and through triangulation with others. I hear that in Germany they have whole NGO's devoted to helping activists with their digital woes -- sadly I don't know how to access them.

What would be your dream setup?

Dream set up would be a LARGE screened but lightweight laptop made from reclaimed materials and recycled electronics, by friends of mine. I think it could be encased in vellum, with a leather wrist-seat. It would be durable, dirt-proof, shock-proof, water-proof, and good at catching the whiskers of wifi around masonry walls, and in the marble spa headquarters of the NY State Parks department -- so we can use digital tools to map out sheep-grazier rights at our pilot project, a former military fort from the French and Indian war. Bottom line, I'd like to spend less time hunched over my lappie, and more time rising and falling in the waves of our majestic mother-ocean, with a knife in my hand.
But yes, after hanging the seaweed, eating a fatty bacon brunch, and sleeping in the half-shade for an hour, I'd like a bit of email time, if only there were service. There's a gadget for making a small pot of tea with tiny sticks, that also lets you charge a USB device, and one without USB. What about a nifty little box that makes the Internet super-fast in super-rural places? Maybe I've been reading too much Cory Doctorow, but what about a portable "outer-net type device" or peer-to-peer mesh box that lets me get Internet whenever needed, especially from a moving train. I know that Spain created such a peer-to-peer service called Guifi. How's that for anarcho-agrarian futurism?
While we're at it, I'd like to know that I'm not being tracked, stalked and hacked by agrichemical corporations. I'd like to be a part of a support community for activists so that when servers get wobbly or issues arise, there's a cooperative of happy helpers with whom I have a longstanding reciprocity. I'd like to have some kind of smart-sorting e-secretary that bundles my email into trophic and topical work-lumps. I'd like some kind of activist calendar manager where events from all the groups I love get automatically loaded into my calendar so that I can track/manage/blog/tweet and attend them. I'd like to be a part of a post-email culture, where we become much better taking responsibility, managing our work autonomously, impressing each other with massive strides during weekly in-person meetings.
I'd like all of us to have time to farm and land to farm on.