The Walden Effect: Farming, simple living, permaculture, and invention.

Broadforks for everyone

Broadforking kidsOur broadfork business began on a beautiful July evening at our neighbors’ place, Plum Forest Farm. About fifty people gathered around farmer Rob, who stood on a sunny slope, surrounded by flowers, explaining his approach to growing produce. It’s not easy to raise robust vegetables in our glacial till. Rob is a soil expert; he understands soil biota, organic matter, and building fertility over time. “I always use a broadfork to loosen the soil and let the organic matter circulate,” he said.

Where can I get one of those?” asked a class participant. “Bob Powell makes them,” said Rob. Fifty people turned their heads to look at my husband Bob. He looked around at their expectant faces. “Sure, I could make a few more,” he said.

Omax machine
Bob with his Omax machine.

Bob’s an inventor. A computer engineer by training, he’s always loved making things out of metal. His lifelong hobby became a business in 2007, when he acquired a water-jet cutting machine and started fabricating tools and making parts for artists and builders.
We live on Vashon Island, near Seattle. Farms here are extremely small-scale, and local growers do a lot of work by hand. One neighbor asked Bob to fix a broadfork, then he built a couple for our neighbors who needed one that wouldn’t break, and after this class we had nine orders. So he refined the design, and made some broadforks, and we sold them to people that we knew, for cash or barter for vegetables. I used mine to cultivate the raspberries and prep a squash bed. It made it easy to weed, and helped the manure get down to the roots, and the plants did great.

We got some feedback on the design. Could the tines be curved? The original tool was a bit heavy. Bob realized he could cut the parts more efficiently, too. He changed the pattern, made it lighter and easier to use, and put them up on his web page. As it turned out, plenty of people want a sturdy broadfork. Different-size people need different-size forks; we ended up with three models, the smallest weighing just 15 pounds.

Order fulfillment
Jared with broadforks ready to ship.

So then we had a business. We got busy designing packaging, logo, web page, advertising – it never ends. If you’re starting a manufacturing business, my advice is to hire professionals for the parts you don’t know about, and expect to spend a lot of time negotiating with your shipper.

InventorWe still build our Meadow Creature broadforks on Vashon Island, paint them by hand, and ship them all over the US. They’re made of steel, remarkably easy to use, and will break up the hardest hard pan and loosen the rockiest soil. We also make the Avalon cider press, and soon we’ll have a farmstand cash box ready to go.

One of my favorite parts of our business is our broadfork donation program. All over the country, people are learning to grow their own food, teaching each other to garden, and raising food for people who need it. We’ve donated over 100 broadforks to school gardens, community gardens, food banks, and congregations. I love hearing from the people who are growing food in cities, on old ballfields, in suburban neighborhoods, next to small town libraries, and in remote hamlets. It’s empowering, practical, and fun; one of the sanest things going in our country right now. To request a donation, see our FAQ page for details.

I use my broadfork to cultivate the blueberries and raspberries, pull out broom and other invasives, turn grass turf into garden beds, dig out dock, loosen the beds in spring so the compost will get into the soil, and harvest garlic and carrots. If you’d like one of your own, find us online at, or give us a call (360-329-2250).

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About us: Anna Hess and Mark Hamilton spent over a decade living self-sufficiently in the mountains of Virginia before moving north to start over from scratch in the foothills of Ohio. They've experimented with permaculture, no-till gardening, trailersteading, home-based microbusinesses and much more, writing about their adventures in both blogs and books.

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Just got mine yesterday. Woohoo!
Comment by Deb Thu Jan 21 20:39:26 2016

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