blair evans

blair evans

[detroit, mi]

image from (2013)

My search for other noteworthy projects led me to Blair Evans, whose organization Incite Focus, a “platform for community production,” demonstrates the revolutionary potential of applying permaculture principles in the context of Detroit’s DIY maker culture.

I meet Blair at Incite Focus’s east side fab lab, a fabrication studio located inside the Blanche Kelso Bruce Academy charter school. There’s a garden outside, but inside, it’s decidedly high-tech, complete with laser cutters, large CNC milling machines, a water jet cutter capable of cutting titanium and steel, and 3D printers that can print fully articulated mechanisms made of multiple materials. How, I wonder, does all this work together, and what in the world does it have to do with natural farming?

“Permaculture,” Blair says, “is based in systems thinking. But it’s hard to understand systems in general unless you understand one system well that you can abstract from. Unfortunately, in communities that are disenfranchised or under-resourced, there aren’t a whole lot of opportunities to get experience with well-functioning systems. Everybody can get some tomato plants and some worms and some soil, though, and have an extraordinarily complex system to work with and then scale up from.”


“In permaculture,” he says, “you’re not a slave to the process. You’re a participant in the process. Behind a lot of this work is the idea of allowing people to have the opportunity to actually spend a reasonable portion of their time, a third of it, producing the things they need to live (furniture, for example, tools, even houses) themselves. Then you can spend a third of your time using the same tools to produce things that are useful for other people: community-based enterprises. Then you have another third left to to do the things that make you want to get up in the morning, usually the things your high school guidance counselor talked you out of.”

saying 1/3: producing needs for self  1/3: producing needs for others  1/3: things you can’t not do

..this all comes down to creating an environment and cultural context in which people in Detroit are able to truly maximize our capacity as people.”

to min and max david graeber

.. a glimpse of what’s possible when we learn to understand and speak the language of nature.


intro’d to Blair while reading a 2012 paper (p 14) of Neil Gershenfeld‘s..

A fab lab in Detroit, for example, which is run by the entrepreneur Blair Evans, offers programs for at-risk youth as a social service. It empowers them to design and build things based on their own ideas.

led me to this article:

Blair Evans is an alumnus of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and an entrepreneur. For the past 15 years, he’s been the superintendent of a group of charter schools for troubled kids in Detroit, and in 2010 he opened the city’s first Fab Lab inside one of his schools.

The initial Fab Lab in Detroit cost from $200,000 to $250,000 to assemble, and Evans put his own money behind the project. A second one has opened in another of his schools, and Evans says both have paid for themselves with social-service contracts for youth development.

Soon there will be a third Fab Lab in Detroit’s 20-acre EcoDistrict that will turn out energy-efficient wood houses. And the EcoDistrict will make use of permaculture and an aquaponic system built in the Fab Lab.

rabbit holing – into 2011:

Self-replication and open source specifications puts set-up costs at little more than the cost of materials.

… innovation in the technologies of small-scale production and of daily living reduce the worker’s need for a continuing income stream. [..] ..such increased efficiencies, by minimizing the ongoing income stream required for comfortable subsistence, have the same liberating effect on ordinary people that access to land on the common did for their ancestors three hundred years ago. – Kevin A. Carson, The Homebrew Industrial Revolution, pp. 1-2

Blair Evans of Incite Focus, whom I met at IPC10 in Jordan, introduced me to the sloganistic phrase “move bit not atoms”. This phrase captures another energy (and cost) saving. Where we’re talking about atoms, distance is energy. Bits, however, are trivial to move in comparison.

Permafacture in Practice

Factor-e-Farm is one place in which some of these implications are being worked out. This farm is the site of Open Source Ecology‘s project called the Global Village Construction Set. The project aims to produce 50 machines for village scale development. Several prototype machines, all with open source specifications, have been built already, including a compressed earth brick press and tractor. Like the fab lab, OSE aims for their machines to be able to be produced from a minimal set of self-replicating machines. Listening to Frank Aragona’s interview with Marcin Jakubowski in 2008 was what first interested me in the possibility of low energy, high tech fabrication within regenerative design. I liked the notion of permafacture, which Marcin spoke of and which Vinay Gupta is supposed to have coined.

This way of holding culture in common is also what allows for the fabrication of useful machines and tools at very low cost. Kropotkin writes:

In proportion as technical knowledge becomes everybody’s virtual domain, in proportion as it becomes international, and can be concealed no longer, each nation acquires the possibility of applying the whole variety of her energies to the whole variety of industrial and agricultural pursuits. Knowledge ignores artificial political boundaries. –Peter Kropotkin, Fields, Factories and Workshops, p. 25

He goes on (in 1899!):

Those who dream of monopolising technical genius are 50 years behind the times. The world — the wide, wide world — is now the true domain of knowledge. — Peter Kropotkin, Fields, Factories and Workshops, p. 48

As we develop vital solutions we must be willing to share what we are able of the associated vital information. This is not charity, it is a practice ultimately beneficial to our own capacity to make use of other people’s improvements on our work and the obligation implicit in our making use of the knowledge of all who have come before us.

Colin Ward first re-issued an edited edition of Kropotkin’s Fields, Factories and Workshops in 1979 under the title Fields, Factories and Workshops Tomorrow because Ward saw that this vision was becoming ever more realisable even if Kropotkin’s thesis of its inevitability was wrong. More than ever we know that decentralised, human, ecologically regenerative work and life is not inevitable. That there are powerful forces working against just these things for the profit of a few also becomes ever clearer.

Kropotkin recognised this even if he could not see that he wrote during the beginning stages of the concentration of capital in trans-national corporations. He wrote:

Of course, as long as society remains organised so as to permit the owners of the land and capital to appropriate for themselves, under the protection of the state and historical rights, the yearly surplus of human production, no such change [the integration of industrial and agricultural, manual and brain work] can be thoroughly accomplished. — Peter Kropotkin, Fields, Factories and Workshops Tomorrow, p. 26

Today, the fabricator’s and the biohacker’s lab in garage and garden and on the farm will enable the always-inventive gardener and farmer to gain access to the means of invention which have hitherto been out of reach and so also limited the capacity for a truly harmonious relationship with the land and for cooperative and communal production.

Below are some starting points so you can get collaborating:


Graeber meets Thiel ness

dang. 2011. 1899.


Blair is director of incite focus:

from their site:

on Blair –

Our Director is an instructor in Digital Fabrication with the Fab Academy and trains personnel starting new Fab Labs in the international network. In addition to work in the built environment he has deep experience in the natural environment – a certified Permaculturist and Permaculture instructor. He has innovated important sustainable business models for community based production and community production in place-based education combining competitive fee-for-service activities with public and private sector stakeholders.

Mr. Evans received his initial formal education at MIT in Electrical Engineering, Computer Science and System Dynamics. Blair is also engaged in extensive ongoing training in technology, planning, and business development. Mr. Evans is also the founder and Superintendent of Blanche Kelso Bruce Academy which collaborates with Incite Focus for effective youth programming.

on the organization –

Incite Focus is a world-recognized, state-of-the-art production and training lab focused on the relationships between digital fabrication, permaculture, experiential learning, and appropriate technology. It is a key fabrication lab to combine these four areas of interest, which provides a holistic approach to sustainable community building. Incite Focus serves a community of thinkers and doers from students as young as 14 years of age, to young adults, to the neighborhood community group. It is a collaborative learning space where concepts and ideas are realized through technologies that give its users the capacity to create personal, household, community, commercial and industrial products using best-practices.

Current project works include:

  • Program management for a 640-Acre highly reliant community in South Carolina based around a center for community production and structured to allow 40 families to support themselves in high quality lifestyles. Program is in design stage, land is secured and initial participants are training in Detroit.
  • Partner in implementation of a network of community production sites in South Africa incorporating Digital Fabrication, Permaculture and business incubation. Targeted to achieve community based SME development promoting wealth creation within the townships and the growth of human resourcefulness in the residents.

short ness

on youth –

Incite Focus developed the CCP After School program in partnership with Blanche Kelso Bruce Academy to engage youth in 21st century learning opportunities focused on enriching their in-school learning experience as well as preparing them for college and career readiness. Currently, students, ages 14 to 18 who are enrolled in the Blanche Kelso Bruce Academy, Detroit Public School district and Educational Achievement Authority participate in the program.

Program components provide students hands-on experience in the areas of Digital Fabrication, Permaculture, Aquaponics, Solar Energy, and Technology. Additional components include the Discovery process to help students identify hidden talents, Core Skills Mastery to build and deepen math and literacy skills, Experiential Learning to help students problem solve and communicate, and Common Core Enrichment to raise student achievement in reading. There is also a Recreation component where students will learn team-building skills.

young adults –

..who may have experienced the traditional college-to-career track and found that pathway to success has either failed them or is increasingly out of reach.

mid-career –

..seeking new career paths..

encore career –

..50 and older who seek to make the transition from their earlier work to “Encore careers”. Encore careers combine personal fulfillment, social impact and continued income, enabling people to put their passion to work while helping younger generations succeed by offering their expertise and time.

whoa – imagine we don’t see this as an alternative (outside of educational mainstream – yoem – et al) from the get go..

more about him and incite in designing reality

Blair is superintendent of the Blanche Kelso Bruce Academy

from their site:

The Blanche Kelso Bruce Strict Discipline Academy (BKB), Michigan’s first multi-sited strict discipline academy, provides comprehensive, treatment-oriented educational services to students referred to as Youth Outside of the Educational Mainstream (YOEM). Students are eligible to enroll if they are expelled, referred by the court or by a school IEPC.

Most Youth Outside of the Educational Mainstream (YOEM) are not youth with academic challenges/failure caused by behavior problems, but rather students with behavior problems caused by failure in school – behavior escalated by non-responsive but yet mandatory education. Consequently the school can take an even more central role in the needed intervention in their lives because it is not just a matter of a good education allowing opportunities, it is a matter of even brief experience with targeted, healing schooling that creates a cognitive and affective transformation in the individual which empowers them to manage themselves in the challenges they face.

from bkba middle school page:

Student’s assessment is customized, while holding each student to high standards. They demonstrate their work in a real-world context. Students are prepared to become proficient or advanced on the State Standards Assessments.

The curriculum is individualized, academically rigorous, and based on each student’s needs.

part of big picture learning


2011 –  Catherine Ferguson Academy

CFA is the Detroit Public School for “pregnant and parenting teens” whose students, along with By Any Means Necessary (BAMN), conducted a passionate campaign to keep it open after DPS czar Robert Bobb put it on the chopping block earlier this year, along with 40 others.

Over a dozen young mothers were arrested for occupying the school April 15, leading to a national outcry and publicity for CFA’s unique program, including a spot on MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow show..

“Almost 6,000 girls in Detroit and Wayne County are not able to get an education because they become pregnant,” Andrews said. “Most don’t end up completing high school until the age of 29. Poverty kills people, and it starts at the age at which these young women have their first child. We need to start five more CFA’s, and I’m not clear why such schooling is not on the national agenda.”

Evans said the curriculum of the new school will include building “tiny houses” in a new economy where low wages are the rule, “permaculture,” a vague concept which appears to focus primarily on urban farming, and “fablabs,” which will be used to build the “tiny houses.” He said his company will also provide a greenhouse and international travel for the students.

The daily media portrayed Evans as the school’s savior when he and Blanche Kelso Bruce Academy (BKBA), the company which hired Evans Solutions as its management company, came forward at the last minute to take it over.

Blair’s brother was formerly detroit police chief..

“As a teenager, (Warren) Evans was privileged to meet and hear such important civil rights leaders as Malcolm X, and Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. during the height of the Civil Rights Movement as they came to Detroit, often to speak at the church of Rev. Albert B. Cleage Jr., Evans’ uncle,” says the bio. “Evans says that those experiences instilled in him a passion to fight for social justice and equality that stays with him today.”


from the gershenfeld bros’ designing reality


thru out book will meet people.. like blair evans (personal/community level).. from incite focus fab lab in detroit..


ie’s of fab labs all around the world

reading thru these made me think of micro-financing.. and that convo jason had about it.. (ie: borrowing money doesn’t deal w root cause.. so too.. making things doesn’t deal w root cause) ..great to have all these ie’s of how creative people are.. but we can do better.. ie: not doing things to make money or to do better in school or to make things.. that we really wouldn’t want if we were free..

imagine 7 bn people truly free.. what would we be/become/create.. et al..

like affluence w/o abundance meets personal fab ness (tech as it could be) .. eagle and condor style..


obvious way to assume your running costs is to sell things made in the lab.. labs failed at that.. it defeated the goal of brining back the economic activity.. the most interesting fab lab business models don’t sell thing that are made; they sell the benefits of making them.. ie:.. blair evan’s lab in detroit works w at risk youth.. important part of his funding comes from showing that the investment to engage these kids in the fab lab delivers better life outcomes than does the spending on existing social services.. what he’s producing is the transformation of individuals


better than now.. but.. imagine if those individuals didn’t have to feel measured.. imagine if ie: blair didn’t have to keep measuring them.. and keep asking for money… there’s a nother way man

spaces of permission w nothing to prove


funding for fab labs could be separated int for profit vs non profit .. but at its heart is an even bigger idea that could be called post profit.. what if you could skip *all that and just make it yourself..

*this is key.. from what i’m seeing.. you’re not skipping all that.. even though you seem to be on the very edge.. of what we desperately need.. (so bravo and thank you.. but) that bit of part\ial is – and will keep on – killing us

how about deeper/bigger.. post/sans money/measure..

what if we’re not approaching peak money, when the ability of a country to meet the needs of its population is no longer measured by the output of its businesses..

nice.. but/and too.. no longer measured..

this vision of consumers becoming creators resulted in the appointment of vicente guallart, founder of barcelona’s first fab lab.. 2011.. residents not wanting fab lab.. wanting food bank instead.. until learned they could grow own food in lab.. make toys for children.. start *businesses instead of searching for work..

*how about just.. make art.. instead of searching for work..


2\ enable self determination thru self sufficiency.. ie: blair evans, incite focus lab in detroit.. exploring new models that ‘foster the development of impressive,splendid, admirable human beings’ .. ‘work and spend less, create and connect more’


affluence w/o abundance..

rather than barter/exchange/buying/selling w blockchain.. how about hlb via 2 convos  w bc (or whatever).. listening to daily curiosities.. using that self-talk as data.. to help people find their tribes


blair and grace lee both joined black panthers via nathan‘s everything for everyone:


i met blair evans – the elder member of the field street collective.. not long since out of prison for black panther era activities..


the most frequently repeated phrase among speaker was: ‘what time is it on the clock of the world’ – words of grace lee boggs.. she joined the black panthers and malcom x to build a revolution of local economies.. she preached the power of ‘critical connections’ over ‘critical mass’


the clock of the world is a call to notice where we are and where we might go next.. boggs had long used detroit as a clock that could see in to the future.. that could predict the crises soon to spread elsewhere and the means of surviving them..  the best hope was ‘a way out of now way’