Living in a digital age, it’s good to know that sometimes we still need to do things the way our forebears did. Fred is a Belgian draft horse called into action to help line crews in East Burke, Vermont, attach a fiber optic cable to a utility pole on June 24. Fred and his owner, Claude Desmarais, had been hired by Fairpoint Communications to pull the fiber optic cable through challenging terrain to provide Vermont with high-speed internet by 2013. You can see Fred at work at Boing Boing.
Fred also does considerably less harm to the environment than heavy construction equipment, just as Larson and Lucas, two Brown Swiss steer that Rich Ciotola, a farmer in Sheffield, Massachusetts uses to plow his fields. Ciotola, Larson and Lucas were part of a New York Times piece in May about how a small number of farmers are again using “beasts of burden” to till their fields:
Now, as diesel prices skyrocket, some farmers who have rejected many of the past century’s advances in agriculture have found a renewed logic in draft power. Partisans argue that animals can be cheaper to board and feed than any tractor. They also run on the ultimate renewable resource: grass.
“Ox don’t need spare parts, and they don’t run on fossil fuels,” Mr. Ciotola said.
Animals are literally lighter on the land than machines.
“A tractor would have left ruts a foot deep in this road,” Mr. Ciotola noted.
In contrast, oxen or horses aerate the soil with their hooves as they go, preserving its fertile microbial layers. And as an added benefit, animals leave behind free fertilizer.
David Fisher, who runs the Natural Roots Community Supported Agriculture program in Conway, Mass., and sells vegetables grown solely with horsepower, says he’s had “record numbers” of applicants:
“There’s an incredible hunger for this kind of education,” he said.
“Using animals is just really appealing to the senses,” he said, adding that he found it philosophically appealing as well. “There’s a deep environmental crisis right now, and live power is also about creating an alternative to petroleum. Grass is a solar powered resource — and you don’t need manufacturing plants or an engineering degree to make a horse go.”
Sounds like he, and Ciotola and Desmarais, are onto something not new, but old know-how that it’s high time we learned about again.
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