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Horse Farming Low Tech Solution to Sustainability

Last weekend I spent two days in Ohio's Amish country checking out an event called Horse Progress Days. It's an annual celebration of animal power - draft horses, mules, and oxen - that draws over 10,000 people, the vast majority of whom are Amish farmers. It might seem like a curious thing to fly halfway across the nation to view a scene that seems frozen in time, circa 1914 (a date considered by one speaker to be the heyday of the family farm in America). And it was true - it felt very anachronistic to watch teams of huge Belgian and Percheron draft horses pulling manure spreaders and hay balers in front of a rapt crowd of men and women who looked like they belonged in another century. But that was exactly the point. Ten or twenty years ago - last century - the idea of animal power would have been considered anachronistic. But today, with diesel pushing $5 a gallon and everybody talking about sustainability, local food, family farming, and organic agriculture, the draft horse suddenly seems, well, like a new idea. That's why keynote speaker Lynn Miller, who farms in central Oregon and publishes the Small Farmer Journal - the premiere horse farming magazine in the nation - was so excited by the large turnout at this year's event. Thirty years ago, he said, everyone said horse farming was dead. Now, he continued, it is seen rightly as a possible answer to our food crisis. Of course, horse farming never went out of style with the Amish - who deserve a great deal of credit, by the way, for keeping horse farming alive and well in America. But I went for another reason than just educational. All one hears these days in the media about "solutions" to the various ills and crises that are besieging us all over the planet are only high tech answers. And the higher tech the better, it seems. You never hear about low tech alternatives - such as horse power. This is disturbing because, after all, humans have been engaged low tech behavior for millennia, often sustainably. What I saw in Mt Hope, Ohio, last weekend told me that there is nothing anachronistic about horses. Or mules. Or oxen. Maybe we should give low tech greater consideration - I know I will. ———- Courtney White is co-founder and Executive Director of The Quivira Coalition, a nonprofit organization dedicated to building bridges between ranchers, conservationists, public land managers, scientists, and others. He is the author of Revolution on the Range: The Rise of a New Ranch in the American West.