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Still Plowing With Horses

Recently as the

team and I were out plowing, I noticed a car drive slowly south by the field.

There was a day when five horses on a two-bottom plow would not turn any heads. Recently as the team and I were out plowing, I noticed a car drive slowly south by the field. A short time later the same car crawled back north and stopped on the road. I need to rest the horses regularly anyway and sometimes I stop to chat, but I was finishing up a piece. It was a long hike over rough, plowed ground and it was freezing cold.

The car continued north, pulled onto our driveway and stopped. A man, bare headed, leather jacket unzipped, with an enormous zoom-lensed camera jumped out of the car and started toward me across the grass and then the freshly plowed ground. As he got closer I was finishing the round and beginning to make the corner. “Excuse me! Wait, please!” he yelled and began half-running over the clods of broken earth. I always like to stop the team with their backsides to the cold wind and the next round started, so I completed the corner. By then he was desperately calling out to me to wait. I stopped the team, but I was thinking at the plowing speed of 2-1/2 miles an hour, he would probably have caught us. Although, if he had kept running at us, waving his arms and yelling, we may very well have set a new plowing speed record. When he came up he was huffing and puffing so badly it made me worried for his heart – and wondering about my liability coverage.

It’s funny how farming methods that were generally abandoned two generations ago can still attract attention. Modern agribusiness constantly pushes the theme that bigger is better, get big or get out, big toys for big boys.

There can be no question as to the efficiency of the methods of modern agribusiness. Never before have so few people harvested so many acres. This efficiency, however, is measured by the number of acres covered relative to hours spent. At the same time as mechanical efficiency has been going up, average farm size has also been increasing. The same technology that increases farm size also contributes to rural depopulation.

The change from animal power to tractor power was much more than a technological advancement. It marked the beginning of the end of locally produced and consumed energy. In the words of author Wendell Berry, farmers were “persuaded to give up the free energy of the sun in order to pay dearly for the machine-derived energy of the fossil fuels.” And so farmers who can harvest more acres also must harvest more acres to pay for this mechanical efficiency.

As a community and as individuals should not our goal be to provide incomes, livelihoods and grow a healthy community? The facts are that under conventional methods farm population is both aging and shrinking, not exactly indications of a healthy industry.

When Mr. Zoom Lens comes out to watch us plow I hope he sees more than living history. I hope he sees one view of the future in living colour.

– Tim and Kathleen Freeman farm with draft horse power at

Wakopa, near Ninga, Manitoba

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