More than 600 people gathered at Warren Wilson College to celebrate horse-powered agriculture during the 20th annual Plow Day.
Warren Wilson models sustainable agriculture practices, and so it uses the draft power of work horses whenever possible. Horses are responsible for close to 80 percent of the field work in the garden each spring.
Ben Mackie, the garden manager at Warren Wilson, said the college’s draft horse program is a fairly unique program in the U.S.
“Students can come in with little or no knowledge of draft agriculture, and be able to do it in a semester,” he said. “A lot of that is because of peer-to-peer learning where students are teaching other students.”
In addition to using draft horses, Mackie trains students in a range of different agricultural practices, including no-till and conventional tilling practices.
“I try to give the widest breadth of knowledge to students so they can make an informed decision of how they want to farm in the future,” Mackie said. “I think it’s important to empower students with skills, even if they never go on to own horses themselves.”
On Plow Day, teams of draft horses from across the region traveled to Warren Wilson to help plow a field to prepare for the fall crop. The animals used a combination of plow equipment, including new Amish-crafted equipment as well as working equipment from the early 1900s.
“We want not just to celebrate the tradition of draft power, but bring it into the 21st century,” Mackie said. “Petroleum is not an infinite resource, so draft horses will likely continue to be an important part of agriculture in the future.”
In addition to draft horses, the event featured old-time music, food grown on campus, a cake walk of local bakeries, and craft demonstrations such as fiber arts, blacksmithing and woodworking. Children’s activities included cider pressing, wagon rides and flower crown making. Fresh produce and herbal products were available for sale.
“I’m excited about Plow Day because it’s fascinating to see all the different animals and teamsters working together to get the field plowed,” said Grace Girardeau, a senior biochemistry student and member of the horse crew at Warren Wilson. “I think the event is really special because it celebrates what I consider to be a craft or skill that’s not very common today. It’s an incredible way to bring young people into it and expose people to horse-power agriculture.”