Tractors may offer an easier way to plow a field, but they guzzle fossil fuels and are hard to pat on the head. In contrast, ecologically friendly and economically viable draft animal-fueled agriculture is experiencing a surge in popularity. The School of the New American Farmstead at Sterling College is offering the course “Introduction to Teamster Skills: Working Horses and Cattle” for those interested in exploring the advantages of a draft animal-powered farm.
This five-day course, held August 6–11, 2017, will have students exploring the opportunities and constraints working cattle and horses bring to a modern farming or logging enterprise. There will be skills-based instruction by doing meaningful work with draft animals; skill sessions in hand tool use and maintenance; as well as experiencing the daily rhythm of working on a draft animal-powered farm.
The class will be led by instructor Rick Thomas. He says, “The teamster’s craft focuses on the relationship between the work and the animal; before you can learn how to handle the animal, you need to learn how draft horses and cattle think, work, and communicate. Draft power is experiencing a resurgence in popularity in modern agriculture. Mindful farmers and loggers are realizing the potential draft animals have to create resilient and profitable working landscapes; the partnership between teamsters and their animals is special.”
Thomas is a faculty member at Sterling College as well as the Draft Horse Manager. His teaching connects him to those things he values: hard work, living a farmer’s life, continued learning through experiential challenge, and building lasting relationships with students.
Other instructors include Kaleigh Hamel and Tom Jenkins. Hamel has been involved with large animals since her childhood and is now running her own small business of training, educating, and performing with her oxen and horses. Hamel has taught a week-long Oxen Basics course at Tiller’s International, been the guest presenter and teacher for the annual Midwest Ox Dover’s Association meeting, and taught an advanced training and psychology class at the 2015 Draft Animal Power Field Days.
Jenkins has been a consulting forester for 20 years, and runs the Ox Teamsters Challenge at the Three County Fair in Northampton, MA. He got his first team of oxen at age five and showed at New England fairs through 4-H for about 10 years. Ox logging with his team of seven-year-old Holstein/shorthorns is now an important part of his forestry business.
The class is being offered at Sterling College as part of the School of the New American Farmstead, its continuing education program that provides a variety of classes and workshops for aspiring agrarians, artisan food enthusiasts, and environmental stewards. These hands-on short courses in small-scale food production and sustainable farming offer one-on-one mentorship, inspiration, skills, and new perspectives that will feed the body, the mind, and the spirit.
This is the second year of the visionary School of the New American Farmstead, the creation of President Matthew Derr. Under President Derr’s leadership, the College has launched the Rian Fried Center for Sustainable Agriculture & Food Systems; made substantial progress on renewable energy; transformed its agricultural facilities; and set records for enrollment and fundraising.
The School of the New American Farmstead at Sterling College is generously underwritten by two great Vermont businesses: Chelsea Green Publishing, the preeminent publisher of books on the politics and practice of sustainable living, and Vermont Creamery, an award winning creamery offering fresh and aged goat cheeses, cultured butter, and créme fraîche that combine the European tradition of cheesemaking with Vermont’s terroir. Both Chelsea Green and Vermont Creamery are partner businesses that share a deep commitment to the environmental stewardship mission of Sterling College.
Online registration is now open, but spaces are limited. Students are encouraged to apply as early as possible. Academic credit is available for all courses. For more information this course and to register, visit www.sterlingcollege.edu/teamsters.
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