Samson (star of field and screen)
Samson is a four-year-old Dartmoor X Welsh Cob horse who was born and bred on the south of the moor. Ed bought him in February 2009 after stumbling into him in a snow drift somewhere near Widecombe. At the time Ed was doing an apprenticeship with Jonathan Waterer who farms 90 acres with a team of Shire’s in north Devon. In June 2009 Ed took Samson up to Jonathan who helped break him in to drive and ride before he came back to Chagford in the winter. Samson first began work with Chagfood in March 2010 harrowing our recently ploughed field before it was sown with our first seedlings. Since April 2010 he has been working 1-2 days each week on the field using the french designed Kassine cultivator for light weeding, tilling and ridging in the field. Since then Samson has made two front-page appearances on local newspapers, had two films made about him and starred in a working horse demonstration at Chagford Show.
Why we’re using horsepower
Chagfood is more than simply a local food scheme for Chagford. We recognise that our current globalised food system is inherently unsustainable and would like to demonstrate that an alternative, localised food system is more sustainable – socially, environmentally and economically. We decided very early on that we wanted to reduce the farm’s dependence on oil to the bare minimum, we also wanted to actively encourage a renaisance of traditional farming skills and knowledge and to show that this model of farming can be financially self-sufficient.
Several studies have recently been conducted to compare the efficiency of horsepower and tractor power within the context of market gardens (The Land magazine Summer 2006 & Small Farmers’ Journal Winter 2010) and concluded that on an area of less than 4-acres the cost in time of working with horses is far outweighed by combined cost of fuel, inputs, depreciation, soil compaction and pollution associated with using even a lightweight tractor. The primary benefits of horse drawn cultivation can be summarised as:
1. Maximisig efficiency while minimising soil compaction; less compaction equals healthy structure; good aeration; soil biodiversity; mineralisation of nutrients and ultimately high fertility.
2. Minimising dependence upon fossil fuels; it is estimated that the global food system uses, on average, 10 calories of fossil fuel energy to produce just one calorie of food (Shiva 2009). Apart from the embodied energy in our work harness and the Kassine, Samson’s work upon the CSA field is entirely carbon neutral.
3. Economic sustainability; the price of red diesel has quadrupled within the past 15-years from 18 pence to over 70 pence a litre today. This has reflected the affect of increasing demand upon a finite resource. Although the future of global oil supplies is a hotly debated topic, it is undeniable that the cost of fuel and the associated cost of food which depends upon it is only going in one direction. We believe that by minimising our dependence on fossil fuels we can avoid the inevitable inflation facing conventional production systems and pass these cuts onto our consumers.
The Kassine is the brainchild of the French peasant farming organisation PROMMATA (Promoting Modern Agricultural & Animal Traction Machinery) set-up in 1991 to support a renaissance in working horses, and donkeys, in horticulture. The Kassine is one of several modern draft implements developed by the organisation to combine all the benefits of traditional peasant design; lightweight, durable and easy to mend, with the need for a modern and ergonomic tool.
The Kassine consists of a rigid handle and frame with fully adjustable wheels and a draught bar which is used to carry up to seven separate tillage tools for various tasks. The tool has been designed in collaboration with the traditional French paysanne system of ridge-cultivation meaning that, although it is still very versatile when used on the flat, it makes sense to grow on ridges to use it to its full potential. Growing on ridges is relatively unusual here in the UK as it generally requires a lot more space per crop than flat-bed systems, in France however there tends to be a lot more space available and ridge-growing is well suited to the continental climate.
The PROMMATA system uses a three-footed hoe to scuff pasture and work-up the topsoil from a bare field before the organic matter is ridged in windrows using a double-disc ridging tool. Grasses and weeds are then left for several weeks to rot down and provide a rich, warm seed bed. Crops are then sown in the very top of the ridges allowing them ample space for their developing roots and plenty of organic matter to hold the water around them.
Weeds are tolerated in between the ridges for up to several weeks after planting, until they begin to compete with the crops. At this point a single hoe attachment is used to clean the ground between each row which is then re-ridged drowning any remaining weeds with lose soil. These weeds then also break down releasing further nutrients to boost the crops.
for more information see www.prommata.org