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Old School Farming

Oxen at Green Mountain College
Courtesy Green Mountain College

Some students at Green Mountain College in Vermont are getting an unusual driving lesson. They're learning to handle a pair of 1800 pound oxen, pulling a traditional plow.

It's part of Green Mountain's sustainable agriculture project, and it's a lot of fun, too. On Monday's program, we hear from some of them, who say in spite of the fact that the animals are enormous and sport giant horns, they're actually very gentle.

Still, getting two tons of draft animal to bend to your will requires concentration, training and patience. The final exam consists of the students driving the team around the school's farm, turning left and right, and hollering the standard ox-driving commands - Whoa, Haw, and Gee. (You'll have to tune in to find out about that.)

Dr. Ken Mulder, the manager of the farm, notes that this is not an activity for agricultural students - anyone enrolled at the Liberal Arts college can volunteer to work on the farm.

"I think you would be hard pressed to find another liberal arts college at which students are learning how to drive oxen, organically grow thirty different kinds of fruits and vegetables, raise heritage breeds of livestock and poultry, harvest hay without tractors or diesel fuel, manage an off-the-grid greenhouse, butcher sheep, pigs and chickens, build high-tensile fencing, shear sheep, and produce their own honey, apple cider, pickles, eggs and (soon) milk."

And really, at the end of the day, driving a team of oxen is probably easier than parallel parking a hulking SUV.

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