Sunday, 16 August 2009

Pony Power - Back to the Future

Victor Barry

I've just got back from another wonderful holiday in Cornwall- the Roseland Peninsula. Its funny the people you come across in unexpected places. This is Victor, he is either 73 or 74, he's not sure which - and is passionate about organic, sustainable farming. He knows how to plough with shire horses and how to farm in "the old fashioned way", ie small scale, sustainable and providing for a local community. He believes this is a type of farming that is now in danger of being forgotten and he wants to see it put right back on the agenda - and nowhere more so than on the outskirts of the major cities and towns. He wants to see horses and ponies back on the land - small scale organic plots farmed by local communities and he wants to see traditional farming values transported into a modern world. He is passionate about horses - see Cornish Horse Power for details of how he wants to use horses today.

Below is a video of the plough team on his land harvesting hay. Victor is walking behind at the end. The second video is a closer shot, notice the hay bales being thrown out of the side of the machine - which is a hundred years old. The technology used to tie the bales with string was shared with Singer sewing machines.

This plough is very old, but more modern, lighter, easier to use ploughs can be used that don't require so much specialist knowledge and can be pulled by small ponies - and this is what Victor wants us to do.

But he is not advocating going back to farming 60 years ago, he believes we have to use modern technology with old fashioned values, which he believes are more respectful of the natural world. Certainly biodiversity was higher 60 years ago, although I know (and Victor knows) that farming back then was not a perfect model of egalitarian social interaction.

One of his ideas is to use the many thousands of pet ponies that are sitting idle for most of the day all around the outskirts of out towns and cities and teach them - and us - how to plough small fields with them for community farming, using modern, small, light ploughs. Its a great idea, I love the idea of using ponies in Community Supported Agriculture. Why not? Its the kind of creative thinking we need. He is an active member of Transition Towns which he says embody many of his dearly held beliefs about community and local supply.

An important part of Victor's drive to create a sustainable future for farming is his sincere, evangelical even, Catholic faith. He believes we have been charged with tending the earth and have spectacularly failed, particularly in the 70s at the height of intensive farming. I agree Victor, I totally agree. Every morning at 7.00 Voctor holds a small prayer meeting in his tumbled down "office" before milking his Jersey cows. His farmyard is full of fascinating old things including old wind surfers ( he was once pretty good I hear) old boats, tractors, the obligatory caravans and other "stuff"which most farmers seem to find hard to throw away!

I think Victor is onto something, using the wisdom of the past and combining it with new technology. And I think the spiritual underpinning of his actions will sustain him through these difficult times when I know he often feels he is a voice in the wilderness.

Perhaps we will see ploughing ponies bringing in a local harvest, and if I do I will say a silent thank you to Victor - I hope his dreams come true.


  1. Mary, you'll have to come to the North Someset Ploughing Competion on Sept 12 at Backwell, quite a few horse teams there

  2. Sounds fun - hope to see some ponies there too! Actually I'm allergic to horses so I'll stand at the back...