This is what the opponents of drilling and fracking and nuclear power dream of — an America where we return to using oxen instead of tractors. The photo is from an NYT food-section story entitled “Brute Force: On Small Farms, Hoof Power Returns.”
Let me point out right away that I am not making sport of farmers who are trying this out; in some instances, it may well be a sensible alternative or supplement to modern technology. Furthermore, I understand the appeal of traditionalism, since I’m a Crunchy Con fellow-traveler — I compost, I garden (badly, I’m afraid), I power my barbeque with wood rather than gas or manufactured briquettes, I drive a Prius, I shop at Trader Joe’s (though I try to always take my reusable NRA shopping bag).
That said, the appeal of animal power for some isn’t just about its practical benefits or even its romantic appeal. Here’s a guy interviewed in the story, who does not appear to actually be a farmer (emphasis added):
David Fisher, whose Natural Roots Community Supported Agriculture program in Conway, Mass., sells vegetables grown exclusively with horsepower, said he is getting record numbers of applicants for his apprentice program. “There’s an incredible hunger for this kind of education,” he said. . . .
“Using animals is just really appealing to the senses,” he said, adding that he found it philosophically appealing as well. “There’s a deep environmental crisis right now, and live power is also about creating an alternative to petroleum. Grass is a solar powered resource — and you don’t need manufacturing plants or an engineering degree to make a horse go.”
The implication is that animal power is somehow inherently superior, that a tractor (and, more generally, modern technology) are at best necessary evils. The problem, of course, is that a return to pre-industrial technology, in farming or anywhere else, would mean billions would have to die. From this perspective, 4 or 5 billion of us are ourselves a kind of necessary evil — we can’t kill them, but boy, wouldn’t it be great if they didn’t exist.
In other words, to be anti-technology is to be anti-human. Modern industrial technology is a gift from God, one we are obliged to use prudently. We mustn’t misuse this gift to poison the earth or oppress our fellows, but to recoil from technology in principle is perverse and wicked.