Two draft horses named Otto and Jim took Central Whidbey on a ride back in time last week.
Hired by a local farmer, the massive American Belgians and their owner, Freeland resident Greg Lange, spent most of Tuesday seeding a seven-acre field east of Engle Road.
“When was the last time this happened,” wondered Georgina Silby, marveling at a once common sight.
Silby hired the team as an experiment in mixed power for agriculture. She is not against using modern farm equipment and fully intends to harvest later this year with a combine.
But for some small-scale uses, such as seeding a relatively tiny field, it may make sense as a green alternative to a diesel tractor, she said. Silby hasn’t received a bill yet so it remains to be seen whether it will be cost effective.
“We’ll see,” Silby said. “It’s an experiment.”
“This is kinda like a research project.”
Lange, owner of Draftworks Horse Logging and Custom Farming, came to Whidbey from Port Angeles about six months ago, where he specialized in “forest stand improvement,” or sustainable, low-impact thinning.
Lange is now applying the trade to agriculture. He says it’s “the right thing to do” and is “all part of working with horses,” which is something he loves doing. He’s also interested in the idea of farming by horsepower.
“I enjoy the concept of producing food with animals,” Lange said.
And to answer Silby’s question, it’s only been a few weeks since horses worked land on Central Whidbey. He plowed a field for Linda Bartlett and Valerie Reuther earlier this month.
“It was really cool,” Bartlett said.
It was a little more pricey, as their fields are usually plowed by neighbor John Moon for nothing more than a plate of home-baked brownies, but it was worth it, she said.
“We’re always looking for ways not to use fossil fuels but not break our backs at the same time,” Bartlett said.
The practice has also caught the eye of Mark Preiss, manager of Ebey’s Landing National Historical Reserve.
The working horses fit nicely into the context of a national park that’s geared toward the preservation of a historical, cultural and working landscape, he said.
“I think it’s powerful,” Preiss said.
As for Otto, Jim and Greg, they are looking for additional work. Greg can be reached at 360-461-1244.