Horse-Drawn Local Food Wagon

horses-trailerThis summer, my family and I were in Bristol Vermont for an hour or so, and happened to be there on a Friday, when the horse-drawn garbage wagon was passing through the downtown. It was extremely disconcerting, but also way cool. (Turns out, Thornapple Farm Horsedrawn Services has had the trash-hauling contract in Bristol since 1979)

I was reminded of the clip-clopping trash wagon yesterday, while talking with Johan Zwart at Webster’s about the progress of Friends & Farmers Cooperative. I’m currently the board treasurer, until a new board is elected by the membership at the first Annual Meeting on Saturday, October 4 at 2 p.m. at the State College Area High School South Building Auditorium.

Johan and I were talking about the board’s ongoing discussion about the merits of starting the cooperative’s commercial operations with an online market. One of those merits is that an online market with a once-weekly distribution requires far less overhead – especially commercial real estate rental costs and labor costs – than a full store open six or seven days a week. The brick & mortar store is the co-op’s long-term goal, but it may not be a solid first business step, particularly for a member-owned and -operated business led by volunteers with a variety of skills, but not a lot of entrepreneurial experience.

Johan mentioned that the online market might even be workable without a physical location – as a mobile market with a regular delivery route. He described the food delivery systems in place in the Netherlands, where he grew up in the late 1970s and early 1980s.

Vegetable growers, bakers, dairy producers – each had a van or panel truck or even three-wheeled, two-stroke engine vehicle and would make regular rounds throughout the neighborhoods. Johan’s mother would either go out to the trucks to make purchases, or even leave notes on her door, listing the items to be left on her doorstep and billed to her account.

If it was feasible 40 years ago, then it’s feasible now in State College for an online market start-up.

And, as Johan also pointed out, 30 or 40 years earlier, those same routes had been travelled by horse-drawn wagons.

Although I’m sure the modern municipal permitting process for establishing a horse-drawn local food wagon to make the rounds in State College would be an absolutely enormous pain in the ass, it’s not quite as far outside the realm of local peoples’ experiences as it might seem. In nearby Millheim, Rebersburg, Smullton and other communities with large Amish populations, horses trotting on paved roads next to cars and trucks is an extremely common sight and sound; their droppings on the roadside a common sight and smell, and potentially a very useful prize for in-town gardeners.

And Plowshare Produce CSA – supported by many State College families – uses horses to produce the crops. (See Horsepower cultivates more than soil, by Micah and Bethany Spicher Schonberg, May 26, 2011, Centre Daily Times)

Once upon a time in the early 1990s, I was a mule-driver: a historic interpreter at Hugh Moore Historical Canal Park in Easton, PA. I spent three summers wearing 1880s clothes and walking two mules (Dixie and Daisy) along the towpath of Section 8 of the Lehigh Canal, rain or shine, but not during thunderstorms. On the three-person crew, I took turns captaining the canal boat with a four-foot long wooden tiller, and presenting a 45-minute narrative on the history of the Lehigh Canal, the anthracite coal region of Northeastern PA, and the mule-powered transportation system that brought the coal down from White Haven to industrial markets in Philadelphia and beyond.

So, I have very vivid, personal memories of working with draft animals – routinely brushing, hoof-picking, and tacking-up; tongue-clicking and “Whoa”-ing to walk and stand; and even getting kicked on the thigh and thrown clear across the barnyard once.

Gathering all these strands together, I think it would be huge fun to work with draft animals to bring some of the great food grown and raised by Central PA farmers door-to-door to the people of State College.

Huge fun.

P.S. I’ve written about this before:

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