DAPNet board member, Daniel Grover posed these questions to Great Song Farm’s Anthony Mecca.
Great Song Farm, located in New York’s Hudson Valley, works to create a community farm based around an on-farm CSA supplying fresh vegetables to 110 families through the summer and to 30 through the fall and winter. In addition we offer other local biodynamic and organic products including honey, strawberries, blueberries, raspberries, apples, breads, soft and hard cheeses, yogurt, duck and chicken eggs, maple syrup, teas, herbs, and fermented vegetable products through add-on shares and a small farmstore. Farmers Anthony Mecca and Sarah Hearn strive to craft a just, accessible, and transparent food system that is economically viable and fulfilling for both farmers and supporters. We welcome learning opportunities for season-long apprentices and summer interns who contribute greatly to growing the farm through fresh ideas and a lot of good work.
Community and relationships are the foundation of Great Song Farm. We strive to foster a healthy and vibrant community where people can form direct and meaningful connections to nature, agriculture, and each other, on a small diverse farm. We work to balance the needs of eaters and farmers while providing the utmost care and attention to the soil, the plants, and the animals.
Our 2 Suffolk Draft Horses help us with field work and cultivation. A small cow herd grazes our pastures and provides manure, milk and processed products for home use. A beekeeper tends 20-30 thriving beehives. We create and use our own prepared compost from our draft horse and cow manure as the basis for fertility. The principles and methods of biodynamics are central to our work. Our farm is leased from 2 gracious landowners.
How long have you been farming with horses?
I have been farming at Great Song Farm for 4 years and on other farms with draft horses for 3 years prior.
What do you get out of driving horses personally, psychologically, emotionally?
Our intimate work together to accomplish necessary tasks across boundaries of language brings to light my shortcomings in communication. They offer a direct, unflinching, unbiased reflection of my state of soul. They reveal gently, patiently, and without judgement, what I need to work on transforming to bring myself to becoming a better human being.
What got you started in draft animals?
My mother had a horse when I was young which began my bond with horses: visiting, brushing, mucking, and just enjoying being around a barn and horses. One of the farms I worked on early on boarded 20 horses, which nearly put me off from working with them as there were so many difficulties managing their relations. However, this did help keep my relationship growing, and allowed me to see how different people worked with their horses. I realized that most of the troubles were because of their owners and their situation, not particularly because of the horses.
After working on a couple tractor-powered vegetable farms and thoroughly enjoying the work and community, I began wondering of ways to work the land in other ways. I was not satisfied with the ‘side-effects’ of using the tractor such as ground compaction and fuel use, and am not handy with machines. I also yearned to be closer to the soil, to walk and feel what we had just done, to engage all of my senses while working rather than having them cloaked behind the engine noise and exhaust and distances in space being high up off the ground.
I knew the Amish were still strongly working horses, but didn’t quite know how to get experience. At an agricultural conference I attended a presentation by Ann and Eric Nordell, whom I had heard a bit about prior. I was humbled and astonished when I saw what they had done with ingenuity and simplicity working with horses on their farm. After that presentation I sat down to dinner with some folks and was telling them all about the presentation and my personal journey. Someone mentioned they had heard of David Fisher and Natural Roots. I immediately knew this was my next step, and fervently pursued an apprenticeship there for the next 8 months until I had been accepted.
Where/how did you gain the skills you have today?
I began my formal education working with draft animals as an apprentice at Natural Roots in Conway, MA. After working there for a season I worked at Essex farm in Essex, NY with a handful of teamsters and horses, each with their own style and at different points in their education. Their individual relationships with the animals helped me work on and evaluate my own, and I’ve taken tools and ways of being from each.
Beginning Great Song Farm and working with my current horses has brought me forward in different ways. Having nothing to rely on but what I can bring myself, having to work out difficult situations, and knowing that their behavior is strongly influenced by me (there’s no one else to blame!), along with the opportunity to make a lot of mistakes, has intensified and accelerated my learning.
As a teamster, what goals or aspirations do you have?
To respect and honor my equine partners by offering them a reliable teammate who cares for their health and wellbeing. I am working towards getting to know them as intimately as possible to help them reach towards their own full potentials, as well as the full potential of the human beings they work with. I believe fostering these relationships with animals is integral to both of our evolution and as a planet. Offering learning opportunities for others that allow them this experience are among my future goals.
Who is your closest draft powered neighbor?
Mark and Miriam at Full Circus Farm recently moved to the area and are about a half hour away. I’m excited to have a draft powered vegetable farm so close by.
What is the funnest thing you have done with a team?
The simplicity of skidding logs with a single horse and chain, weaving through the woods, is something I always look forward to. It is usually winter time, which also affords a slower pace.
What is the hardest thing you have done with a team?
I have had many, many struggles getting to know the art of plowing. We also have a lot of rocks and some rock outcroppings which have all hopefully been uncovered. Each year is another opportunity.
Where do you look for advice and inspiration about working horses?
Most of all, I look to the horses themselves. If we work on empathizing with their way of being and experiencing the world, we can utilize many senses and capabilities innate to them that we are lacking. I also greatly appreciate all of the conversation and sharing that happens through the DAPNet organization, whether it be the field days, workshops, forum or facebook.
What advice do you have for novice and aspiring teamsters?
There is a lot of work to be done on the farm, in the forest, or where ever you work your animals. Be sure to take proper time for equipment safety, checking in with your state of being, and also prioritizing the cultivation of your personal relationship with the animals, and your work on this relationship, as a foundation for accomplishing this work in a safe, pleasant, and efficient manner. ‘Now’ or even ‘today’ may not be the time to plow or skid logs if you ask the animals, though other cicumstance may say otherwise. Working with the horses to move through the task, together, can be very rewarding for both you and them. Discerning when to step back and when to push forward is invaluable. Patience and persistence are key. Keep quietly working together, taking each day step by step.
What are some major tenants of your work with horses?
Reverence and gratitude to bring me back to why I do this work, and to everything that helps me to work out what I have been placed on this earth to do, whether it be pleasurable or difficult. Finding my true inner self to provide confidence and a place that I can step forward from with dignity and integrity, to provide the horses with a strong leader. Always observing and questioning what is happening and trying to see it from as many viewpoints as possible, including that of the horses as well as the soil, plants, animals, and human beings. Another major tenant is never being afraid to ask for help and guidance, even from what seem like unlikely sources.
I’ve enjoyed reading about other teamsters in this community. Thanks for offering me a place to share and for reading. I heartily welcome any questions or conversation, and am happy to expand upon anything that might be unclear.