Annual plowing match marches on at Howell Living History Farm

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Plowing has been turned into a competition that has become a tradition at the Howell Living History Farm for the last 36 years.

And that tradition continued in Hopewell Township on Aug. 31.

The annual plowing match marks the beginning of a crop production cycle that is set to take 10 months with the land being sown with winter wheat in late September. The competition began in 1984 and is designed to test the farmers and their horses.

Each farmer and their horse team plow in a section of land on the farm, where they are judged in areas that include depth, coverage and evenness. The competition is a way to preserve a method of plowing from the 20th century and work up the soil on the farm where wheat will be planted.

“It is great that our county park system preserves our rural heritage the way they do. This particular project is quite unique,” said Peter Watson, Howell Living History Farm director. “What we have created is a typical Mercer County farm in the 20th century, which was in the pre-tractor era. Horsepower was the primary source of power for plowing, planting operations and logging. Really to be honest it was used for everything.”

According to officials, plowing loosens up the soil so the land can be sowed or planted.

“We are actually farming this farm’s tillable acreage with horses and older methods. Our goal is to involve as a many from the general public as possible,” Watson explained. “I think you see that here today. This time of year we are getting ready to plant fall crops. People get to see what it really took to plant crops like wheat. We end up taking wheat from the previous year’s harvest and bake bread with it with school children and others.”

The farm is operated by the Mercer County Park Commission and receives support from Mercer County, according to officials.

The plowing match had three categories that included, fine plowing, old timer plowing and novice plowing.

Fine plowing is where participants use one, two or three animals that include horses, mules or ponies to plow any width. Officials said plowing is judged on the condition of the team, the evenness, straightness and depth of the furrow, penetration, condition of equipment, evenness of the ends and the teamster’s control of their chosen animal.

Ian Ferry of Howell Farm won first place in the fine plowing competition, Daniel Ruth of Telford, Pa. was awarded second place and Pat Hlubik of New Egypt placed in third.

Farmers who know how to use a team and walking plow, participate in the old timer plowing competition. The participants use a Howell Farm hitch, which connects horses to the plow, and are judged on one round of plowing.

Novice plowing involves any individual from the crowd who sign up to try plowing. The individuals handle the plow only and not the horses. They are judged on a full round.

“I love seeing our fellow farmers and teamsters who value this tradition of plowing bring it here and share this tradition with others. Once a year we get to team up and show how important it is to preserve such traditions,” Watson said. “We have people from north New Jersey, south New Jersey, New York and we have had some come from as far as South Carolina for this match. This is almost an annual reunion of teamsters who drive horses in this American farming tradition that we rarely practice.”

One of the teams in the fine plowing match was led by Ian Ferry, who is a Hopewell Township resident. He revealed that he has been participating in the fine plowing match for 12 years.

“I love working outside and have worked at the Howell farm for about 16 years now. This is a great experience,” Ferry said. “I love it. The plow match is always fun and plowing is very physical. We plow on the farm in the fall and spring so this annual competition is a great way to compete. Plowing is my favorite aspect of farming and today is just nice to compete with other people.”

He pointed out that it is also great to see the children come out and take part in plowing during the day event.

“My daughter actually plowed in the children’s novice plow match and it is really nice to see the children take this aspect of farming in,” Ferry said.

David Lax, from Baltimore, attended and participated in the novice plowing match during the morning events.

“I have never plowed before and this is definitely humbling. Plowing is definitely harder than it looks,” Lax explained. “This is a great experience and beautiful day. This is a great event to have for a community like this; activities like this bring families and the community together.”

In addition to the plowing match, the rest of the day included a pig roast, chicken barbecue, logging obstacle course, as well as pony and wagon rides.

According to officials, 400 people attended the day of events.

“I love to see people appreciate history not only for its cultural value but for its practical value,” Watson said. “By doing this event we hope to help people shaping the future of agriculture with using environmentally sustainable and friendly methods.”

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