When we think of farming with horses, we immediately imagine a team pulling a large hoe through the ground, back and forth, forming parallel rows into which seeds are sown. When farmers hitch their horses in Prince Edward Island, PEI, a small Canadian province in the North Atlantic they’re not headed to the back 40, they’re driven directly into the sea.
Horses pull giant rakes through the breaking surf to harvest seaweed. This tradition of farming the sea began in the 1930s and reached peak production in the 1970s. The crop supplements local fishermen’s incomes between the spring and fall lobster seasons.
Many types of moss are harvested from the North Atlantic, Dulse, Kombu, Wakame are sold as health snacks but PEI fishermen harvest Irish Moss, a short red seaweed processed to make Carrageenan. The moss grows attached to rocks, but the Atlantic’s summer storms pull the seaweed loose where it is raked up by the horses.
In addition to Carrageenan production, Irish Moss is supplied directly to farmers and used for agricultural applications. North Atlantic Organics is just one company that harvests about 1 million pounds of seaweed each year. The seaweed is dried and ground into certified organic seaweed meal.
Why use horses? Machinery is prone to corrosion from the salt water and is more expensive to purchase, operate and maintain. Horses also provide a marketing appeal for organic, low tech farming, and their impact on the immediate environment is minimal. Then there’s this theory…
“The horses don’t mind the water, and they’re good workers, and that’s just been the way it was,” states Joe Dorgan, owner of North Atlantic Organics. “Our ancestors done it that way and it’s still done that way today.”
Good enough Joe. Good enough.
Edited from the Following Sources: http://modernfarmer.com/2015/12/draft-horses-harvesting-seaweed/, http://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/prince-edward-island/irish-moss-social-media-1.3212533, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Carrageenan
Photography Courtesy North Atlantic Organics