‘Back to the future’ with agriscience

By Noreen Heikes

This fall, Scotts-based Tillers International partnered with the Animals and Plants introductory agriscience class at Vicksburg High School to pilot a “Back to the Future” project. The students were tasked with using knowledge from 19th century farming technology to engineer a farm implement that would solve a specific current problem in the developing world.

Tillers International’s mission is “to preserve, study and exchange skills and tools that empower communities worldwide to improve livelihoods and agricultural productivity.”

The organization works both in the US and in developing countries to re-engineer antique farm equipment from locally available materials to allow more efficient agricultural production. Low-tech equipment that is human or animal powered tends to be more easily afforded and repaired than the large farm implements commonly used in the US.

Tillers has ongoing projects in several African countries. Most of these involve some form of animal-powered tillage or cultivation equipment. At the Scotts farm, it prototypes these implements and uses draft power (horses, donkeys and oxen) to operate them. It also teaches classes on skills as diverse as blacksmithing, timber framing and draft animal power.

After learning a bit of background information on global food supply and agriculture in developing countries, students formed working groups. Each group was given a specific challenge to solve via the implement they designed. With this challenge in mind, students went to the Tillers farm and toured both the museum and the prototype shop. This allowed them to gather ideas, photograph implements, and consult with Tillers experts regarding their project. In addition, they viewed sustainable agriculture practices, and worked with the mammoth donkey team.

The project wrapped up with each student group presenting their invention to a panel of experts from Tillers. Students were able to receive feedback on their work and learn more about the engineering and mechanics involved in prototyping new “old” technology. In addition, students were offered the opportunity to continue partnering with Tillers in various capacities, including supervised agricultural experience projects, taking classes, and carrying their implement forward through forging and fabrication.

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