A hypothetical: if there exists a place in our modern world where garbage and/or recycling is collected by horse-drawn wagon instead of truck, where, pray tell, do you think that place would be?
While a couple of the above locales do indeed offer equine curbside refuse hauling services, none have garnered quite the recognition (at least recently, anyway) as not one but two small towns in Vermont where noisy, exhaust-spewing trucks have been replaced with noisy, exhaust-spewing draft animals.
Personally, I’d take rhythmic clip-clopping — and the occasional whinny — over infernal, building-shaking rumbling. And as for that exhaust, give me a whiff of eau de stable — and maybe an errant road apple — over noxious diesel fumes any day.
But that’s just me.
Wedged in between the Adirondacks and the Green Mountains in west-central Vermont, Addison County is home to both of Vermont’s horse-drawn cart garbage-collecting communities. The smaller of the two, Bristol, has been at it for nearly two decades. As reported by the Associated Press, horse-aided trash hauler Pat Palmer and his two equine teams (Jake and Jerry and Pete and Paul) just recently expanded their services from Bristol to the larger college town of Middlebury, the county seat, where the population is nearly double the size and the curbside garbage mounds are no doubt more formidable.
Thus far, 68-year-old Palmer, who owns and operates Thornapple Farm in nearby New Haven, has only 70 customers in Middlebury (compared to the more than 200 in Bristol) and is optimistic that with time he’ll attract more. He certainly doesn't have to do much in the way of outside advertising as his service pretty much sells itself.
At $5 per bag, Palmer’s price point is comparable to truck-based garbage collection services. Recyclables are removed gratis per Act. 148, a “universal recycling law” ushered in by Vermont late last year that aims to bolster composting and recycling rates through municipal “pay-as-you-throw” schemes and other landfill diversion tactics.
Once business picks up in Middlebury, Palmer plans to hand the reigns — both literally and figuratively in this instance — over to two of his 20-something teamsters, Amanda Morse and Nick Hammond. Palmer would return his focus to Bristol where the scenery is more bucolic and his customer base more established.
While the concept of horse-drawn trash removal catches on in Middlebury, Palmer’s hard-working Percherons are attracting a small legion of admirers and, most importantly, potential customers. “We think it's a great idea. We like that it's earth-friendly, and we're animal lovers, so we just like to see the horses come down the road," resident Amanda Kimel tells the AP. "The first day we saw them at the end of the circle, I couldn't believe it.”
JoAnne Gruber feels much the same, although she does have her reservations about the manure factor: "I like the idea. I think environmentally it's a sound idea. I like the back-to-the-way-things-used-to-be, when they were simpler.”
Despite early reservations about Palmer’s horses making regular appearances at the loud, truck-dominated transfer station, workers with the county’s waste authority have taken a liking to them (how could you not?) and are impressed with their unflappable dispositions. "... having observed the horses, they seem to do a great job," notes Teri Kuczynski, manager of the Addison County Solid Waste Management District. "They're very calm. It is pleasant to hear the clip-clopping on the road as they approach the transfer station gate."
It goes without saying that small town Vermont is an ideal place — perhaps the ideal place — for an equine-powered rubbish collection enterprise. This delightful throwback operation might not fair too well in Cleveland, Jacksonville or Queens.
Would you take draft horses over trucks if it was an option in your neck of the woods?
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