I think the establishment phase, which could be quite a few years, IS quite hard. We've been living on site for a bit over eight years now and more and more I'm noticing things self seeding as long as I bumble along in my less than organised fashion! I still sow, prick out and transplant vege seedlings to make sure I get particular ones that I want but the self sown ones are definitely becoming a greater proportion of the total and I think it's possible the day may come when I can just eat what 'volunteers', especially as I plant more perennial food plants in the food forest. It's an exciting prospect.
Location: Port Elizabeth, South Africa (34 degrees south)
I understand that feeling. My husband and I are in our 50s and suddenly time seems quite short! It's great to see more and more young ones fired up and ready for action though. We host wwoofers and some are sponges for information and access to learning practical skills.
Location: Port Elizabeth, South Africa (34 degrees south)
I am getting closer and closer to the time where I will be able to host wwoofers, in fact come to think of it I could sart by calling for weekend volunteers to help me prepare for my pecan tree plantings.
I have had volunteers before for short durations doing work on the cottage - it was quite fun!
Law of the farm number 2: “If your hens don’t lay, you can’t eat omelettes.”
I have been struggling to get our chickens into proper accommodation. I moved them to the farm a couple of months ago already now as part of a massive back yard clean-up campaign in the build-up to the big party we had at home toward the end of last year. The chickens were hurriedly put into a two metre by two metre box. Well it’s not really a box, more like a frame, a box without a top or a bottom. It was built hurriedly in July last year as a temporary structure to hold the newly born puppies that were running amok and getting themselves drowned in the pool. I am generally reluctant to throw good stuff away and thought it was very creative of me to re purpose the puppy box into a chicken box. I moved it to the farm, put a bit of chicken wire over the top nailed a little egg box in one corner and we were in business, we had a portable structure that we could use to pasture our hens. Moving them to fresh grass everyday where they can scratch and dig and set there manure down in such a way that it is a huge benefit and not a toxic problem requiring hours of our precious time to clean, cart and sanitise. And after all, we had tried pasturing poultry this before with broilers in the suburbs so I was pretty pleased with myself for the quick thinking re[purposing project. Taking a pile of old wood that was surely headed for the tip and turning it into an egg producing, pasture fertilising machine. Absolutely brilliant!
The mongoose, or whatever it was that found the pastured poultry pen on night number three, had other ideas. On the morning of day four we found a hen dead and with a hole ripped in its stomach and its intestines ripped out. On the morning of day five we found another hen, this time with its head gone and a similar problem of missing intestines. The best that I could figure is the chicken thief was squeezing under the frame in the small gaps between the timber and the grass. It was killing and eating inside there and then getting out the way it came in after it had had its fill. I was deflated. You and the family were kind. You only went on with “why didn’t you just...” and “wouldn’t it be better if?...” for about a week. I was let off lightly. But we did find a solution, after reading the farming a permaculture websites and forums, I came across and American farmer, Joel Salatin’s suggestion that foxes on his farm are discouraged by a metre wide “apron” of chicken wire around the pen. Apparently the fox is not bright enough to know not to start digging a metre before the pen to dig under the apron. I tried it out and yes it works (on what I still only suspect is a mongoose problem.) The chickens have survived every night since then, but still no eggs. I am not sure what the problem is, perhaps they are being harassed so much every night that they are too stressed to lay? Perhaps the ratio of roosters to hens is now wrong (since the mongoose took hens and not roosters? I don’t really know. But there are no eggs.
Now to make matters worse we have puppies in the house again. Our beautiful mommy dog, a gracious, gave birth to 11 lovely puppies, five weeks ago. This week one little puppy accidental got out of the secure area and stumbled into the swimming pool and drowned. Everyone was in tears. We had a crisis. I have been having a busy time in the office so the best solution we could come up with is to hire a trailer, go fetch the puppy box, which has now become hen box and turn it back into a puppy home. This is what we did. The problem of course is that the chickens are now in very temporary accommodation and I am hoping will all survive the sly mongoose until tomorrow, Saturday, when I can spend the morning making more permanent accommodation for these incredible animals.
In a roundabout way, what I am saying is the seemingly simple task of getting eggs from the chickens actually takes a lot of care, effort and management. Those that do it well make it look very easy. I soon will become one of those that make it look easy. But right now, even though my hens are not laying, I am still eating omelettes. Through some fortune, I am able to sell some other goods and services in order to get money to buy eggs. There is nothing wrong with this system of trade. In fact it is a very clever mechanism; it can though cause us to begin to create in our minds a distorted view of reality; a view that dislocates the desire to eat omelettes from the desire to learn how to care for hens. Our system can create an illusion in our minds that in some way those that live around us, in the same city or the same country owe us omelettes, or owe us a living. That we are somehow entitled to be given stuff.
Giving is a very good thing to do. In fact I make the effort to give as often as I can, especially to people I can see really need help. But when I give, part of my duty to the person receiving is not to allow his mind to be poisoned with some irrational belief that he should expect me to keep giving to him. If I fail in my duty, he may come to forget that it is a fundamental law of how things work that you have to put in the effort, physically, mentally and spiritually. He may come to forget Law of the farm number 2: If your hens don’t lay, you can’t eat omelettes. I may even have left him worse off that when I found him if I don’t take the effort to help him see this. So in my life I try to remind myself, as often as I can to stay real in that way. I try to stay observant. If things are coming too easy, yes I celebrate, but no I don’t take it for granted. I don’t expect it will stay good forever, because I know time will correct the situation because of the fundamental laws that are in place. If I have not made the effort then I should not expect any reward. If something has come my way out of luck I count it as a windfall, a lucky break and I make every effort not to allow my mind to expect it to happen again. This is the law of the farm!
There's always something that wants what you've got! Distressing enough when it's lettuces but more so when it's another living creature...especially when they just take bits and leave the rest. I guess there are always worms.
Location: Port Elizabeth, South Africa (34 degrees south)
Law of the farm number 3: “You can’t become a shepherd by reading about sheep”
Perhaps a real adventure is one where you really don't know where you are going to end up. I can see now that our adventure of perusing the farm Goedmoedsfontein has been just such an adventure. I am still not completely sure where the adventure is going to lead, but for better or worse we have caught the train and we are headed out of the station.
In March 2013 we secured and option to purchase this beautiful 10 hectares. It has spring, a stream and a dam. It has some forest, some grassland and some marsh. It is just the right distance from town, in the country, but still allowing our kids to go to school in the city. Just close enough for people to be able to drive out to the farm and buy their weekly supplies of eggs, chicken, boerewors and other fresh produce we dream of marketing from the little shop (or a ruin of a shop that we intend to renovate back to a shop) that is on the farm.
We managed to sell some property to raise the cash that helped us secure the difference between what the bank would loan us and what the sellers wanted. The funny thing is that I didn't feel so much that the "train had left the station" when the sellers accepted our offer, or when the bank approved the finance or even when I paid the deposit to the conveyancers. In fact, I only felt it on the weekend we brought nine of or our cattle to the newly purchased farm from where we were keeping them in Tsitsikama (a hundred and fifty kilometres away to the west)
I had worked hard the week before to create fenced pasture for them. It measures about 40 by 60 metres. The pasture is good. I rigged up a water supply from a rainwater tank which I haphazardly installed to catch some runoff from the roof of the cottage. We loaded these cattle up on a hired trailer on the Saturday afternoon and drove them to the farm. It was the first time had loaded cattle or pulled them on a trailer. It was quite scary. Number one it’s a heavy load and you can’t go very fast and number two these guys kept jumping around causing the trailer to sway uncontrollably. It was not fun.
After this exhausting journey we got the trailer as close as we could to the new paddock (but this was still the other side of the stream). We let them off the trailer and they scattered in all directions. If my son, Litha was not here I don’t know what I would have done. But we eventually got them herded together and moving slowly in the direction of the paddock into which we managed to secure them. I was exhausted by the time I got home and a bit shaken by the experience. The next morning, Sunday, Litha and I drove to the farm. All nine seemed quite restful. Some were mooing for their mothers (even though they were quite a bit over 12 months old they had not been weaned at Tsitsikama) All seemed fine, but when I came back on Sunday afternoon, I found the whole herd out. I was alone. I ran round like crazy at first trying to direct them back, but they were determined to get away from the paddock. I called my neighbour, Richard. Luckily he was in he and a friend came to help. We got them in and I spent the rest of the evening trying to make the fences more secure. But the more I tried the more I could see that two black cattle were absolutely determined to escape they pushed at the fences and then over they went. By this time it was about 8 pm. I called Litha and Hlubi. I stayed by the fence that had just been jumped to be sure the others would not also come out. They did not and eventually the you and the family arrived and herd to two black cattle back from the tar road where they had got to so that I could get them back in the paddock.
With family back home preparing for the first day of school the next day, I sat in the dark at the farm watching the fence, stepping up every few minutes to beat a cow back from the fence it was trying to trample. It was a losing battle. By about 10 pm as the rain was starting to come down, the two belligerent black cattle again jumped the fence. I had no choice but to let them go. I was hopeless to try no again to find them in the dark and what's more the remaining seven cattle seemed reasonably complacent and not intent on leaving the paddock any time soon. I went home, defeated and depleted, to sleep. In the 20 minute ride back home I could not shake the stress. I was upset. I was rattled and I was exhausted. I did not sleep well. My mind was racing, fearing the sort, fearing the whole herd was now dispersed all over the neighbouring farmlands. But I knew there was nothing that I could do till the morning.
I left home at 5:30 am. I found a job seeker next to the road near the farm before 6 am (I could not believe my luck that there would be someone there that early - his name was Marius) Marius and I found the two black cattle heading toward us on the side of the road. They were reasonably easy to herd back and seemed quite relaxed and content to be re-united with the group they had abandoned the night before. I was relieved that the others had not also jumped the fence. Marius worked the whole day with Boyce to get the fences as strong as we could get them. I had to go in to the office for some crucial meetings. By the time I got back to the farm in the afternoon the cattle were all still in, but the two black cattle were mooing loudly again and looking agitated. As sure as anything right in front of my eyes the two black cattle jumped the fence again.
Richard from next door gain came to my rescue, suggesting that we separate the two black cattle out. He arranged for them to be located on his neighbours land were 2.4m high electric fence contained them that night. I kept the remaining seven on my side that night and set up the portable electric fence for the first time. When I went the next morning to drop Marius, they were happily inside the paddock. As I write this now at home 20 km away from the farm, I am feeling less anxious about the cattle on the farm. I don’t feel anxious about them at all. A year has passed since I brought the cattle to Pebblespring, but I look back and see how bringing them there definitely jolted me into a place in which I was uncomfortable. This was not theoretical any more. I was not a spectator to the spectacle.
I had read a lot about cattle. I had quite liked Joel Salatin’s book “Salad Bar Beef”, I had tried to wade through Alan Savoury’s “Holistic Management”. I had even ventured beyond the printed page and run some cattle down in Tsitsikama by proxy, with other people doing the dirty work. But reality of this experience was large and in my face. It threatened my resolve, it got me thinking an doubting in a way that no book could do, because at the end of the day there is no way we can ignore Law of the farm number 3 “You can’t become a shepherd by reading about sheep”
But you know that I do not want to talk to you about sheep. You know that I am trying to point out how you and I can benefit significantly from getting out hands dirty with real experience, real risk and real discomfort. Of course we must read, of course we must research, this is what distinguishes us for the other species, the ability to learn from each other and from generations that have passed. But there has been no generation like this one, so completely obsessed with media, so completely obsessed with reading writing, watching and listening. So much time spent spectating and only perhaps commenting, when we feel energised and confident, on the spectacle. We have become consumers of other people experiences and other people’s lives.
What do I say to all of this? Just don’t fall into the trap. Rather do something, take action, physical action. Run a race. Play and match. Climb a mountain, chop down a tree, plant a tree. Sure, talk about it if you have done it. Write about it if you have done it. Post videos on Youtube if you have done it.
But first do something!
Law of the Farm Number 5: “A Cow eats grass and produces Manure; soil eats manure and produces grass.”
Cows are beautiful to watch in the pasture as they munch away at the grasses that they seem never to get bored of. We only have two cows are Pebbeslpring farm. The land is big enough to take between 10 and 20 cattle, but right now the pasture is small with so much of the ground having been overtaken by the terrible invasive Port Jackson Willow (Acacia Saligna) and the even more nasty Inkberry (Cestrum laevigatum). The Inkberry likes the lower lying wetter areas and is poisonous to livestock. The cattle find the Port Jackson quite palatable. I will see them fighting each other to get to the port Jackson if I have just let them into new pasture. The problems with the Port Jackson, is it grows so dense that the cattle find it difficult to penetrate and the leaves grow high and out of reach because the density caused it to be too dark for leaves near the forest floor. Also, because the Port Jackson are so densely packed, grasses cant grow on the forest floor, again not good for the cattle because they like grass much more than leaves. But also with no grass or any other growth on the forest floor under the port Jackson, the soil on the steeper slopes begins to wash away in times of heavy rain. So our attitude toward the Inkberry has been to remove it wherever we find it. We cut it down as close to ground level as we can. When it sprouts again we cut it again. Eventually it stops growing. The Port Jackson however, I have been more selective with. I have begun rather to cut them in such a way as too leave behind a savannah of sorts. Trees spaced in a pasture in such a way as to allow enough light for light to get to the soil and allow the grasses to grow. I have noticed that, at least in the summer months the grasses seem to be taller and greener in that part of the pasture near the edges where the trees are. I guess it has to do with the fact that there is a little less evaporation there because of the shade. Perhaps there is extra nitrogen there because the cattle lounge there to keep out of the heat, perhaps because the Port Jackson willow is nitrogen fixing, the grasses are able to absorb this critical nutrient near the tree and grow greener. I don’t really know why the grass grows taller and greener where the trees touch the pasture, but I know that it does and my attempt is to mimic it to see if I can replicate the results.
Of course all of this stuff about pasture is quite possibly more interesting to me than it is to you. Books have been written about pasture. Entire library shelves filled. The important thing to take from the pasture is that we are dealing with a living system. In a very real way the cattle and the grass and the soil are part of the same organism. The grass has evolved to look, taste and behave the way it has because of grazing animals like cattle. Cattle have evolved size, shape and biology because they have evolved in the pasture eating the grasses that they do. In the same way the predators shape the herbivores and the herbivores shape the predators. But these are not just curious facts of anatomy and biology. These are fundamental truths, absolute laws that whether we choose to or not are a governing force in all of our lives. It may appear that I as an individual am a separate organism to the people around me and to the things that I consume and to the things that try to consume me, but in truth, with the perspective of evolution and of time I am not.
So much of what I see around me attempts to convince me that I am a separate organism, that I am able to survive even without the planet, that I am separate from the earth. The spectacular project to send a man to the moon, walk around up there and take photographs of the blue planet from that far off position, is one in a sequence of events since the beginnings of consciousness that have made us feel more and more comfortable with the argument that we, human beings, are a separate organism. Perhaps consciousness itself, in its infancy asks the question, “who am I?” Am I simply the effect of other causes? The newly conscious mind begins to see that it has a will of its own. It sees that it is not like the birds of the sky or the fishes of the sea. The conscious mind chooses what it will do. The newly conscious mind may then begin to see itself as independent completely of the ecosystem, of the environment of the earth. “I can fly to the moon! You see! The earth is not an organism, and I am not merely a cell or a piece of tissue of that organism. I am separate.”
Of course the illusion of separateness of those on board the Apollo missions is evident to any 10 year old who may ask questions about food, water and oxygen, but somehow the illusion of separateness endures.
So when I sit in the pasture. When I observe the earthworm, when I appreciate the cattle, I let the picture remind me of who I am. I let the picture remind me that I am a part of an organism, an organism that is beginning to show signs of disease caused largely by people, very much like me, that they have somehow come to forget the obvious truth that they are a small (yet very important) part of a big organism. Perhaps the disease afflicting the planet is like the disease of cancer that afflicts so many of our bodies. A disease that killed my father. The doctors say that a cancer cell is a cell that has forgotten that it is part of an organism. It consumes energy and replicates, but it has forgotten its function in the organism it grows and grows until it kills the body that it forgot that it was integrally part of. The cancer cells form tumours that are fuelled by excess sugar. People form cities fuelled by excess fossil fuels. Tumours and cities behave in this way because they have forgotten the Law of the Farm Number 5 “Cows eat grass and produce Manure, soil eats manure and produces grass”
Law of the Farm number 6: “You can do it alone, but it’s better with family”.
As I write this I am sitting at the table inside the “long room“ in the farm cottage. It’s a warm summer Sunday afternoon and we have been here since lunch time yesterday. But what makes this weekend different is that my family is here with me. You see, the cottage has now been repaired to the point where it is now just about weather proof. (Depending on exactly where in the cottage you stand during a rain storm) The cottage also has running water, lights that switch on and off and it has a toilet that flushes. (All off grid I am proud to say) These simple conveniences make it possible for my wife, my daughter, my sister in law and her son to stay over with me at the farm last night. It was the first time for my wife to sleep over here, so I count it as a bit of a milestone. The thing is though, it just feels better to me for me to be going about my chores, moving the cattle, feeding the chickens or watering the fruit trees with my wife and family here on the farm. Yes we had a fun braai outside last night and a pleasant breakfast this morning, but for the most part it’s just about knowing that we are here together, not necessarily that we are having deep, meaningful conversation or helping each other physically. When, as I have been doing for over a year now, I work on the farm over the weekends leaving my family at home in town, it feels different. It feels more rushed, strained perhaps. As if though a part of me feels that I am stealing time from them. I don’t know. I have not consciously recorded thinking that I am stealing time, it’s just that when we are here together allowing time to pass slowly together, it just feels so much better. It feels very right. It feels as if though it were meant to be. So perhaps this too is a lesson from the farm, one of the laws of the farm, that are true to the farm, but true also to our civilisation.
Let’s think about this a little. Because the idea of family and its “usefulness” seem in some parts of the world to have become caught up in politics of polarity , where the term “family values” have become used as a code to mean, conservative, male dominated and religious. I am not talking about that here. Rather what I am observing is and process of evolution, where our species has grown to become strong and prosperous by holding together in family groups or perhaps larger clan groups in the time of our foraging forefathers. Other species have evolved in such a way so as to make them highly successful to live alone for the most part. On the farm here we often see bushbuck. Sometimes a big impressive grey black male, will reveal himself for a few seconds before bounding off into the forest. At other times the female will peer through the shrubs, smaller and brown. We have not yet seen them together, as a couple. It seems Bushbuck are quite successful at living apart from each other for most of the time. But the ducks that visit the dam are always in a family group. Sometimes there are four of them together, other times just two. I have not yet seen a lone duck on the dam. Ducks seem to be family birds. I notice that the monkeys are always in a group when they raid the ripening cherry guavas.
Of course, humans have big brains and an impressive amount of will power, we can chose to do many things that may go against our evolutionary programming. We could live completely by ourselves and we have proven it. Every now and then there is some record broken when some brave person circumnavigates the globe single handed in a yacht, even smaller than the previous brave person who did so. Of course it’s possible. What I am working on though in my own life, is to observe in me, what are the “laws” what is my evolutionary programming? In order that I can embrace it and work with it. In order that I can understand when I feel down or lonely that it is probably that I am feeling removed from my family. And by contrast, perhaps the reason ( or maybe one of the reasons) that I am feeling energised and reconnected with farm and with my life and with my mission, is that I feel I am together in this with my family. We are on a joint mission. We are working together. We work at different speeds and we need different things to make us comfortable and relaxed, but we are all on the same mission.
My "farm" I use "" because its a empty 35 ha of land just otherside Fort Beaufort. I went to an auction with the words "ill just go see what farms sell for" and ended up buying it.
It really is an amazingly beautiful place ...the Kat river runs through the middle of it and there is a slope behind that will be perfect for water harvesting.
Its just our lives are here in PE - my wife and I own a Montessori school and with our 4 kids life really is HERE! So I think your idea of being closer to town was a wise one ( expect I don't owe on mine and closer to PE I would have been the banks slave for many years)
At the moment I am satisfying my farming desire with 10 hives and doing Tollies(mostly Nguni) from time to time on hired grazing...I just came back from Bloem and saw a herd of Dexter cattle ( I am in love! ... I need to get me a few!)
What area is your farm in ? It looks like colleen glen but not sure...
Location: Port Elizabeth, South Africa (34 degrees south)
Yip, its on Kraggakama road, just on the PE side of Colleen Glen. I really hope your 35 hactares at Fort Beaufort works out. We for a while now have been grazing cattle near Clarkson, We even have a little cottage we stay in there. The honest truth though, is that even the hour and a half drive kept us from getting out there very often. I suppose each of our lifestyles is different. We have therefore opted for this small piece of ground closer to town, rather than a bigger piece further away.
I am interested to pursue rental grazing if my herd grows.
By the way, I am looking for Nguni calves if you have a contact, please let me know.
Law of the Farm Number 10: “Observe the stream before building the Dam”
The most precious and important thing about Pebblespring Farm is that it has water. Water rises up in springs on the valley floor, just inside the fence line to the west. The water is always there, no matter how dry the season. Gavin Flanagan, over the road from us, says he have not seen the springs run dry since he has been visiting there as a child in the fifties.
A small stream runs from where it wells up in the ground, first into a little marshy area overgrown with bulrushes (cattails to the American reader) and Poplar trees. Then into a dam that has probably been there since the seventies. When I first came to the farm it was all very over grown. It took me more than a month of weekends to even find the dam. I could see it on Google Earth. I have heard the dam spoken of by the old people, but the bush was so thick than I could not find the dam. I would try hack a straight line through the bush in the direction I reckoned the dam to be from the maps and aerial photos. But I would go off course and miss the dam to the east and come out on the pasture on the other side of the forest, or I would miss the dam to the east and find myself trudging through the marsh and the bull rushes before coming again to the pasture. I began to think the dam had washed away completely in a big flood and that my aerial photograph was just out of date. Eventually though, we found the dam. Cutting through the bush we came to a depression and a bank with a bed or bulrushes in from of us. It looked like it could be the dam we had been looking for, but had to scale a tree on the edge to be able to see over the tall bulrushes to the small patch of open water in the centre of what remained of the dam. Slowly we cleared a path along the dam wall. We were working then with hand saws and garden pruners. I had not yet bought the chainsaw. The going was slow, especially in those places that were thick with brambles that would rip through the skin on forearms and legs. Jeans were ripped to threads at the thigh. I would come home bleeding and exhausted I the evenings.
When the bush was cleared enough, we could see that a donga (erosion trench) had formed through the dam wall toward the south pasture. Soon we were able to do a small repair, adding an overflow pipe. A very practical idea inspired by an Austrian farmer, Sepp Holzer. He refers to this device as a “pope”, basically a vertical length of pipe fitted onto the horizontal piece that is buried under the dam wall. The basic principal being that the water level in the dam can rise only to the level of the “pope”, thus protecting overflow that could damage the dam and cause it to wash away. This temporary arrangement has held. We widened the path on the dam wall enough to take a quadbike and then later to be able to take a car. We currently use this route as our driveway and it has worked quite well. The truth though, is that I have not spent enough time observing the stream and the dam. We have not yet had a big down pour like the one in 2006 or the one in 1968. I can only guess what will happen to the dam wall under those circumstances. I am though aware that my role is to observe how things work. To observe the land as it changes through the seasons and through the years. Out of this observation, it is for me to take guidance from the land, from the farm. This guidance will inform me of the actions that I need to take. Wendell Berry, in A Gift of Good Land, says: “To see and respect what is there is the first duty of stewardship”
This idea of stewardship informs my approach not only to the stream and the dam, but to the forest and the marsh, the pasture and the brush. My approach is to observe. To see where I can help. To see what intervention I must make to assist the land to achieve the fullness of its potential. The role of steward is an important part of the land and of the farm. It is a role that I treasure, but it is a role that is different on Pebblespring Farm to what it would have been on the next door farm or on a farm 100km way or 1000km away. It is a role that is different in every different place because on the significant portion of time that is spent, and must be spent in observation. I spend time observing the pasture, what plants come up at what times of the year? I spend time up on the hill, observing how the water is washing the topsoil in the big rains. I spend time observing the dam, noticing how the water level rises for two or three days after a downpour. I notice how the Tilapia become active on the surface when the water is warm. I observe how the duckweed on the dame looks different when it regrows after the Tilapia have eaten it. I observe how the green algae from the floor of the dam rises to the top after the Tilapia feed at the bottom.
I could not have approached the farm from a distance and with predetermined idea of what to do there. I could not have sent in the bulldozers, flattened everything to achieve what I may have put on paper as a vision for the site. This though is the conventional approach. It is an approach that is forced on us by people with accountant and lawyer minds. It is an approach that separated design from implementation for practical “cost control” reasons. This is the approach that government takes when it takes on developments. This is the approach that corportate sector takes when it takes on development, but it is not the kind of approach that makes sense if we are looking for the most effective response to the challenge. Because it is while I am working that I am observing, and out of observing comes design, and from design comes work. These things flow seamlessly into each other and form each other.
But I am talking here about observation. How critical it is to the farm and how indispensable it is to any project. Whether your attempt is to date a girl, raise a child or win a soccer match. We must immerse ourselves in the observation of the activity. We must begin to see the patterns; we must know the activity intimately. We must give ourselves time to formulate our plans and when we act, we act in such a way as to be able to observe the impact of our actions, and then modify our actions in response. At first glance Law of the farm number 10: “Observe the stream before you build the dam” may seem at odds with the contemporary truism “Go big or go home”. No its not. “Go big” we must. There is no time for pussyfooting around, in relationships, in healing the planet or in business. What I am saying is that, in order to “Go big” you must invest time and effort into observation otherwise there can be little doubt that you will “Go Home”
So, start today. Take time to observe the taste of the morning coffee. Notice how the dog feels when you stroke it when it comes to greet you. Take note of how the bacon smells as it fries in the pan. These are small steps, but trust their significance. Even when the bad stuff happens and some idiot cuts in front of you in the traffic, or spills Coca-Cola on your new white T-shirt. Observe your anger. Notice how it feels in your chest, notice how it migrates to your stomach after a few minutes. Feel the heat as it rises in your face. Just observe it. Take notice of it. Don’t try to stop any of this. Don’t intervene; just get into the habit of observing. The time for action will come and at that time your action will be informed by a deeper level of awareness. Your actions will be reflective of a consciousness that informs them.
My pecans did SO badly here in newton park...had kind of given up.
Did you dig the swales by hand or did you get something heavy duty in ? I worked out I have about 1km of swales total to do and am too scared to get a quote and there is no one crazy enough to do it by hand.
Location: Port Elizabeth, South Africa (34 degrees south)
A lot of what we are doing winds through partially forested areas. While we are removing a lot of undesirable invasive there a also a lot of trees that I would not like to see damaged by heavy equipment.
The more significant earthworks, like forming the driveway on the dam wall we have done by hiring a TLB (R300 oer hour)
My swales are not ok. they are too small, but my attitude is to get in an do it and correct myself as I go on.
Regarding the pecans I have heard that they prefer very sandy soil preferably in a river bed. (very unlike newton park)
So I am hoping my site (which has a sandy riverbed) will do quite well.
Law of the Farm number 7: “The Sun will set at sunset – regardless of what is on TV”
(I wrote this piece earlier this year in the summer time. You can also find a copy of this article on my blog
When I got home from the office last night, Hlubi suggested that we take a drive to the farm. She had a stressful day. Being summer, the sun goes down nice and late and the evening was pleasant after the light rain of the day. We lingered at home though. We did not leave straight away. No big deal, but Hlubi fiddled in the kitchen, got dressed, took a few calls and spent some time waiting for an item to come up on the TV News. By the time we got to the farm it was almost dark. We missed that magic time just before sunset, when the birds go crazy, when the wind has died down and the sky is filled with a special light. That time where everything feels slightly electric, poised, pregnant. We ate our supper at the farm. We boiled the kettle on the gas burner, made a cup of tea and then we were off back home again. It was nice and it helped me remember that this too is a law of the farm. The sun goes down at sunset. There are no extensions of time. There is no appeal processes. It does not matter how big a crowd you are able to muster in political protest, it does not matter how much money you have. The sun will set at it designated time. This is a law of nature and it is the law of the farm. Why is it important to reflect on such an obvious fact? Why? Because we have moved into an era where many of us are lead to believe that there is nothing constant, anything can be negotiated, changed or postponed. We can “re-wind” television for heaven’s sake. We can get a re-mark on our test. We can return the crème bule to Woolworths if it was a little too lumpy. We can vote out our governments. We can sell our shares. We can divorce our husbands. We can enlarge our breasts and whiten our teeth. Those of us that are distracted and have little time to ponder may develop the world view that nothing is constant, that we as individuals are the centre of our universe and all can be modified to meet our desires and our feebleness. But the farm tells us that life is not like that. The sun sets at sunset. The apple ripens not when you want it to, but when it has spent the adequate amount of days on the tree sucking in the nutrients built in the leaves from the rays of the sun. The rain will fall when the clouds become too heavy for them to hold onto their moisture any more. The rain will not wait for you to have brought the goats in from the field; the rain will not wait for you to have completed the repairs on the dam. The rain will come, ready or not.
Because there is a softness that comes over those of us that think that everything is flexible and anything can be negotiated. A certain lack of urgency descends over us. Without an order or a rhythm we descend in to a timeless binge of Xbox, beer and pornography. Nothing matters, everything is the same and “what does it matter anyhow?” We see this when casinos and malls are trying to trap us to give them our time, our money and our energy. They do all they can, they don’t want us to know when the sun rises, when the sun sets, when the rain falls or when the wind blows. The clever minds that run these awful places know that even a little contact with the absolute rhythms of the earth, like day and night, winter and summer, may jolt us back to a reality and out of the clutches of the trap that they have invested so heavily in constructing for you and me.
The farm, gives a rhythm and an everyday reminder that something’s are just not flexible. Not everyone can live on a farm, but all of us can begin to live a life that puts in place some non-negotiable. How about an half an hour of quiet reading in the morning before everybody else wakes up? How about a 30 minute run or a few pushups in the bathroom before your shower? How about 15 minutes quiet time writing in your journal with your 10 o’clock coffee? Do this every day. Make it non-negotiable, because you say so, because you insist, because you know that you come out of a line of ancestors that moved to a rhythm you have now been robbed of. Because you know that if you don’t give yourself this time, it will somehow be stolen, be wasted away to the TV, Facebook, beer, soccer and shopping. They win. You lose. They gain your life and your energy, you lose your freedom!
Law of the farm number eight: Two Tilapia tanks are better than one, Four tanks are even better
I have been growing Tilapia for some time. They are a fantastic fish species. I have only recently moved them to the farm, from where I kept them in the backyard in Walmer. I built a hot house for them, because they seem to do even better in warmer water. They survive in the wild in our region in the rivers and streams though; to I am not sure how much worse they would have done without the hothouse. At Pebblespring farm, I have now released the Grey Tilapia I had in to our far dam. Other I gave to my neighbour Richard who released them in his dam. Richards have been in the dam though the summer and winter and have done very well. I released them as fingerlings no larger than 5 centimetres and he has been fishing them out pan sized. My plan is to not fish any of ours out until next summer; giving them time to establish and grow our dam is a lot more alive with bulrushes, edge plants and duckweed, so I am expecting even better results that Richard has had.
There are a whole lot a great things about Tilapia, once I start talking about them I tend to go on a bit. What I like most about them is that they are omnivores. In fact they can survive almost entirely of a vegetarian diet. They love to eat duckweed. Duckweed (Lemna) in itself is an amazing species. It is a flowering plant that floats in the surface of the water. Apparently it is the smallest of all the flowering plants. On a dam or pond it would look like a green carpet, but on closer inspection you will find that the carpet is not a mass at all, but rather a collection of little plants including leaves, roots and flowers. One little plant will comfortably fit on a fingertip. These fantastic plants can grow very quickly if the conditions in the water are right. It is not uncommon for them to double their population within a twenty four hour period. The best part of all is that they are a very good Tilapia feed, or chicken or pig or cattle feed. I have heard it said that duckweed has a higher protein content that Soya Beans and that it is eaten as salad of sorts in Vietnam or thereabouts. I have eaten a mouthful or two. It’s quite crunchy and fresh, but a little tasteless to my tongue.
The next best thing about Tilapia is they taste great. I am a very fussy fish eater. We have caught too many great tasting fish in the ocean to be able to tolerate poor tasting fish. Tilapia is excellent, not at all muddy or mushy, but very good tasting. Other than that, they are on my favourite list because the species I grow (Orochromis Mossambicus) are indigenous to my province and because they tolerate a wide range of water quality and temperatures. Which brings me to my story here. Tilapia do well in tanks and they are easy for an amateur like myself to attempt to grow. But even Tilapia need the basics in place. They need Oxygen, then need filtration and they need food. In fact in that order of priority. I keep my Tilapia in 1kl tanks salvaged from Industry rubbish heaps in town. I have noticed that while they can go without food for some time, especially when the water temperature is low, they definitely cannot live very log without the water being oxygenated. They can survive a longer time with a filtration system broken down, but if the electricity goes down and the bubblers stop working you could have only a few hours before the fish start gulping on the surface then die. I have lost fish like this a number of times. It’s a risk that comes with keeping fish in high density tank environments. One of the ways to guard against disaster is not to have all the fish in the same tank, rather have two tanks, with two filtrations systems and two aeration systems. It then becomes less likely that disaster will befall both tanks. Even better have four tanks, or forty or four hundred. Even better have each tank with a different species or strains. Equip each tank with a separate power supply for the aeration and filtration system; because safety does not just come in numbers, it comes in variety. One hundred fish in a two kilolitre tank is not as good a two on kilolitre tanks with 50 fish each. By the extension of this logic, it is in fact much better to have the fish in a series of dams and ponds where there is a variety of temperatures, plant species, crustaceans, water depth and oxygen levels. Variety is what brings stability.
Variety is what we strive for in Pebblespring farm. We are interested in different animal species, different plant species and different varieties of species. In this way when disaster strikes not everything is destroyed. The thing about disaster of course is it always strikes. Variety is the defence against disaster. Variety allows disaster to be a sculptor instead of an executioner. Variety allows the stronger, more appropriate varieties live, thrive and reproduce. This is why we have no interest in planting the whole farm, to mielies or sweet potatoes or geraniums. While “mono-cropping” may at first seem sensible, it is in fact high risk. It seems sensible, because you only need to run one set of machinery, one set of training to grow and harvest, one supplier of seed stock, one buyer of your output, one category of staff to labour on your fields. Or course we can see though that it also just need one category of insect to get out of control, one Seed Company to hike their prices or one buyer of your goods to undermine your prices. Suddenly monocultures seem very risky, and I am not just talking about farming, what I am talking about is the way we prepare ourselves to face the world. I am talking about how we educate ourselves, becoming highly specialised, becoming a “one trick pony”. All of the advice I ever here coming out of our schooling system advises that we become more and more specialised, more and more focused. More focus less variety. When we reach the top of the education pile we so highly regard that we referred to by a different name. We are now “Dr” Smith, no longer “Bob”, no longer “Mr Smith”. There is no similar incentive or encouragement to develop our lives in such a way as to nurture a range of skills, experience and passions. To be clear, I am not trying to introduce a new concept, I am perhaps rather trying to point out how far our modern urban system has wondered from the ideals of even classical Greece or Renaissance Europe. Leonardo da Vinci’s idea of the Renaissance Man was the idea of a life of variety spanning athleticism, scientific mindedness and artistic inclination. In our working lives, in our businesses, we are easily tempted to occupy a very small niche and to do only that thing. Bad idea! Not only is it boring to wake up every morning for the rest of your life to look forward to doing exactly the same thing, but it is counter-productive. The economy changes, it breathes in an out, sometime the economy wants beach towels, sometimes the economy wants raincoats. You and I must be flexible enough to move with this. Just because we are expert raincoat makers does not mean we “deserve” that it should rain. The universe does not understand the word “deserve” the farm does not understand the word “deserve”. The universe and the farm understand about variety though. This is the way it has always been. This is the way things are.
Variety and balance in a life, in a family and in a community is what we should hold out as a fundamental objective. It is a theme that should be non-negotiable because it is derived from an observed fundamental law of the farm which states that: “Two Tilapia tanks are better than one, four tanks are even better”
I'm surprised the tilapia did so well outside in the dam. Last year I converted the 80 000l pool to a natural pool - well that's what I told everyone, I actually just wanted the fish. They all lived but really didn't grow at all once winter came.
Location: Port Elizabeth, South Africa (34 degrees south)
Law of the Farm Number 12: “The Porcupine does not consider digging up bulbs as work”
Of course I don’t know what goes through the porcupine’s mind when it digs up the bulbs of our arum lilies. In fact I don’t even know for sure that it’s is a porcupine that is destroying these beautiful plants with their distinctive white cone shaped flowers with the bright yellow poker protruding from the centre. I am assuming it is a porcupine because when I post pictures of the damage on Facebook, my clever friends tell me that it is only a porcupine that makes that kind of damage and that porcupines absolutely love arum lilies. I was actually secretly holding out for the hope that we had bush pigs on the farm. That would be exciting. Perhaps we have porcupines and bush pigs? It’s very hard to say because these animals move around in the dead of night and are very shy. But whether it is a porcupine or bush pig destroying my prized plants, I strongly suspect, that when they are digging the deep holes in the soil required to access the tasty bulbs, that they do not for a second think that they are “working” in the way that you and I may think we are working when we report to the office and begin to wade through our inbox or finish the report or sit through the meeting or return phone calls. When I see pigs digging for roots or rolling for the mud they look to me as if though they are having a huge party. In fact many clever farmers have now taken to sprinkling a few kernels on grain into massive compost heaps that need to be turned. The pigs go crazy having a great time turning over the mountains of compost at the cost to the farmer of a few handfuls of grain.
But you and I have been conditioned differently. It’s not that we are afraid to exert ourselves mentally or physically. We are quite happy to exert ourselves on the soccer pitch to the point where our legs burn and we spit blood. We are quite happy to put our brains to the test playing scrabble or Grand Theft Auto. We have come to buy into the idea that these are “leisure time” activities and that it would be crazy to build up a sweat (or a headache) doing any productive work outside of office hours or school hours. Well, call me crazy, but I love to do physical work. I love the feeling of using my muscles, my arms and my legs. I love the rhythm of thinking and doing. I love the feeling of physical exhaustion in the evening. I love the supper time retelling of the achievements of the day and I love the deep satisfied sleep that follows it. (I especially remember the very satisfying time working with my late father on his wooden house in the forest)
It seems strange to me therefore, that I have put so much time and effort in my life to ensure that I don’t have to do any physical work at all. My twelve years of schooling in maths, literature, history and science required no “doing”, no lifting or pushing. It did though; prepare me for another five years of study at University which would eventually deliver to me the degrees I required to become an Architect and be guaranteed of never having to push a wheel barrow, thrust a spade into the ground or cut firewood.
On leaving University, life as a young professional was clear, nobody ever handed out a rulebook, but the understanding was that we must put in time at the office to earn our money, but if we put in too much time we will break down, so we must take some of that money to buy “leisure”. That leisure must not involve doing anything productive or meaningful. We may choose from a vast array on mindless sporting or cultural pursuits. We may participate or spectate. If the mindlessness of the leisure becomes unbearable, we may numb ourselves with alcohol, sugar or nicotine. This is just how it is.
I can see how in the headlong rush to get to the ‘top of my game” I have moved further and further in my career, away from actually doing any work. Like lifting a pencil, to sketch a chimney detail or calculating the fall and cover of a drainage installation. All of that is “outsourced”, because that is the law of competition and the law of competition says that, if I am an expert at running an architectural practice, I can’t be “wasting” my time actually being an Architect. I must spend my time delegating, checking what others have done, motivating, admonishing, fighting with debtors, apologising to creditors because that’s what we do when we get to the top of our game.
Does any of this ring true for you in your life? Perhaps, what each of us needs to do is sit back and look at the route we have walked to get where we are in our careers. Each of us needs to get down and do the dirty work of thinking through how we have been conditioned to look down on anyone doing physical work. Even in our homes, when we can’t resist the instinct to get our hands in the soil that we are married to, we make every attempt to dress up our gardening activities as “leisure”. We call gardening a “hobby”; we don’t call it “work”. When we can absolutely not resist the instinct to grow fruit and vegetables, a productive pursuit, we hide these away in the back yard.
So, what I am doing in my life about my dysfunctional relationship with work? I suppose, I am slowly beginning to participate, wherever I can, in actually doing stuff. I am also looking for family traditions and practices that involve real work, even if it just taking the time to cook the mother’s day meal. Some families in our region are fortunate to belong to a tradition where work is still honoured. If you drive through the streets of New Brighton or NU 7, on any given Saturday you will find clan groups participating in “Imisibenzi” (literally translated as “works”). These traditional functions mark a range of special occasions, but what is interesting, is that everybody attending the function works. From the slaughtering of the beast, to the processing of the meat to the brewing of the beer and the peeling of the carrots. Hosts and guests work together. Honouring tradition and honouring the idea of work and how it is in fact not separate from leisure. To a lesser degree, but not entirely dissimilar, on any given Sunday in the suburban backyards of Summerstrand and Sherwood we find family groups around the braai, spicing the meat, turning it on the flames. The hosts and the guests working together, some in the kitchen with the potato salad and toasted sandwiches and others outside with the chops and the wors. These are important traditions to hold onto, where the tendency is toward the American situation where 43% of all meals are no longer prepared at home and where work is generally regarded as something you sell in exchange for cash.
So more and more I come to see that any activity that helps me understand that work is not separate from leisure and that work is more than just a commodity for sale, is where I want to be spending my time.
Because this separation of work and leisure, is not of the natural order, it’s certainly not way of the farm, in fact it contradicts the law of the farm which states that: “The Porcupine does not consider digging up bulbs as work”
Law of the Farm Number 14: “A cottage with a leaky roof is still a cottage.”
(10 February 2015)
We had friends around at the farm last night for a braai. It was really nice to be able to share the joy of the farm with people that are close to us. Hlubi and I have been talking so much about the farm, so it is useful that our friends have been able to see first-hand how beautiful the place is and how daunting the project is that we have taken on. Hlubi set up the cottage beautifully with the long table decked in a lovely white table cloth, flowers and crystal cut glasses. I prepared chicken, lamb and boerewors on the fire outside. We had plenty of fine wine and good conversation. It was really nice. All of this is spite of the fact that work on the old cottage is far from complete.
A lot has been done in the past months, but it still has a lot of work needing done. The cottage I speak of is the one we found on the farm when we got there. In fact the old cottage was probably one of the more appealing features of the land. It really is quite hard to say how old it is, but the land was first surveyed in 1816, when the farm Goedmoedsfontein was granted to a Dutch settler, Johannes Kok. Oral history that has come to my ears, says that the little cottage where we had supper last night was the original farm house for the entire farm, which over the years has been slowly subdivided off to the point where the cottage now sits on 10 hectares of the original farm which would have been hundreds of hectares. It is quite likely that the first parts of the cottage would have been built in the first years after the Kok’s arrived there in 1816. What is clear to me from the bricks and other building materials that the house has been added onto continuously for the last 200 years or so? When we first came to the property, the cottage was in a process of collapse. A chain of events had set in where the corrugated iron roof had become rusted and leaky allowing water to rain in on the walls. The wall being made up of unfired bricks began to melt and dissolve, causing the roof to further collapse thus letting in even more water to melt the walls. Actually unfired bricks can stand for a very long time, as long as they are kept dry, but when they are exposed to water, the process of deterioration can be very rapid.
The crisis was so urgent that I began, even before taking transfer of the property, to rip off the old rusted corrugated Iron sheets and replace them with new ones keeping the walls from crumbling and saving Kok’s cottage from sure destruction. The work on the cottage over the last few months has moved slowly to install a new floor and replace and repair the old windows. We have also got electricity and water working, by collecting rainwater from the roof via rain tanks and electricity from the sun via photovoltaic panels. But even now, this morning if you stand in certain spots in the house you will feel the rain drops coming through. The roof has still not received its flashing against the gable ends. (Partly because the builder I paid to do this ran away with the flashing and the money that I paid him to install it) But in spite of its incompleteness and its imperfection we have been able to sleep thee some nights, we have been able to use it to store our equipment. We have been able to use it to rest from the weather when we are working there over weekends and holidays. And even, last night, we were able to have a very nice dinner party there. I love that spirit. I love that attitude and I can see how this spirit is very different to the kind of thinking that has become a widespread disease of our time. The disease of “fake it till you make it” and “Keeping up with the Kardashains”. The kind of disease that causes young people to rather walk the streets in the rain than be seen driving in a 1983 Mazda 323. The kind of disease that causes men and women of all ages to stay lonely and celibate rather than be seen in public with a partner that is pimply or too fat or too thin or too bald or too hairy. It is the kind of disease that causes husbands to think that their wives are no longer good enough for them to invest their love and attention in. It’s the kind of disease the causes wives to constantly work to “improve” their husbands. It’s a disease that sees us never satisfied with what we have. Always imagining a future, just around the corner where things will be better, things will be acceptable, things will measure up to some standard that we always find very difficult to express. I am sure there are those who will explain that this feeling of discontentedness is the result of some conspiracy on the part of the huge marketing machine that is our modern economy. Always trying to sell us next year’s fashion, better houses, faster cars and more exotic vacations. It could be a conspiracy. Who knows? The important thing I think rather is for me to become conscious of the secret thoughts that are racing through my own head. The thought that says “what will my friends think of me if they see the rain falling in though my broken roof”. I have seen in my life that the trick is not to try to stop these thoughts, but just rather to become aware that they are running through my head. In this way I am able to engage with the small minded part of my sub conscious that generates these thoughts of inadequacy and to be able to consciously say “hang on a second. That’s a lot of bullshit! This cottage is perfectly OK for a dinner party with friends” or “This 1983 Mazda 323 is perfectly Ok to get me from A to B”. or “This hairy, spotty overweight husband is perfectly OK to receive my love and caring” So law of the farm number 14: “A cottage with a leaky roof is still a cottage”, is not about making do with what we have. It’s about celebrating what we have. It’s about really enjoying what we have and releasing ourselves from the poisoned policeman of our sub-conscious fears of inadequacy. Law of the farm number 14 is about the present. It’s about the great joy I can experience today with what the things I already have and with the people who are in my life.
Law of the Farm number 16: ”When it’s hot, work in the shade”
I did not get as much work done over the weekend as I would have liked. I did make good progress with a small henhouse that has become an urgent need. The chickens are now roaming free in the paddock near the cottage. They are behaving very well and have not been eaten yet. Perhaps they are trying to reassure me that they don’t need to be locked up at all. My intention though is just to make sure they are locked up at night, primarily to protect them from predators and secondarily to make it possible for me to find the eggs that would otherwise be laid all over the show. But just watching these beautiful chickens roaming around through the grass and shrub over the weekend had convinced me that that is how they should be allowed to go about their lives.
I enjoy the physical task of putting together a chicken coop from scrap wood, or clearing the forest with the chainsaw or building fences or clearing the dam of reeds. Solitary work for me is very satisfying. It’s a kind of meditation. I allow myself to be completely in the present moment. Yes, I have a plan of what I would like to do, but I allow most of my mind to focus only on what I am doing right now, and then the very next step. In this way my work sometimes becomes “meandering. As the next step may be to cut a board, I would power up the generator, only to find that I need to fill up with fuel. I would fill up with fuel only to find that the extension lead that I need to run from the generator to the cross cut saw is hopelessly tangled and I would spend time untangling it. I would cut the board then realise then match it to another, realising that in fact the structure will need to be a bit narrower than I thought; to match an ideal board that I have that would work well as a hen house floor. And so on. I let each step guide me to the next and I make peace with each step and am fully involved and present to each step.
I was able to do most of the cutting work indoors, bet the assembly work had to be done outside or I would not be able to get the structure outside once it was fully built. It was damn hot on Saturday and I could feel the sun beating down on me. When I felt the heat was too much, I would step inside, sweep up the saw dust. Or make some tea. Or repack the tool box. This is the way I prefer to work. Not as a slave who is driven to work at a task regardless of where our energy is. I have come to see work as being something I must have “energy” for. I am sure that “energy” is not the right word. It’s more like I must “feel” the task, I must have an appetite for it I must “desire” the task. If I can work when I am in this task, I find that I am super creative; I am energetic and can keep going for very long periods of time. Perhaps this is why I prefer solitary work? Often the people I would be working with would drain my energy somehow. Especially if have employed cheap casual labour. Often I would find that the fact that they are in my space, make me not want to work myself. Its illogical, it’s irrational I know, but I am just telling you how it is with me.
So when it is hot, I work in the shade. Or I work wherever I feel that the “energy” is where I have an appetite to work, where I have desire. Sometimes when it is hot I will find a task in the shade that I have desire for. Sometimes I don’t find energy for anything and all I want to do it sip my tea and stroll through Facebook. I have stopped whipping myself for that. Sometimes the only thing I feel like doing is having a short nap under the oak tree. I have come to trust that my desire for the tasks that need doing will return.
The problem is that the modern urban world that we have built does not very much like law of the farm number 16. In fact the modern urban world says. “when it is hot, just keep on slogging because if you don’t we are gonna fire your ass” the modern urban world causes you and I to believe that physical and mental work is meant to be un pleasant and it is just something that we have to endure in order to by the privilege of having somewhere dry and warm to sleep at night and to send our children to school. The modern urban world tell us to distrust any “feeling” and “energy” any desire or appetite that you may have to slow down with the task you are busy with or any inclination you may have to rather do some other task for an hour or two. The modern urban world tells us that you and I are not best placed to decide how to spend our time, our energy and our lives. These decisions are best left to people who give us “jobs”. In fact we begin to believe ourselves that we cannot be trusted with our own energy, because when our jobs give us “leave” or a weekend off, all we do is crash on the couch and play Xbox. The truth is that these jobs have exhausted us physically and mentally to such an extent that we probably need some time to recover, given time, we would get off the couch, begin to feel our own energy, beginning to trust our own desire. But in most cases, just as this sense begins to return, we are summoned back to the office, for another week, another 11 months of being told what to do with every waking hour.
No, I say this is not the way. This way of living is contradiction of a fundamental law of how things are. This modern urban way of life is a direct contravention of law of the farm number 16 “When it is hot work in the shade” But no, don’t go off and resign your job today. Small steps first. Begin today, right now to “feel” what it is that you want to do with the next hour of your life. You may be so tired that all you want to do is sleep. Even if you can’t take a nap, the very step of being conscious of what you want to do with your time is a step in the right direction. Take 10 minutes quite time every morning your tea break. Switch off your office mind of deadlines, payments and reviews. Become silent in your mind. Don’t think. Just feel what you are feeling. At first name the emotions that you are feeling. Don’t judge them, just name them, acknowledge them, and preferably write down the name of what you are feeling. Then as a second step, feel what it is that you need to be doing with your time, where your energy is. Preferably write it down. It may take a long time before you are able to act on these desires, but that time will come.
Law of the farm number 17: “Don’t sell the farm to buy a tractor”
One of my favourite “tools” on the farm is our little 160cc Suzuki quad bike. My friend Eldred had it lying around in his garage and gave it to us as a gift when we first bought the farm. What I like about it is that it’s small and light, but powerful enough to take a load of fence poles or drag a log out of the dam. Having a big fancy John Deertractor would be great, but very expensive, so right now we make do with what we have. The heavier puling tasks the quad bike can’t handle, I use my 4X4 for. The big digging and pushing tasks I hire in a TLB at R300.00 per hour. No, it’s not ideal, but I am working within the realistic limitations of what we have and how best we should invest what we have. And what’s more, the quad bike is agile, it has a tight turning circle, it can manoeuvre through narrow paths in the forest. Places where a tractor just could not get right now. The quad bike is also light on the ground, it will not easily compact the soil or sink into muddy patches. Oh yes, and of course, it doubles as a toy. I feel quite comfortable to let even smallish children take turns up and down the driveway on the quad bike. I would not be able to let them do this with a tractor.
My policy favouring a quad bike (for now) over a tractor I suppose comes out of a long tradition where my grandfathers’ grandfather would have had to make such conscious choices all the time. My grandfather’s grandfather would have lived on a farm; he would have known that if he invested too heavily in extravagances he would struggle to feed his family. If that meant walking to town because he could not yet quite afford a horse cart, then I guess that is what he would have done. If that meant housing is family in a one roomed cottage, that is what he would have had to do. That’s just the way things were, and actually that’s still the way things are.
Our modern urban lives have helped to blur the lines between what is possible and what is impossible. Banks and other credit giving business have created the illusion that we can have anything we want right now. All we have to do is sell our future lives to them. All we have to do is to agree to labour for them. So we buy the horse cart, or the three roomed cottage or the tractor, but we sell the very thing we were trying to attain by entering into the bargain. Let me be clear. In some way or other, we are always trying to be free. When we buy something or build something it is in order that we may be free. Free from discomfort, free from toil and struggle, free from inconvenience. We are always trying to buy our freedom. The banks and credit giving institutions know this, but also know that we have become conditioned to selling our very freedom, our future time and energy for the privilege of having right now what we actually can’t afford to have right now.
The debt trap has become so common and so widespread that it has become generally accepted that this is the route any young person should follow when leaving home and embarking on their journey to independence. Young people who do not go into debt to buy cars, clothing and big screen televisions risk becoming social outcasts. There are the brave ones that do resit the trend, but these are a very small, very courageous minority of thought leaders.
I must be careful to clarify that I am not speaking out against debt as a concept; I am speaking here about moving toward some acceptance that debt is a very powerful and at the same time a very dangerous tool. Clever people have learned how use debt to invest well and build empires that serve them and their families for generations. But debt is dangerous. Like dynamite. Not something to hand out an street corners to children , but something to entrust to experienced miners who after years of training, know how to apply its force surgically and precisely to extract the ore from the rock. Right now, we are suffering a pandemic of indebted , young and old, running around dazed through the city streets with sticks of dynamite blowing off hands and limbs.
I am not saying that buying a tractor is a bad idea; I am not saying that debt is a bad idea; I am saying that we must be become skilled before making decisions so that we are not tricked into selling the farm to buy the tractor.
Law of the farm number 18: ‘The rooster will crow, the hen will make a nest’
The rooster is not competing with the hen when it crows. The hen is not competing with the rooster when it makes a nest, lay eggs and rears chicks. For the rooster to think it is better that the hen or the hen to think is better that the rooster is just a waste of thinking. I spend time watching chickens. I admit it. I get pleasure out of observing how they forage, how they chase the grasshoppers and scratch of bugs in the pasture. I see how they run for cover when a shadow passes overhead. I see how cocky the roosters are. I see how submissive the hens are. It is incredible to see a broody hen in absolute and resolute determination. It will not move from those eggs. She has the absolute strength of character to do what it takes. When the chicks are born, she will care for them to the point where she will attack a dog ten times her size or a human 20 times her size in order to protect her offspring. The rooster leads the hens. It will find food for them, call he will call them. Step back and allow them to eat the prized caterpillar he has found or the little snake that he has killed. The rooster will warn the hens of danger, sometime false alarms, sometimes real threats. He will make the rooster noises that mean “run for cover” and he will follow the hens in under the awning or the shade of a tree. The rooster is full of colour, bright dazzling feathers, a long sweeping tail and a mane of sorts around his neck. He has a red crown on his head that is his comb, and extravagant jowls that hang down like a beard. A rooster has two things on its find all the time: Fighting and fornicating. Even when it wakes up at three in the morning crowing at the top of its voice, it is thinking of fighting, or at very least trying to warn other roosters in the vicinity that he will fight them if they come any closer. Roosters are different to hens. They have a different energy. Rosters are almost the opposite of hens. They are poles apart. We find the similar polarity with bulls and cows. Dogs and bitches. Boars and sows. And you know what; our species is not magically exempt from the law. We too are divided into man and woman. Men have strong natural tendencies toward certain behaviours and women have strong natural tendencies toward certain behaviours. But, why am I taking time to point out such an obvious fact? Why am I taking time to dwell on something we all know? I suppose because the modern urban life that we have all grown up in has begun to send us mixed messages that have confused some of us. Our system has, since the sixties, at least begun to hint that men and woman are the same actually, and it’s just that they have become conditioned differently. The feminist movement all over the world is an essential mobilisation against oppression of people using a gender based philosophy. In the same way there has been an essential mobilisation against race and class based oppression. So it is very unpopular, even now, to begin to suggest that men are different to women; that they are not equal in every way. This is obviously because people generating arguments justifying inequality are very often trying to defend acts of oppression against the female part of the population.
What I am advocating is different to this and quite apart from the discussion of how to confront the oppression. What I am practicing in my own life, is an awareness of my own gender. My aim every day is to be conscious of my thoughts, habits and behaviours. Not necessarily to change them or feel guilt for them, but rather just to observe them, as a spectator almost, as a loving interested party. My attempt is not to measure my male thoughts and energy against some standard of correctness, but rather to try to feel that male energy more deeply. Every one of us, has inside us, some male energy and some female energy. After all, half of our genes come from a man and half come from a woman. Of course each of us, man or woman, is free to explore more of our male energy or more of our female energy. For me though, in my life, it makes sense for me to feel my “maleness”, to laugh at it when it comes up with silly suggestions, but to play along with it where is seems reasonable or fun. There is nothing in this approach that leads me to think that I am in competition with the women around me. There is nothing in this approach that causes me to believe that I am superior in any way to the women around me. There is nothing in this approach that causes me to want to go out and be oppressive to the women around me or to any other members of my species.
But I have seen in my own life, as I am sure that it is true in the lives of so many others, that I have caused myself pain and distress, when I have come to see my male energy as un-progressive and backward or felt guilty perhaps of the kinds of “boorish” ideas my boy brain may come up with. This censoring of self has lead, in my mind, to an exercise of will over passion, becoming polite, politically correct and sanitised in order to live up to a standard of “civilisedness”. This attempt to be polite and correct has in the past made me weak, it has made me ill; it has made me to withdraw and become depressed. I will have it no more in my life. The rooster does not feel guilt for his rooster thoughts and I would guess that the hens around him are more fully hens because of this mind-set that acknowledges Law of the Farm number 18: “Roosters will crow and hens will make nests”
(this piece first appeared in the Weekend Post on 31 October 2015- If you think you have seen this before, its because you saw it there or because I also posted it on the "Frugality" part of the Permies forum")
I drive a 1997 Toyota. It has 476 000 kilometres on the clock. I drive this old car mainly to embarrass my children, but also because I know that renewing my car every two or three years has a hugely destructive impact on our planet. In fact, a recent report in the Guardian points out that the amount of carbon that it takes to make a car (its “embodied emissions”) is very likely to be greater that the total exhaust pipe emissions over its lifetime. What the Guardian is trying to say is that my clapped out old rust bucket is better for the planet than a brand new super-efficient, high tech Hybrid!
I take the health of our planet very seriously. You and I know however that the truth about our country, and many others like it, is that the most pressing threat is not the levels of carbon in the atmosphere, not the depletion of the ozone layer, not even the desperate and sad story of the Rhino. No, the most pressing threat to our society is poverty and exploitation. Poverty is a breeding ground for disease, ignorance, corruption and crime. Quite simply, we are all doomed if we are not able to build a stable economy where each and every one of us feels that it is worthwhile to make our best effort every day to improve the health and welfare of ourselves and of our families. What I want to talk about today though, is what it is we do about this situation. You see, I am inspired and impressed by the direct action students across the country have taken in dealing with tuition fees. Inspired; because students are showing us that it is far more effective to take direct action than it is to put our trust in party politics. The students of 2015 have shown us, that if we want to get something done, we must get off our backsides and take direct action. The students of 2015 focussed on the issue. They set aside party politics; they set aside complexion and economic status. They focused on one issue and they were very effective.
But, “Direct Action” is not only about blocking traffic and singing songs. “Direct Action” is about our choices. It’s about what I produce and about what I consume. It’s about how I choose to act. So, it was no less that an act of revolutionary defiance that I had my car repaired on my front lawn this Saturday while my neighbours were indoors watching the rugby. (Yes, the old crock breaks down from time to time!) You see, I could have opted to have the work done by the recommended, massive Japanese owned multination corporation, but instead I opted for “Direct Action” and chose to employ a trusted, loyal and brilliant small time mechanic to repair the broken starter motor. It cost me a lot less. He earned very good money. It’s a “win-win” situation. No massive corporation, no CEO salary, no marketing budget and TV ads, just a small time “guy” with his box of tools on my lawn. I do the same when I need bicycle repairs, carpenter, plumber, electrician, tailor or plumber. It’s the right thing to do.
You may be surprised to hear of the good work that the Metro is doing to support small business. In fact, all municipal construction projects now require that 25% of the work is done by Small Medium and Micro Enterprises. Believe me, this is really painful to people like me, who are called upon from time to time to design and manage these projects. There is a heap of complicated paperwork involved and it really is a lot easier to get the work done where your contractor is listed on the JSE. The point is though, that the Metro is being responsible and is leading the way in this action. My appeal is that each of us follows this lead. That each of us, in our businesses and families make a commitment to allocate a portion of our annual spend to emerging businesses. (Perhaps 10% may be easier to achieve initially.) But even at those levels, by direct action, we will be able to make a massive and lasting dent on poverty.
What I am proposing is that each of us builds “bridges” between those of us who have emerged from poverty and those of us that are making the effort to do so. It really is a two way street. If you are working to emerge from poverty, make it easy for those that want to trade with you. Answer your phone. Arrive on time. Do what you promise. For those of you that are trading with those emerging from poverty; yes, it does take more effort. You will need to search a little harder to find the service you are looking for. You will need to check the references. You will need to pay promptly. But that is the Direct Action that we can take. Consumers may complain that there are not enough emerging businesses to address the most pressing needs, but we must trust that these will emerge if there is good money on offer. Emerging businesses may complain that there are not enough customers, but we must trust that these will emerge when we have good product to offer.
Political parties cannot do it for us. The future is in our hands and direct action is the tool we will use to build that future. Start today!
Howzit,nice piece of land you have there.
Good luck with all your endeavours.
I am looking to buy a 3 hectare plot to get out of the city,have a beter quality of life and tinker around with a veg tunnel or two.
Take it easy but take it.
Location: Port Elizabeth, South Africa (34 degrees south)
I am at this moment doing my research,I may well be moving due to work so the location will be either Gauteng or KZN North Coast.I am currently in Pta.
I am not fond of rushing stuff so it suits me and I dont want to put my heart on a piece of land if I don't know where I will end up.
My plan would be to be self suffiecent for my own and friends/family needs and also have a hectare of crop that sells well like spinach/cabbage so I can use those funds for improvements on the piece of land.
I am also in the process of selling a hectare of land I have and this is to a local municipality and the red tape/meeting etc is also taking a lot of time but I am not in rush so all these factors should synchronize nicely.
I am fortuante that the sale of that piece of land is not a neccesity to purchase a plot and my townhouse rental will cover that bond and rates for the unit.
Location: Port Elizabeth, South Africa (34 degrees south)