Farm Horizons, February 2018

Dassel-Cokato FFA students study agriculture in South Africa

By Jennifer Von Ohlen

No matter where people live in the world, we all get our food from the same resources: the ground, the trees, the livestock. The techniques used to care for and harvest those goods, however, can vary from culture to culture, depending on what’s been passed down and what advancements have been made.

Students of Dassel-Cokato High School FFA got to compare these differences during a two-week excursion in South Africa this past summer. There, they learned about the country’s crop and dairy methods, toured a citrus and pineapple farm, and visited an agricultural school.

While students observed quite a few similarities in how South Africans work their crops, they agreed the methods used were more like those of America in 1960s and ‘70s.

“It’s really similar, but they don’t have the ability to use the machines that we use,” noted chapter treasurer Eric Meredith.

“The biggest planter I saw was a four-row, three-point planter,” stated chapter vice president Jack Zeidler, “and the biggest tractor was a 300 series Massey Ferguson, which is super small. Around here, nowadays, that would be a tractor to pull wagons around.”

Because of the expenses needed to maintain this equipment and keep it fueled, the locals only use the machinery for a few of their crops, such as maize, potatoes, sugar beets, and beetroot. Everything else – chili pepper, cabbage, and lettuce – is cared for by hand.

While the field work may seem a little outdated, Zeidler did say he thought the dairy operations at the University of Fort Hare were pretty advanced.

There were 817 cows at the time of their visit, and they had a 60-cow rotary parlor. A video of the operation can be viewed on the Dassel-Cokato FFA Facebook page.

Meredith also thought they had a good egg-laying system, where the chickens were kept in crates (some four to five at a time), and a wire rack was placed underneath to catch the eggs.

“It seemed like a really great system, and it seemed to work,” he commented.

Chapter president Kaitlyn Niska was intrigued by the campus’ seed nursery. There, the seedlings are placed on large trays, and are then vacuumed into a machine. That device is then brought over to seed beds set in large tires, which then injects multiple seeds into the soil at once.

“[It’s] a real efficient way,” Niska noted.

She went on to say South Africa uses the same production phases for their crops as found in America: seedling to nursery to farm field to processing plant. The University of Fort Hare actually had its own processing plant on campus, where the vegetables are washed, dried, and crushed into powder for soups and drinks.

“[They make] kind of a breakfast blend sort-of-thing,” Niska explained.

She continued, “A lot of the drink mixes that they make, they bring them to schools around the community. So, if kids are coming to school with no breakfast, then they can get this drink that’s loaded with nutrients.”

“It’s kind of a co-op model,” chapter advisor Larry Marquette commented. “The whole goal is to have people have jobs, So, the university provides facilities, but then [it’s the] people within the community [who] grow stuff, pull the stuff up, and then process it.” This way, the money stays within the local economy.

Agriculture school

Although the DC students were a long way from their high school, they weren’t necessarily out of the hallways. They visited a few colleges during their travels, as well as an agriculture high school in Pandulwazi.

Originally, the school was geared toward farming families, so children could lean some tricks-of-the-trade and bring that knowledge back home.

Because African schools do not have agriculture programs, the agriculture-based curriculum was a big draw. It even appealed to families who had no interest in agriculture, simply because it was known to be a better school.

Over time, however, the number of students pursuing agriculture decreased, and it became difficult for the school to keep up with modern technology, such as having internet service.

Currently, “they have the basic studies of math, science, English, and other languages, but a lot of their life scenarios are based in agriculture,” according to Niska.

“The people who are involved in agriculture have a good passion for agriculture,” Meredith stated.

Happy with a little; forgiveness worth a lot

Even though the trip was intended to expose students to the importance of culture, agriculture, and the history of the country, just about every student agreed the locals left the biggest impression.

“People have it a lot worse than we got,” stated chapter sentinel Dylan Terning, “and they’re a lot happier with a lot less.”

One part of the trip that really demonstrated this was the students’ visit to a shanty town – where the population of 1 million lives in tiny, tin huts packed with six to eight people, and not much else.

Even though the shanty town wasn’t much to look at, Zeidler shared that the town is a blessing to those who live there.

Before the shanty town was established, families were split, as the men moved to Cape Town (located nearby) to work. In an effort to keep everyone together, the shanty towns were constructed so the men would have a place to bring their families, and they could all live together once again.

The students were also surprised by how warmly they were received by the locals, especially after learning about the country’s apartheid years (1948-1991). During this time, the nonwhite majority was segregated from the white minority population after an all-white government came to power.

Nelson Mandela, future president of South Africa in 1994, was a strong advocate against apartheidism, and spent 27 years in incarceration for his involvement in the antiapartheid movement.

When he was released, Mandela actively encouraged the country to forgive its white oppressors rather than join in the strong feelings against them.

“He said he will forever be imprisoned until he learns to forgive them,” recalled Meredith.

Zeidler added, “He said if you can’t learn to forgive the person that did you wrong, then you are forever their slave.”

Meredith believes it is because of Mandela’s message that the locals were so open and welcoming to them.

“They’ve learned to forgive us,” he said. “Even though we’ve done such horrible things, they don’t care that we’ve done them anymore. Like, sure, it still affects them, but they’ve learned that they just need to forgive us and just try to make it more of a peaceful time, so we don’t have something like that happening again.”

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