South African group experiences southwest Minnesota farm lifeBREWSTER — They took turns posing for the camera in the wheel well of a giant Case-IH combine, they climbed up the steps and sat in the seat. One even honked the horn and giggled.
By: Julie Buntjer, Worthington Daily Globe
BREWSTER — They took turns posing for the camera in the wheel well of a giant Case-IH combine, they climbed up the steps and sat in the seat. One even honked the horn and giggled.
Implements of this size aren’t a common site in South Africa, especially in the poor areas of the KwaZulu-Natal Province.
It wasn’t just the combine, or the nearby tractor — but it was everything on the Gary and Kris Correll farm near Brewster that was amazing to these five South African guests.
For the first time, they saw what a hog confinement barn was like — referring to it as a piggery. They had an up-close view of a raspberry patch, tomato plants and horseradish. They learned about vegetable gardening, what to feed pigs and how southwest Minnesota farmers grow row crops like corn and soybeans.
The trip to Minnesota was a follow-up to a visit by members of the Evangelical Lutheran Church of America Shetek Conference 18 months ago. The purpose of the trip back then was to help the members of the Evangelical Lutheran Church of South Africa (ELCSA) Ondina Circuit understand their land.
“We were encouraging them on what they can do in their country,” said Juanita Harberts, who helped coordinate the trip.
But to really understand what the American farmers were talking about, the group from South Africa wanted to see for themselves.
As Zami Makhathini explained, they viewed Americans as well-to-do people who dressed in white shirts and ties and worked in office buildings — certainly they didn’t get their hands dirty by growing crops and tending to livestock.
“We thought you are better off working in an office,” she said. “We looked at farming as done by uneducated and unemployed people.”
Farming, they are quickly realizing, is a necessity. Living in a country with a 70 percent to 80 percent unemployment rate, Makhathini said they need to learn to grow their own crops to be healthy, to be more self-sustaining and to become prosperous.
Since the Minnesota delegation’s visit two years ago, the South African group began meeting with people of the nearby villages to develop lists of the equipment they had and what they would need to continue farming operations. They evaluated their strengths and weaknesses, advantages and challenges, and came to the conclusion that their greatest strength was being able to work together as a community, said Makhathini.
They hope one day to form a partnership with the white farmers of South Africa — the well-to-do men with their large implements and expanses of land.
“The whites are not willing to work with the black farmers,” said the Rev. David Xaba, one of two South African pastors taking part in the 10-day visit to southwest Minnesota. “They are trying to stop (black people) from joining in the commercial farming.”
“There’s still the thinking that they cannot work with a black person,” added Aaron Vusumuzi. Apartheid in the country began to dismantle more than 15 years ago.
“Some of them have recognized that we are all the same people,” Vusumuzi said. “The government is trying to break these differences, but it won’t happen overnight.”
As the groups evolve toward a measure of equality, several rural communities from the KwaZulu-Natal Province are learning what it takes to be a farmer from an unlikely group of people — southwest Minnesota farmers.
Fencing is practically unheard of in the rural villages of central South Africa. Farmers try to grow crops for their families, only to have them destroyed by a small herd of cows, goats or wild hogs. It never occurred to them to put fencing around gardens to keep out the critters.
After seeing the fenced-in garden on the Correll farm, Xaba said fencing is something they would like to get for their villages.
Makhathini said she envisions creating lots of fenced-in gardens after visiting a community garden on Wednesday morning in Slayton.
“We can go with this — implement it back home,” she said. “We can give each family a square meter and test whether people are going to use what you give them.”
She also sees the potential to add agricultural programming in the schools to teach the next generation the importance of farming. On Thursday morning, the delegation met with an Extension educator from Luverne about the 4-H youth development program and how Extension works to provide information to farmers.
“I think everything has been opening my eyes,” she said of the knowledge she’s gained in just the first couple of days of her Minnesota visit.
Vusumuzi said one of the most important things he has learned about agriculture is the ability to grow healthy products for the people of his country.
“Our communities are dying of HIV and AIDS,” he said. “The main thing is to feed the families the right foods.”
“HIV and AIDS are destroying our communities,” added Xaba. “As a church, we see we have a responsibility to help these people.”
Sharing a vision
During their 10-day stay in southwest Minnesota, the South African group will tour a goat farm and learn about animal husbandry, tour an ethanol plant and wind turbines to see how alternative energy could help their country, visit a dairy farm and meet with the bishop of the ELCA synod. Throughout their stay, the guests are splitting their time between host families and Shalom Hill Farm of rural Windom.
The Corrells are hosting two of the visitors, and Kris said they have really enjoyed the visit thus far.
“They’re so energetic to learn,” she said. “What really amazes me about these people is their definition of help. Their definition of help is join us, come work with us, teach us. Teach us how to do things, use our resources so we can go back to our country and utilize what we learn.”