Whenever we’ve had the occasion to travel across the country to the east – believe me when I say that it takes only two hours and one is already at the German border – we venture away from the densely populated coastal region and into the more rural farming area which immediately makes me feel closer to my farming roots.
The tranquility of the pastoral scene really speaks to me and I’m often transported back to scenes painted by the Masters in the era of the “golden age”.
As far as the occupation of farming is concerned, though in my opinion, it is far more than an occupation, not a lot has changed but by the same token, much has changed in both scientific and mechanical terms.
The true art of farming is a calling. Having been born into the farming way of life, I’ve come to know the true meaning of the calling: 24/7, 365 days of the year, no matter the weather, the season or the holiday, no matter the success or the disappointment, no matter the blessing or the curses of mother nature’s multi-faceted personality.
Farming is a calling to a way of life and a lifestyle, mostly one of humility though not without its benefits: not all farmers are dirt poor, hermit like characters with limited intellectual capacity or academic accolade, no more so than in this day and age where a farmer is also required to be an engineer, accountant, psychologist, politician, veterinarian and scientist, to name but the obvious few required qualifications.
The comparison between the South African farming that I grew up in and the Dutch farming are obvious in the size of the farms and the manual labour aspects, not to mention the political agendas that go with that… and so it is that my eye is drawn and my curiosity tweaked when I’m in these areas of our new home country.
Firstly, on the well known subject of frugality, the Dutch have it down to a fine art and the farmers display this in two ways that are practical, sensible and cost effective in their buildings.
Their sheds (or barns) are multipurpose for both animals and humans alike, both sharing a common roof and wall: Dutch barns are large and bulky, as barns generally are but these have one end where the roof is different and the windows larger and more decorative because this is the home end of the barn. It is also the smaller end of the building as this end uses up the income that is generated by the larger portion of the building!
I’m sure that the shared wall provides that extra bit of living warmth during the long, cold winter months when the animals are snugly indoors, on the other side of the home wall.
The next practical building is the hay or fodder shed. This is a smaller, square structure consisting of four steel corner posts that stand tall above the sturdy roof. Each post has a pulley wheel attached and these serve to raise and lower the roof as and when the barn fills up with hay bales or empties over the course of the winter months. This natty invention means that the space that a larger feed barn would take up is negated and it also means that the cost of a second or third structure is also avoided – simply raise the roof!
Secondly, the Dutch have shown me how farming can be highly effective with very little manual labour. In South Africa where a large portion of the population live and are employed on farms, this is the starkest contrast. Instead of manual labourers the Dutch have engineered equipment that allows only one person to do the equivalent of numerous men and women. I am continuously amazed by the sheer variety of equipment, not only in their multiple applications but also in the variety of sizes!
Another farming contrast that is glaring is the wire fences, or lack thereof, which are both practically and most charmingly replaced by water!
Canals of all widths and lengths form the boundaries between fields, paddocks and neighbours with one common characteristic: they are all dead straight, easy when the land is as flat as a pancake! So too are the magnificent rows and avenues of trees and many roads – apart from the Dutch’s practical frugality, they are also very orderly and precise, especially in their framing techniques!