Minnesota Farmer

Cabbage and other edibles

Travel in other countries always leads to the talk of food.  There are many differences in food throughout the world and eating styles also change.  Because part of our mission in this trip to South Africa was to help local farm folks grow their own food, we saw a lot of cabbages.


There were the thousands of cabbage sets waiting in the starting shelter at KwaZamokuhle.  The Centre’s garden manager has an order for as many cabbages as he can produce. Most in demand were the purple cabbages.


I really cannot tell you how many of those cabbages were planted in the days we were in the garden there, but there were a lot.  The tools available to do the planting were inadequate, being mostly sticks and hoes.  We went to town and purchased some transplanting trowels for them. 

The soil was dry and hard.  It had been tilled once with a disk but few of the holes we dug for the cabbage sets were dug without effort. Water was carried from a nearby hose to give the cabbages the starting water they needed.


We saw cabbages in every garden we went to or drove by.  Winter in this part of South Africa seems to be the time to grow cabbages. This garden at Hoffenthal parish also had carrots, arugula, onions and several other cool season plants.  Cabbage was also on most menus, but for us western folk they usually kept cabbage to a side dish.  I imagine for those who did not have money, cabbage would play a much bigger role in the diet.


This artfully arranged dish was placed in front of me at one of my host families for the evening meal.  It consisted of a corn porridge they call mealy, a dry spicy bologna, cauliflower, broccoli, a mix of hot dog, beans, onions and carrot and a creamy cabbage slaw.  A glass of apple drink was also served by one of the sons of the family.

Dad (Christopher) and guests were served first on a table in the living room with a table cloth and wrapped silverware.  The male children ate in the TV room, and mom and the daughters waited until all others had eaten to have their meal.  Just as a note, this is the home of two high school teachers, so to have Bonisiwe and her children serve me in this manner was a bit different.

My most unusual meal was also served by the family of Christopher, but at his parents home.  The family had just received 4 of the 11 dowry cows from a recent betrothal.  They had butchered and cooked some for Sunday dinner.100_2797 

The boiled beef was served on a wooden trencher or tray about 2 feet long with a small pile of salt on the edge.  The meat was cut into pieces and everyone dug in eating with their hands. The male children had their own tray to eat from a few feet away. My western food sense had a bit of trouble with this arrangement, but in the end I decided to trust Christopher and his family.  Happily a glass of fruit juice was served to me.  The men were drinking the water and fat that was in the bottom of the tray with a bit of salt mixed in by stirring with a rib bone.

Lest you think we dug in with unwashed hands, every meal i was served away from the centre was alway preceded by a washbowl and towel.  Guests first, then the men and finally the ladies.


A corresponding washbowl after the meal was not always there, so i did keep a few wet wipes in my pocket.

Table service was not always what we would consider adequate.  We were once served a meal that included a tough, thin cut beef steak and only a soup spoon to eat it with.  Eating with your hands was just part of the way they do things.  I did so dearly miss my swiss army knife at meals like this.

Since we several times ate at meals catered by the locals, I also saw some of the largest serving bowls I have ever seen. 100_2981 The bowl must have been 30 inches across.  At the area wide women’s conference we attended, every congregations chairwoman received one as a gift.

Most of our meals were eaten at the Centre kitchen and most often included rice, but mashed potatoes and mealy were also served.  Most of the time we ate beef or chicken.  Sausages and turkey or chicken hot dogs were also common.  A Continental style bacon was served for breakfast as was peanut butter and jam for your toast.

Our meals at the game park were buffet style and served in a much more British style.  The serving of baked beans for breakfast was new to me, but things like kidneys and liver had that continental style.  The evening meal usually had a venison course that in the days we were there was springbok.

Our hosts at the Centre were hoping to introduce more western style foods into their menu.  They asked our ladies for help and soon we had coffee cake, banana bread, pumpkin cake, whole wheat bread and chocolate cake added to our menu.  These foods meant a scouring of the area stores for cooking utensils which the Centre kitchens were lacking.100_2840 

Ovens are not common in most home kitchens that I saw.  The Centre’s kitchen did have two.  Most meals were cooked over a gas stove using bottle gas for fuel.


These gas cooktops were also used to heat water for bathing since few homes in the area have water heaters.  Many homes do not even have running water.

What milk we were served was in the Centre’s kitchens.  Since cold food storage is not common, milk had to be specially processed.  Our milk came in containers that did not need refrigeration until the container was opened.  Something not common on U.S. grocery shelves.  I did see almond milk on a grocery shelf so I’m assuming other such substitutes are also available.

 Eating in the rural areas of South Africa was an adventure.  I could see some changes had been made since my first trip here in 2011, but the kitchens are locked in the past.  There is little money to modernize, so I do not see this changing soon.

What came first
August 14, 2014, 1:41 pm
Filed under: garden, Kwazamohkuhle, planting, South Africa, tillage | Tags: , , , ,

While helping to plant cabbage sets in the garden at the KwaZamokuhle Centre in South Africa we answered the age old question “What came first, the chicken or the egg.”100_2833

Pastor David Xaba was digging holes to put the cabbage sets in and unearthed an egg.  We’re assuming the egg was laid by a wayward hen before the field was tilled.  We had been unearthing potatoes that were missed from the last seasons crop but this finding of an egg was totally unexpected.  Still we can now say with certainty that the question has been answered in Africa where it all began.  The egg did indeed come first.

Funeral SA style
August 14, 2014, 9:27 am
Filed under: church, Kwazamohkuhle, South Africa | Tags: , ,

There were two funerals on Saturday, the traditional day for funerals here in rural KwaZulu Natal, South Africa.  One was an over 80 year old woman, the other a 40 year old man.100_2772
Multiple pastors presided and each spoke a part of the service. The service lasts until the grave is almost ready.  The service may start with the church mostly empty, but as more people come it will fill. For this double funeral the hall was filled and many stood outside.  People, and pastors, would come and go as they wished.  Many stood outside.
One funeral had a 6 wheel Mercedes Wagon100_2773 and two vans for mourners. There was a large canopy100_2783 to sit under and a mechanical lift, that did not work, to lower the casket.
For the other funeral there was only a Mercedes van.  At both grave sites they ended up carrying the casket into the grave.
The digging of the grave starts in the morning.  It is dug by hand in the hard rocky soil here, if it is not dug by the time the funeral is over, people wait, preach and sing.
The procession walks to the grave site. In this case it was only a short walk down the road.100_2776
A  “beach” mat is placed at the bottom of the grave and the casket is lowered onto that. A duvet is placed over the casket and wood poles are placed around the casket. Another straw mat is placed over that and the hole is filled.  Singing continues until everyone leaves for lunch.


The cemetery was full of recent graves, both ornate and simple, depending on family finances.100_2781  

There is little for grass here, but what there is is clipped by sheep.100_2780

The cemetery has grown since I was here in 2011, but the people are the same.  There is a community of concerned people here to console those in grief and celebrate life every other day.  

Back from South Africa
August 13, 2014, 8:09 am
Filed under: Uncategorized

imageIn the D.C. airport and heading home.

I’ve been two weeks away from home and ready to finish this trip.

South Africa was great!  We spent most of our time working with, and meeting with, people from the Ondini Circuit of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Southern Africa.  This is an area of poor blacks who have little hope, but great faith. 

Our projects have been aimed at feeding and giving jobs to the local people.  Our partnership is developing demonstration garden projects in the area helping with irrigation and fencing.  Most animals seem to run fenceless in the area so a fence is essential.  In the winter there is no rain so pumps and piping are needed to get water from non-seasonal creeks.

It was winter in South Africa when we were there.  Temperature can get below freezing, but when the sun comes out things warm up nicely.  They were growing cabbage, onions, salad greens and carrots now.  Soon the rains will fall and they will switch to warmer season crops.

There is a great disparity between white owned areas and black owned areas.  White farms are only a bit behind U.S. farms.  Those in the black areas lack funding, education and land to do more than supplement their meager incomes.  Nationally South African unemployment is terrible, in the rural areas it is almost complete.  One of the congregations we worked with has just short of 400 members with only 22 employed.  They have no chance for advancement without food and jobs.

South Africa brags about the fact that 85% of the country now has water piped to their houses.  In the rural areas electricity and water can both be inconsistent.  Most rural homes do not have water heaters, water is warmed over an open LP gas (bottle gas) fire.

There is a huge safety net for the poor.  Old age grants and aid to parents is available, but nowhere near sufficient.  Many single mothers are trying to live on the $31/month the government pays.

imageThis partnership has been in the works since 2008.  There is much more to do, but we feel we are making progress.  Meetings will continue between people of the Shetek Conference and the Ondini Circuit.  Our friends in South Africa are committed to helping their people. We continue to do what we can to help them.


Back to South Africa

10514736_10203421737456157_6026339247793523776_nPacking has begun and last-minute jobs are being checked off, soon I leave for South Africa.

I was last in South Africa with members of the Shetek Conference of the ELCA in February 2011.  You can check out the old posts from that trip.  We have been told that much has happened in the Ondini Circuit since we were there last and we are going to check up on the progress of projects that have been ongoing since the first group traveled there in 2008.  I feel that I can be of more help since I will be one of the old hands this time.

It will be winter in the foot hills of the Drakensburg Mountains.  Not a winter such as we have here in Minnesota, but colder than it was when I last was there.  Packing will be different.

What lies in store for our group this time?  Stay tuned.


July 23, 2014, 8:58 am
Filed under: church, projects | Tags: , , , ,

A bit over a year ago we had some work done on the outside of our church.  In the process the sign by our parking lot door was taken down.  Originally each letter had two or three screws that secured it to the limestone wall.  We decide to change those letters and mount them on a bar to cut down on the holes into the wall.  Thanks to a pair of talented members of our congregation the letters were mounted on aluminum bars and powdered coated.  Yesterday  the letters were placed back on the wall.10560438_10152397916545677_2963932186419901231_o

I’ve often joked with others about how few people notice the things that change.  I’ll be waiting to see if this is even noticed.  The real proof for that was confirmed as we were installing the sign.  Two ladies were exiting the church as we were working.  One of them, says ‘Oh, You’re taking the sign down.”

So what happens around you that is unnoticed?


There is just something about hitting that perfect chord that sends chills through my body.  I got them again today as I sang with the Chordhultlers Chorus.

I have sung with the Chordhuslters Chorus for almost 40 years now.  We sing four-part a cappella harmony usually in the Barbershop style.  Our chorus is part of the Barbershop Harmony Society.

Today we finished our third Sunday of touring churches.  In those three Sundays we have sung in 21 churches in the area.  We sing three songs in a church then march out to go to another church.  Now not every church is the same to sing in.  Some are easier and some are harder to sing in.  Those whose acoustics make it easiest to sing in are the ones that are most likely to bring on the chills.

This year we are singing something new that has given me chills almost every time we sing it.  It is not Barbershop style, but it is cool none the less.  The song is called ” Alleluia” and it is written SATB by Andrew Miller.  To sing it four parts for male voices we have the tenors sing the alto line an octave up, the baritones sing the tenor line and the leads sing the soprano line.  This changes the chord a bit, but really makes it pop.  Each of the four parts may be singing the same word, but rarely at the same time and the mixture of words and notes when we all join in on the central verse is truly awesome.

Until you have felt that chill of the perfect chord in the perfect place you cannot understand why we practice for hours and enjoy our hobby so much.  It’s the chills that keep bringing me back for more.


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