Minnesota Farmer


The Kwazamokuhle Diaconal Centre is home base for us when we visit the Ondini Circuit.  It is a cluster of buildings and land near Loskop.  As is the case with so many lutheran centers, this area also includes the Phangweni congregation (The largest we know of in the circuit) of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Southern Africa, a cemetery and a school.  Also in this complex is a home and school for handicapped children.

The Centre was at one time a mission outpost of the Lutheran Church.  It is obvious that it was once quite an operation, today it is but a shadow of its old self.  Cattle and goats roam freely on church land outside the fence, and dogs have drug used diapers out of the garbage pit.

When Apartheid ended the missionaries who ran the center were asked to leave.  They left a huge leadership vacuum that has still not been filled.  On top of it all, no one really knows how much land the church owns here.  Despite it all, they are trying hard to make a go of it.

When we were there this August the gardens sat mostly bare.  There had not been enough rain to keep the garden going, and the hookup to the reservoir that was meant to irrigate the gardens had been drawing too much water off so they had been asked to stop.  Three and a half years of drought have put a strain on all water supplies.  That being said the place was busy.

Ladies are still working making communion wafers and shipping them all over the world.  Seamstresses still are making robes and stoles for the pastors, and bead work and basketry are being done in the workshops and in homes.  These items are for sale on the premises.

The rooms all over the compound are being rented out.  Some small storage areas have been converted to rooms for single African men.  Small houses are available for families to live in.  A library and study rooms for school children occupies most of one building.  Pastor Nkosi is staying in the guest house while his house is being built, two German girls who volunteer at the School for Handicapped children are in the guest house apartment, and then there are the ten of us.

Lazarus, the old Massey tractor was started and a few jobs were done with it, but a leaky fuel pump kept us from working it too hard.

An old tractor powered hammer mill was checked out and deemed ready to make corn meal flour.

The pork project, which was only a dream 3 years ago, is now up and running in the old hog barns.  There are also pigs at the school, and Mxolisi has been hired to manage that project.  He still has a lot to learn, but we must think back to how our grandfathers raised pigs to understand the level they are at.

Pastor Nkosi is hoping to resurrect a chicken rearing operation that was started and then abandoned after a wind storm damaged the buildings.  Because the operation was not guarded, some of the equipment has disappeared, but the bones of the operation are still there.

A new enterprise is in the building stage.  Just west of the centre’s compound a Community Centre and Rental Rondavels are being built.  For now there are just four rondavels, but more are possible if these work out.

There are plans a brewing, and deeds being done to help keep the activities of the circuit going.  The people of the Ondini Circuit are not standing still, they are trying, and we wish them the best.


Minnesota farmers visit South African farm

One of the requests we had made on a previous visit was to spend time with a farmer from South Africa.  Some of it is curiosity on our part on how agriculture is done in a larger scale, and the other reason is to get a baseline for what agriculture could be in the Ondini Circuit.

Understand, that this is dryland/irrigated farming on a scale not familiar to us here in southwestern Minnesota.  Everywhere we travel in South Africa agriculture is so different.  Timber, sugar cane and pineapple are foreign to us.  Corn, cattle, hogs, soybeans, barley, wheat and oats we understand.

Our South African farmer host also farms on a different scale than we do.  While many in our area farm with only family labor, he has a considerable labor force employed.  He, his daughter and son-in-law make up the management team.  They have 9 full-time employees and 6 part-time employees.  The operation produces white corn, soybeans for seed, black oats for cover crop, pasture and hay, wheat, pumpkins and squash for seed, and cattle to make use of land which can not otherwise be farmed.

Our host grew up speaking German, his daughters married English speakers, and his grandchildren speak Zulu with their friends and in school.  Most of his employees are native Zulu speakers.

Keeping employees is one of his hardest tasks.  To keep good employees he pays them above normal wages and builds a house for them in town.  Employee loyalty is rewarded by advancement as space opens up or need requires.

The 8 row, row crop planter he had in the shed has all of the latest attachments for no-til planting, fertilizing and spraying under GPS guidance.  While the size of planter was small by our standards, the availability of labor to keep that planter on the move made it just right for his farm.

The nearly new John Deere tractor in his shed complemented the other smaller and older tractors that populated the farm.

The John Deere combine and sprayer also looked familiar to us.

The truck configuration was different to what we use.  We saw very few hopper bottom trucks in our travels, but double trailer and straight truck with a trailer combinations, with steel rather than aluminum frames were everywhere.  Road conditions and local road laws are the most likely reason for this difference.

Land does not sit idle in this area of South Africa.  When one crop is harvested, the planter is already in the field to plant the next.  Irrigated oats keeps cattle graze in peak condition although they do have to add some dried hay to keep the cattle on green grass from getting diarrhea.

Irrigation water for this farm comes from reservoirs sourced in the Drakensberg Mountains.  Our host farmer serves on the local water board to help manage that crucial water.

Corn stalks are also used to graze stock cattle when available.

During the summer, when all of the irrigated land is planted to other crops, native grass pastures are used to keep the cattle growing. A feed lot is also on the farm, but it is presently only used for part of the year.  That is one place he hopes to make more use of.  Right now he only has cattle in the feed lot to meet the Christmas market when local prices are highest.

Most of the cattle he has on hand have bells on them.  Although all cattle must be branded to prove ownership, there is the potential for theft.  The bells are to help the night guards keep track of cattle movements.

One of our South African church hosts was along for the trip, and was very impressed with all of the science that was needed to farm.  That one fact is something that few who do not live on the farm understand.  If we are to raise food for the world we must use every bit of science at our disposal.  Margins on the farm are razor-thin, to make a profit so we can feed our families and pay our employees is not easy in today’s price environment.  That fact is true in South Africa as well as Minnesota.

Weenan Game Reserve
August 21, 2017, 2:41 pm
Filed under: Farm, Ondini circuit, Shetek Conference, South Africa, travel, Wildlife

Weenen Game reserve is a smaller game park (4906 hectares= about 19 sq. mile) located 25 km north-east of Estcourt.  Its easy access for us meant an easy day trip to a game park rather than the longer trip to more famous game parks.

The park at Weenen does not contain elephants or lions, but it is well populated with ostrich, zebra, giraffe and bush pig (warthog).  They also have rhinos, but we saw none of those.  Several types of antelope are also in residence. 

Weenen is a drive yourself game park with some camping, hiking and picnicking spots available.  You can easily drive all of the roads in a day, but some of the roads are not meant for vans like we were driving.

I must tell you, that I was one of the drivers on this trip, as such I did not have the opportunity to take wildlife pictures on the road.  Also this was my 3rd trip to an African game reserve, so I have plenty of pictures of wildlife.

We stopped for pictures and a picnic lunch at the Bushman River canyon on the southeast edge of the park.

Looking west, down the river we looked into a wilderness that had no roads for tourist access. A truly wild magnificence of African thorn veld.  Grass growing between thorny trees and bushes abound.  A perfect place for the animals living there.

Looking east, we saw the valley open up into the farms and ranches the readily available water made so easy to irrigate.

As we made our way back to the exit we made a turn onto a one-way road that was not meant for our Hyundai 8 passenger vans.  Dale and I carefully navigated the ruts and cuts of a road that was truly magnificent in its views.  More than once we turned corners to see a road cut from the side of a cliff.  One time we had to remove an obstruction from the road before we could continue, and another hard rock-cut came so close to the doors we could not have opened them.

This is not a game park to visit if you are looking for the most dangerous of African animals, but the views are stunning and animals can often be right on the road in front of you.  The location just a short distance off of the N3 make it a convenient place to take a break on travels through the area.  Few visit this park, perhaps some day you will.


Young Adult Rally
August 21, 2017, 5:49 am
Filed under: church, Farm, food, Music, Ondini circuit, South Africa

I’ll have to say that South Africans can really party.  Now we were not asked to go to any real blasts, but we were invited as guests to a number of church rallies, and those are some real parties.

On Saturday, August 5th, we were honored guests at the Young Adult Rally held in Ladysmith.  We had seats along the side in front, and special status at meal time.

One thing I should mention is that although printed materials may be in British English, almost every spoken work is in Zulu. This makes understanding what is going on difficult, but the music always translates as great.  For our first timers, this was their first experience with sitting through an event in a language they do not understand, and though our hosts did their best to help us understand, the boredom was easy to understand.  Since this was early in our trip, the boredom often translated into sleep.

The rally was held in a campus auditorium, and the place was full.  When we arrived a very dynamic speaker was on stage.  By the reactions of the crowd he was entertaining as well as enlightening.

I should explain that in the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Southern Africa (ELCSA) A young Person can be from 18 to 35, and the group seems to be mostly female.  Every step of ELCSA church life puts you in a group with its own uniforms and gatherings.  Most men seem to skip the young adult group since this is a prime work time in their lives.  Women move more slowly from the young adult group to the women group and have rallies and parties the whole way.  For a link to our experience with the ELCSA Women’s league you can check here for my August 20, 2014 post.

Singing at a rally is part of every step.  They sing when they start, during and after.  They sing when they give the offering, and they sing when they protest.  

We all got to be part of a South African tradition, a protest rally.  A real first for us.

There seemed to be several issues, but one that would bubble up again during our trip was the fact that several million Rand ( $1 = 13.16 Rand while we were there) were missing from the church coffers.

During the meal, we were accorded the honor of having the head of the cow that was butchered placed in from of us.  While the platter did not include the skull, it did include the horns, ears, and brains.  Some of our party declined to give it a try, while others were more or less adventurous in their eating.

Part of the platter was something that we would see many times at meals, dumplings.  Dumplings are mostly cake flour and a few other ingredients cooked in a double boiler kind of arrangement and eaten as a bread.  It is definitely finger food since it does not hang together as well as bread.

More of our time spent in South Africa to come, stay tuned.


Topsy-Turvy weather
April 29, 2017, 5:59 pm
Filed under: cold, Corn, Farm, forecast, Minnesota, planting, snow, spring

The warm weather earlier this spring convinced me that spring was here to stay.  I went to work refilling my stack of wood and settled in for the warm weather we expect in spring.100_3113

Unfortunately I did not keep access to some of the dryer wood.  Now the weather has turned cold, with freezing temperatures in the morning and a forecast of snow for Sunday.  That has left me scavenging burnables and searching for dry wood in tree lines. All of this in a time the calendar says I should be planting corn.

Many of my neighbors used the previous warm weather to plant corn.  I looked at the weather forecast, checked soil temperatures, looked for barn swallows and tree leaves and decided to wait.  I’m not sure how much damage is happening out there in that cold wet ground, but I was not going to chance it.  I was not the only one, with many a planter sidelined waiting for needed warmth.

Now the forecast is for snow and two more days of cold.  Then the weather reports says spring will be here.  If the warm comes as predicted, it looks like I’ll be starting planting this Thursday of Friday, two weeks after those early go getters started putting their corn in the ground.  If it will make any difference I do not know.  I just know I am happier for having waited.

Don’t divide us
December 24, 2016, 10:13 am
Filed under: Farm

You’ve seen them, those posts from well meaning people who demand that you say or do a certain thing to be the proper whatever.  To those people I say, STOP.  Do not divide us!

This Christmas season there is a battle over whether you should say “Happy Holidays,” or “Merry Christmas.”  Does it really make that much difference?  I myself prefer to wish people a “Blessed Christmas.”  Is that out of bounds?  Why are we making divisions?

I understand the “tribe” mentality that may precipitate such thoughts, but division gives us hate and war, and this holiday season is a time of celebration of unity in Christ’s love.

We Christians at times rail against those who are not our kind of Christian, but please remember, Jesus was born to a Jewish family, they dressed and looked like many of the people in Palestine and other middle-east countries.  He was not one of our petty little tribesmen, He had much more in common with those we love to hate in this modern world.

Jesus spent the first few years of his life as a refugee.  Chased from the land and people of his birth by a ruler who killed many like him.  This is not the life we live today here in our comfortable homes, but the life of displacement so many of us look down upon.  Rather than denigrate these refugee’s we need to reach out a helping hand as Christ would have us do.

Stop and think before you seek to divide.  Christ came into the world to unite us all in love.  When you seek to divide on the basis of words or ancestors or political status you are not loving one another as Christ first loved us.

So, please, if you say Happy Holidays, Merry Christmas, Merry Xmas, or even Blessed Christmas, make your words and deeds acts of love and unity.  Do not divide us, but seek to unite all, so that love, not hate will rule the world.

Snows on the prairie
December 17, 2016, 1:07 pm
Filed under: cold, Farm, farm life, weather, wind, winter | Tags: , ,


Snows on the prairie


Over the ground lays a mantel of white, for the winds of the prairie are still,

But folk here all know that the long winds will blow, and that snow will move to where winds will.

That lovely, still snow tomorrow will lie, in drifts that are hard near and far,

So look well my friends at this still, shimmering snow, that tomorrow will bury your car.


When cold winds do moan and tree branches groan the new fallen snow will take flight,

Snow again takes to the air, to move here and there, to places revealed by morning light.

Then snow sculptures will form, in strange shapes smooth and worn, in places away from winds might.

New wonders will be revealed, and my soul will be healed, by the wonders shown forth at the death of the night.


Soon I’ll venture forth, away from fires warmth, to see what’s revealed with morning’s birth,

Small creatures will join me, from tunnel and tall tree, their tracks, they shall add to my mirth,

But I’ll not tarry too long, for the wind it is strong, and I do know what my life is worth,

I’ll come back to my chair, my book it is there, and the fire, it will warm me in the hearth.


A poem inspired by a walk in last nights fresh snow.