Greetings from sunny South Africa! It’s an international blog entry in real time! I write you from the Northern part of the Western Cape province in an agricultural town called Ceres, where farm tour will begin in the morning for me and Amanda.
It being the case that this particular outpost doesn’t offer as much to a traveler as does our next and final spot, Cape Town, I decided to share some of our travel experience with you. And, seeing as how the wifi at this particular house is free (wish), we’ll provide at least a few updates in real time before we hit Cape Town.
So first, why South Africa? The short version is Penn State research and extension plant pathologist Dr. Kari Peter, stationed at our nearby Biglerville research and extension center, had traveled here for a conference and thought it would be a great trip for us. And it certainly is - South Africa is the southern hemisphere’s leading exporter of apples, ranking 7th overall by volume.
But, perhaps more importantly, I’ve learned that travel is a great teacher. That’s the main reason for our traveling to South Africa. Not only learning about some of the unique challenges they face in their fruit production but to be exposed to a different culture and, just generally, gain a better appreciation for both your role on the earth and your part of the earth - I learn a lot about “home” when I travel too.
I’ll certainly wade into the more murky technical waters - what we’re experiencing in the fruit orchards (AND vineyards, by golly - WOW) as we go along here. For now, a few anecdotal quips to set the scene.
The flight itinerary looked like this: Dulles > Johannesburg (18 hrs + nearly one hour for de-icing on the tarmac), Johannesburg > Cape Town (2.5 hrs plus a scrambly/quick layover) added up to almost 24hrs of transit (+7hrs time change) on the money. All this before my first jaunt down the N2 Highway on the left side of the road… at 11pm local time… we were a bit weary getting in. The flight was super cheap. The South Africa Rand - also super cheap to the delight of your humble narrator and the dismay of our hosting farms who export 75% of their produce. There are no giraffes in the apple trees - that’s a different area of Africa altogether. We’re not catching any kind of rare deleterious diseases or are we under the influence of any kind of witch doctors or any other bizarre crap people actually asked me about when I said I’m going to Africa. African Swallows are nearly always unladen and exhibit an impressive land-speed velocity, the specifics are yet, to me, unknown. And never EVER in your life could you be more “put off” by a song’s timing than when Toto’s “Africa” starts playing the moment you walk into a shopping mall in Somerset West. With sincere apologies to Toto who are a very fine band… and that Kristin Bell video too, which was kind of funny. That’s all for now, friends!
I was asked for my reaction to the new bipartisan bill sponsored by Reps. Courtney & Gibson "Young Farmer Success Act of 2015", as described in this Mark Bittman editorial, that would classify those farming for ten years as public servants in the interest of student loan forgiveness.
First off, I love Mark Bittman. He's a great mouthpiece for the change we need in our food system.
And I love this editorial! I actually have friends who have lobbied on behalf of the NYFC. I also support Rep. Courtney's bill and think you should too but, as Mr. Bittman alludes to early on, the problem is not so simply solved.
In addition to the land access issue, young and beginning farmers are faced with a learning curve. This is the part in this editorial where I point out how fortunate I am to have received a degree from PSU's College of Ag and that I have a family full (moreover, a community full) of experienced advisers and mentors in the field of agriculture, which is a pun that's tired but necessary in this case.
A young, motivated baccalaureate graduate doesn't make a successful farmer overnight. That being said, I know plenty of them that have achieved success. I also know plenty who have wanted to, tried to, and ultimately could not or are not farming presently due to a variety of circumstances. The point of Bittman's article is that, should our society value food production as public service, as I agree we should, then loan forgiveness can solve one of these circumstances to which I'm referring. Maybe it starts the cultural change that can bring the whole situation back into balance.
In a lot of ways, working on a farm has been considered an option of "those who couldn't attend college" for generations. That's how we got to this point in the first place, right? First off, education is a worthy pursuit any way you slice it - it's vital to understanding the richness of life any way you slice it. And while it's not the case that "nothing about your liberal arts education will prepare you for farming" - if we're serious about farming as public service, let's find liberal arts colleges with student farming programs and support them - there are two fine one's in our backyard (Fulton Farm, Dickinson). Let's be real about it - if farming is public service (and it is), tell your sons, daughters, nieces and nephews that farming is an impactful career choice (Cicero sure thought so). Encourage them to learn the sciences! Tell them about PASA, about FutureHarvest CASA. I know it's not for everyone, but when I figured out I wanted to farm, I studied Ag Sciences. It offered me incredible opportunities that were practical, applicable, and not easily learned "in the field" to recycle the expression again, to everyone's irritation. Step one, let's get this bill passed and get some student loan relief for young and beginning farmers. Step Two, let's complete this culture change and talk about farming as public service... not like it's a last resort for people who "couldn't do my job", for example. While the mechanics of farming seem simple, making a farm a successful business (not to mention someday retiring) is incredibly difficult - it's not a lower percentile thing, so let's just put that whole notion to bed. And Step Three, although education of ANY kind is, in and of itself, very important, the more science, training, and practical experience our new farmer-public servants have, the more likely they succeed. Teach young farmers plant science!
All this before we tackle the land access issue!
(or providing farming opportunities to minority and women farmers, but c'mon - I've only so much time I can devote to this stuff... I am farming here, afterall)