The weekend of 21 – 23 February saw a successful Foundations for Farming course being held at T’Niqua. Led by Royden Fisher and microbiologist, Adré Kleynhans, around 20 delegates from all walks of life were taught the foundations for farming God’s way. Africa is hungry – for food and for knowledge on how to provide for its children. The aim of Foundations for Farming is to empower communities firstly to feed themselves, and secondly to generate income from surplus crops. It emphasises four principles:
1. On time
2. At standard
3. Without waste
4. With joy
Farmers need to be ready to plant in September. This involves planning in advance, preparing compost and planting to precise specifications. A good practice is to begin a new pile of compost every Monday (or a day that suits you to stick by weekly) and weed the planting area every day. All waste products are returned to the earth to prepare the soil for planting. Reaping the rewards of hard work and seeing the result of diligent farming should be a joyous process.
The course began on Friday evening with Royden opening in prayer and then the gathering being led by music-man, Stefan, in worship. Royden gave a brief introduction about Foundations for Farming acknowledging what God has given and restoring His order. Before handing over to Adré, Royden ended with a profound thought: “There is no escalator to success – you have to take the stairs, one step at a time.”
Adré had everyone go outside and stand in a circle. She held a ball of string and introduced herself, wrapping the string around her arm. Then she tossed the ball across the circle to someone else, who also needed to introduce themselves. As the ball went around and across the circle, the web of string became larger and more intricate. Adré explained that this is how we are bonded as a community when working together towards a common goal. Everyone sang together the old song “Bind us together Lord, Bind us together, with chords that cannot be broken…” The evening was rounded off with dinner of a scrumptious bobotie and friendly chatter around the fire in the boma.
Day 2 began with breakfast together on a sunny Saturday morning, followed by Royden opening in prayer and members taking turns to read passages from the bible. Adré then proceeded to explain Foundations for Farming and the essentials for compost-making.
The Foundations for Farming logo is representative of the elements needed for successful farming:
the droplet – water
the blue arch – oxygen
the orange arch – sunlight
green – vegetation
dark brown – soil
light brown – the blanket
The composition of soil is vitally important in the farming process. Did you know that in 1 gram of soil there are 1 billion bacteria, 5 to 10 meters of fungi, 2000 to 10000 amoebas, 200 to 500 cilliates and 5000 to 15000 flagellates? There are also two important food webs – the anaerobic chain in the bottom layers of soil which make nutrients and don’t need oxygen to survive; and the aerobic chain which needs oxygen and is found in the top layers where vegetables are planted. With this in mind, it was explained why ploughing the land is not conducive to preparing healthy soil as the anaerobic organisms in the deeper earth are brought to the surface and exposed to oxygen, which kills them; and the aerobic organisms in the top soil are turned under and starved of oxygen.
Compost should ideally have a Carbon-Nitrogen ratio of between 25:1 and 30:1. Nitrogen is produced by green products such as grass cuttings, weeds and vegetable peelings and provide sugar which converts into energy (heat) to encourage healthy bacteria. Carbon is produced by the brown products such as dead leaves and straw. Compost needs enough water for the amoebas and other organisms to move about and do their work.
Once the theory was covered everyone went out into the garden to put it all into practice. An area was measured into 1 metre square and then the green, brown and manure products were mixed with water and then layered – first brown, then green, then manure until the pile was complete. Heaps need to be turned once a week or when it is hot to release the heat and allow more oxygen to flow through. Adré also demonstrated preparing a patch for planting once compost is ready. Beginning with a blanket of straw and measuring out the area into 30cm lengths for correct spacing. A good tip is to use a matchbox for measuring depth with the matchbox height being equal to 1cm, the width being 3cm and the length being 5cm. An interesting snippet of information for organic farming is that healthy plants give off pheromones which act as a natural pesticide, while unhealthy plants also give off a different pheromone which attracts pests.
Lunch of lasagne and carrot cake dessert was followed by Royden wrapping up the day’s lessons and the connections that were being forged over the weekend were bound in planning the way forward to work together to take this concept out into the communities where it would have a larger impact. The weekend ended with a Sunday morning service before everyone said their goodbyes, taking their new-found knowledge and sense of purpose with them.