Sanity In An Upside Down World
Maintaining a sense of sanity for many people has been challenging over the past year with the constantly evolving changes brought about by the Covid virus. Many questions have been aired, but the commonality in terms of Agritourism, is the importance of nature as a healer.
I started Agritourism in South Africa because I had observed the disconnect between people and nature. I became increasingly alarmed by the ‘hamster’ activity of many of those living in cities…the ‘wheel’ revolved around the same activity day-in and day-out, all of which was ‘drowned’ out by constant noise. I observed human behaviour in cities and wandered whether repetitive behaviour was ever questioned…what would happen if the hamster wheel stopped working because it was “burnt out”? Would the ‘hamster’ be euphoric, or would it be anxious that the wheel had stopped working?
I looked at farmers as being leaders in the art of mastering change caused by natural elements. Yes, some of the activities were routine, but nature could alter any planned activity on a daily basis without any forewarning. Farmers learn to trust their ‘gut feel’ and rely on instinct as a coping mechanism in challenging circumstances.
One of the questions I am frequently asked is around the impact of Covid on Agritourism. Interestingly enough the agricultural world continued to function, some crops had their best year ever, for example, citrus. Farmers. The impact of Covid on urban populations though has been devastating and people who thought they had ‘control’ over their environments, had the ‘hamster wheel’ removed from the ‘cage’. Without the ‘wheel’ of routine, humanity struggled with the ‘new normal’, leaving many ‘hamsters’ confused and disorientated. The word “lock down” was associated with overwhelmingly negative connotations.
So how did I cope? Initially I was puzzled by the speed at which Covid moved…one minute it was ‘a virus in China’…the next I heard it was a virus with no borders. I had hired a small cottage up a kloof on a farm to ‘live out the storm’. With a history of cranky bronchial issues, being in an urban environment would simply be stupid. I had also reached a stage where I was frustrated at ‘manmade straight jacket’ rules decided on by Homeowners Associations… a cage full of hamsters with the ‘wheels controlled’. It reminded me of school when I asked a Math’s teacher ‘why?’ and she said, ‘because that is how it is!’ Zero logic.
Of course, tourism ground to a halt, but nature did not. I worked every day throughout as one does when one has ones’ own business. No new learning of languages, arts or crafts! Life continued but in a different environment. Every day, I noticed the weather, the birds, the trees…every day was a new day with butterflies, bees and so much more. Learning to live in natural surroundings was a gift I am very grateful for. I could appreciate that nature simply is…no matter what humanity’s crisis was.
My parents live lower down the valley in a small village surrounded by farms. My parents were farmers and have since retired. I grew up on a farm and that sense of being connected to nature, never leaves one. I am at my happiest when I am on a farm. Growing up running barefoot in the soil of the earth, is the most grounding gift nature gives humanity. This is what Agritourism South Africa is all about…sharing the feeling of absolute awe and contentment with nature.
The community of farmers and residents worked together to help one another during the initial lockdown: the vegetable farmer giving out bunches of his fresh broccoli, the bread baker giving out fresh loaves, soups were made and shared. I did not feel isolated as some of my acquaintances in cities felt. I felt an integral part of a community that cared about one another.
Living on a farm is by no means ‘easier’ than living in a city, particularly when the Cape has a stormy winter. The house I live in, is surrounded by very tall, old blue gum trees, which would thrive under a mild winter, but become a health hazard when they fall over in a ‘winter farmers remember’. I had a sense of humour failure one night, when I could hear the trees groaning under the storm…no sleep and then ‘crash…crash…crash…crash…crash’ in the pitch darkness as the Eskom poles had not been replaced for decades. I stumbled out in the stormy weather to see uprooted trees near the house and my bakkie. I was reminded why farmers need to work together…not because they want to, but because they have too!
When two of the trees were eventually moved out of the way by a tractor, I drove my bakkie out of the gated area, straight to the Stanford Agri Co-operative. An amused Manager grinned at me politely when I asked if he could show me the range of chainsaws. When I mentioned I had never used one, he patiently explained to me how to use a chainsaw. Hmmm, not that simple, but he did say encouragingly enough, that women can do most things men can do, now days. Well not quite, when it comes to physical strength. The ‘city girl’ in me allowed me to agree to his offer to carry the chainsaw and its numerous “added bits” to the bakkie. The realization of a stupid decision presented itself when I tried to lift the chainsaw out of the bakkie…it was incredibly heavy! There was no way that I could carry the chainsaw, let alone operate it!
My beloved Rottweiler, Guinness, his sidekick SPCA Poppy, and my kitties definitely added to my love of the farm life. I so enjoyed seeing them run around happily with all the space they needed. Guinness, because of his size, became known as the ‘big black dog’ that lives with that ‘tourism’ woman up in the Kloof. Apart from his image as this ‘fearsome dog’ (‘not’), Guinness came into his own when the baboon troops came to destroy more of what they had missed on the previous visit. The joys of having a Rottweiler are that they do not ‘jap’… a particular irritation in towns where dogs presumably out of boredom, bark the entire day and night. Guinness is silent, apart from when he gives a deep throated growl, which the baboons were terrified of…he never chases them, the baboons simply run. I wander if they think of him as a big cat, possibly a Panther. The point is dogs are a must when you live on a farm. Apart from companionship, they keep the ‘wilder’ elements under control. The same with the kitties, Athena, half Bengal/half wild kitty, is very fast, intuitive and an alarm system…by looking at her, I know what type of ‘threat’ she is reacting too…whether a snake or a baboon. A rather long-winded story of why pets are necessary when you stay on a farm.
This is the first in a three-part series of why Agritourism is my passion…I want to share nature, agriculture and those who work on the land, with people who live in urban areas. Chalk and Cheese…I truly encourage a visit into nature as the best natural healing experience to deal with the disruption Covid has caused to so many lives…staying on a farm is not expensive…the richness and the lessons are on the doorstep of all South Africans…we are an Agriculturally based country.
Written by Jacqui Taylor.