They say travel broadens the mind. But this week I attended a farmer’s day in Mpumalanga and I realised you don’t have to board a plane to expose yourself to a whole new world.
Farmers are so different to city dwellers such as myself, they could just as well have been Germans or Koreans.
There are competent female farmers, but the commercial part of the industry is still largely a man’s world. And the men who put food on South African tables – both black and white farmers – have a uniform.
A lot of them wear denim jeans, but the trusted pair of shorts is still very much the farming equivalent of the city girl’s little black number. On Wednesday it was so cold, I suspect some of the farmers wore two pairs of shorts for a bit of heat.
Khaki is still the fabric of choice when it comes to shirts. But that’s where the cliché ends.
They don’t have beards. Beards are for urban hipsters. They don’t wear those old-fashioned hats with the leopard skin bands. Modern farmers wear caps. And most farmers have big bellies and huge, hard hands which make you uncomfortabIy aware of your soft office hands.
But the most striking part of the farmer’s uniform is a quiet confidence. It’s very clear that they know what they are doing.
Their wives can’t match their city sisters when it comes to flashy outfits. They wear denim jeans and khaki parkas and flowing long hair.
Their hands are always cold and they keep them in their pockets or wrapped around a cup of coffee.
And they have a natural, wholesome appearance that makes the wives of Mpumalanga farmers the most beautiful people in South Africa.
They’re friendly and talkative. “My husband is in the fields looking at a demonstration of equipment. He wants to buy a new potato planter,” a lovely woman with a bright smile told me. And then she added with just a touch of bitterness: “Sometimes I think he loves his tractors more than me.”
On my way back to Johannesburg, I thought long and hard about these “foreigners”. Food security remains one of SA’s big issues.
But with these people to take up the challenge, I can sleep just that bit easier at night.